This week’s Guest Editor is Donna White, a national newspaper and magazine journalist who now spends most of her days wiping snot and watching The Wiggles with her two sons Brodie, aged six, and Blake, four. She blogs at Mummy Central (Chat to her on Twitter here), which she co-founded with fellow mum Elizabeth after they met on a playgroup fundraising committee and realised if they could handle parent politics they could conquer the world. .
The thing about becoming a mum is that I thought it would turn me into all of the things I’m not.
Mainly, a domestic goddess.
One of those women who could grab a few obscure ingredients from her cupboard and knock up a delicious family meal.
Someone not at all frightened by the words “I need you to make me a costume”.
The type of person who opens her wardrobe to a selection of freshly ironed outfits, ready to throw on and saunter down to the school gates, looking stylish.
We’ve all seen women like that – and wished we could be just like them.
But here’s a newsflash. Parenthood changes a lot of things.
But not who you are deep inside.
And I’m the kind of person friends tease because I burn pasta.
If I sew a button on a white shirt, I leave it hanging from spider’s legs of bright red thread, looking like a seven-year-old’s first attempt at stitching.
And five minutes before the school bell rings, I’m fishing around in the laundry basket for a top that’s not got too many gravy stains on it.
I get the job done – in the end.
But I’m a flurry of chaos and panic beforehand, and I sometimes need a Plan B in case of disaster.
However, here’s another newsflash.
Children don’t realise that mums are different.
If their friend’s mum can whip up the perfect novelty birthday cake, a la Delia Smith, they think you can too. So when my youngest asked for a castle cake for his fourth birthday party, I knew I’d need a simple and idiot-proof plan, so as not to shatter his illusions.
I did a bit of research on the internet first. Lots of images of pink, fairytale castles sprang up. And a plea over Twitter resulted in many useful suggestions.
A few weeks beforehand, I did a practise run, mainly finding out how to make the best-looking icing (buttercream was too lumpy) and what worked best as towers (swiss roll was too flaky).
The day before the party, I was pretty confident I could make it work, bearing in mind a four-year-old child isn’t looking for anything too professional.
Here’s what I did:
2. Place one on top of the other, securing with some scrumming filling (again, I went for Betty Crocker rich and creamy chocolate fudge icing)
3. Whip up a decent paste using icing sugar and water, and drop in a little black food colouring until you’ve got a bowl of light grey gloopy stuff (tell me if I’m getting a bit too technical here)
5. Take 8 Cadbury’s chocolate mini rolls and cover those in grey icing, leaving in the fridge overnight.
6. Take a roll of ready-made yellow icing (I got mine from a pack of Dr Oetker ready to roll Regal-Ice icing). Sprinkle a little icing sugar to prevent sticking, and roll out flat. Cut a large arch and four small ones.
7. Using a tube of black writing icing draw on a criss-cross design to make a portcullis on the large arch. Put a cross on the small arches. Refrigerate.
8. After all your prep has cooled overnight, take the mini rolls out and secure one on top of the other using a cocktail stick. Add one of the small arches to the top to make a window, using a bit of icing as glue. Repeat until you have four towers
9. Cut a square from the corner of your cake, and using more icing, secure your towers to all four corners of your cake. Attach the portcullis to the front
10. Decorate as you see fit. I used a foam shield which Blake got from a Mike the Knight comic to add a bit of colour to the top of the cake, and piped his name and age around it. A plastic flag from one of his toy castles went on one of the towers – and three mini meringues on the others. Finally I placed a couple of toy knights in front of the castle entrance. Voila!
The cake proved a huge hit at Blake’s birthday party, and many of the mums admired my handiwork.
I cut up a shop-bought chocolate cake and wrapped in napkins for Blake’s guests to take home, as I had a sneaking suspicion my boy might get upset if we demolished his castle too soon.
I was relieved that I did.
That night, after the party, my boys decided they both wanted a piece of the castle cake for their supper.
But come bedtime, their slices were barely touched.
“Are you not finishing your cake?” I enquired.
My four-year-old proved he’d learned a lot of tact and diplomacy with a mum like me, when he looked up sheepishly and said: “Mum it’s….. not delicious.”
Oh dear. Well I said I’d make him a castle cake. I didn’t promise it would taste nice. In retrospect, I didn’t add much filling between the two square cakes and they might have been a little dry.
That night, after the boys had gone to bed, I consoled myself by posting a picture of my masterpiece on Facebook.
I was revelling in the comments of my friends and fellow mums, who were all saying things like “Fabulous” and “I couldn’t do that”.
There was nothing stopping me from pretending I was a domestic goddess.
Then I smelled a burning coming from the kitchen. I’d completely forgotten about the pan of pasta I’d put on for my tea!
Sshhhhhhh! Don’t tell anyone.