Gerhard Jenne looks at the factors that make a memorable birthday cake… and enjoys his own
As mentioned last week, this time of the year I happen to be celebrating my birthday. At my advanced age, this means a surprise lunch or dinner or perhaps an evening out to the theatre – something unexpected is always great – and of course there has to be a birthday cake.
Is the pressure on? Are Konditor & Cook’s bakers and decorators cursing the day and thinking of it as someone asking Heston Blumenthal around for dinner? How many dinner party invitations does a celebrity chef get?
One cheeky birthday card I saw recently said: ‘Birthdays are nature’s way of telling us to eat cake’. If you need an excuse to eat cake, I’m happy with that notion.
I bet most of us have a childhood memory of our favourite cake. In my case, my older sister used to bake something called a ‘Frankfurter Kranz’. It has nothing to do with the Frankfurter sausage. In fact it is a heavy cake mix baked in a ring mould. After it has cooled down, it is then cut into four layers, then sandwiched back together with vanilla buttercream. Now the surface gets covered in more buttercream, which can be liberally applied with a pallet knife — all easy until now. But now there is knack to getting some of the excess buttercream off, as well as making it smooth by using a thin strip of baking parchment to ‘shave’ it off.
Following this procedure, the Kranz is coated in crushed almond praline. The classic version is then further embellished with swirls of buttercream and adorned with glacé cherries. If any researchers for The Great British Bake Off happen to stumble across this blog, I would thoroughly recommend the Kranz as a future challenge. I can see black smoke emitting from the baking tent as one of the contestants accidentally turns up the heat on the caramel.
In my younger days, birthday cakes were all about flavour… and perhaps a simple inscription. This all changed for the masses when Jane Asher published her first novelty cake book back in the 1980s. Cakes suddenly had a lot more attitude. Sugary mice in beds and a harem of naked ladies were breaking the baking moulds of Thatcher’s Britain.
Just like birthday cards can now be personalised by a few clicks on Moonpig, birthday cakes themselves want to contain something personal and customised. It’s those cakes that will create lasting memories.
Inspiration for birthday cakes can come from different sources and customers often need a bit of help and encouragement. Looking back at my own cakes is proof: a beautiful Timney Fowler-inspired pattern iced on one round date, for example; a decade later, my passion for scuba diving led to a colourful cake reef; and then there was that phallic, golden German eagle, or, recently, a caricature in cake that even shouted ‘Listen!’ (apparently I say that a lot).
This year our ‘bakorators’ hit the jackpot with a 3D marzipan portrait of me sitting on a stack of my recent baking book. More importantly, it was filled with my absolute favourite cake, the Chocolate Noisette. For, no matter how gorgeous the decorations, a cake should always taste as good as it looks, and this it certainly did. Thank you!