The 8th Birthday Cake

It’s my eldest grandson Freddie’s 8th birthday. I’ve been making the same cake ever since his first birthday – The 1st Birthday Cake – and followed the recipe again today. In fact, I’ve made it more than eight times for my son Jonathan now has three boys, so there’s Ben (5) and Alex (2) as well, and birthday cakes have been made for them too.

For a person who loves all things food enough to write a blog for over 11 years, it does seem a little unadventurous of me to keep making the same cake, especially for such a special event as a grandson’s birthday. But as I’ve often excused myself on these pages, I’m not really a baker. I like making dessert cakes like Torta Caprese and the gorgeous Hazelnut, Peach & Raspberry Cake I discovered a couple of years ago, but I’ve never been one for making teatime cakes. When my son and daughter were little, I’d occasionally make banana bread, but that’s not really a cake. I’d try my hand at more elaborate cakes when they were small for their birthday parties. I can remember making a train cake when my daughter Nicola was about three. She was young enough to be pleased but I can assure you – and there’s photographic evidence somewhere on my shelves of photos – that it would never have got me a place on The Great British Bake Off.

The reason I keep making the same cake is that it’s such a good cake. It’s essentially a Victoria sponge but Barbara Maher’s method of upgrading it by beating the egg white with sugar to make a meringue that is gently folded into the butter, sugar, egg yolk and flour mix, transforms the texture of the cake into something much more sophisticated. It’s a lot more hassle than the all-in-one method but really worth the extra time.

Over the years the request for things like, I want a hippo cake, have been solved by rolling out some bought fondant icing and cutting a hippo shape. Last year Freddie requested marshmallows on his cake (my son apologised) and he happily decorated the cake himself, once I’d baked it and covered it in chocolate icing.

I think he did a fantastic job!

This year, the request was a ‘Minecraft’ cake. Ummm. I had to google that and then saw the boys had a lot of Minecraft Lego. Cutting Lego shapes for the cake was a step farther than I was happy to go, so I decided to buy some Minecraft Lego pieces to put on top! A trip to nearby Kingston took me to shelves full of Minecraft Lego in Bentalls, and I chose a small pack with a couple of figures. What I hadn’t thought through was that I’d actually have to put them together, which took me a little time as I usually opt out of Lego making.

The ‘making things a little easier’ mode continued in Waitrose when I spied some ready-made letters in edible icing to decorate cakes. My icing writing has long been woeful, thus I enthusiastically grabbed a box of the letters and put it in my basket. Unfortunately there weren’t enough ‘D’s so I had to improvise and cut two other letters to make another ‘D’.

Now, I originally intended to make the cake the day before, but Friday turned out to be busier than anticipated and I thought, Oh never mind, I can make it in the morning, because the party wasn’t starting until 4.45pm, so I’d have plenty of time. What I hadn’t taken into account was the time it took for a large cake to cool!

It wasn’t quite cold by the time I came to ice it, but cool enough. Another time, I really must make it the day before!

For the cake recipe, see The 1st Birthday Cake post; for the chocolate ganache icing, see The Birthday Lunch.

I warmed the cream until bubbles started appearing at the edge (don’t boil), then broke dark chocolate into it. I stirred until it all came together into a gorgeous, smooth chocolate truffle mixture. For chocolate ganache icing is made with just the same ingredients as chocolate truffles – dark chocolate and cream – but with different ratios: for truffles you want a 2:1 ratio of two parts chocolate to one part cream; for ganache icing you have equal quantities by weight (weigh the cream, don’t measure by volume).

I smoothed the icing over the cooled cake.

I rolled out a small amount of the green fondant icing I’d bought, then cut out a circle with an 8cm cutter and lay it on the cake right in the middle.


I put some of the pieces of Lego I’d put together on top. I then rolled out another smaller piece for another Lego figure.

Then I lay the letters out – Freddie’s name across the top and ‘Happy Birthday’ below. I stuck the ‘8’  candle into the cake on the other side of the larger Lego decoration.

I was really pleased with how it looked!

I took the Lego off to transport it to my son’s house and put them back on once there.

Jonathan was making pizza for the ‘main course’. An excellent sourdough baker, he regularly makes bread, and sometimes uses the sourdough starter to make a pizza dough. He prepared the dough yesterday so was all set for the final stages of making the pizza shapes and adding the toppings. Soon he was on a roll, preparing a pizza, putting it into the oven (which has a pizza setting), and preparing another ready to go in as the previous one came out. They only take 4 minutes to cook, so soon slices of pizza were being handed round to the kids – and a few grown-ups who were there too.


When it was cake time, the candle was lit, the birthday boy – who was very pleased with his Minecraft cake – stood up and we all sang ‘Happy birthday’ before he blew the candle out.

Slices were cut and it was handed round. It was an excellent cake and really, can you beat a chocolate ganache icing! I think this cake will continue to be our family’s birthday cake for years to come.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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