Launch of The Great New Zealand Birthday Cake Book
Many of us fondly remember those themed childhood birthday cakes — either we baked and laboured over their decoration ourselves (train? ballerina? swimming pool?), hopefully delighting our offspring and their small friends, or our mum made those cakes for us when we were young.
And, for many of us, the recipes and those seductive photos came from THAT Australian cookbook. Tim Harper remembers it all well. The Auckland-based creative director, one of the team behind Murray Thom’s Great NZ Cookbook and the more recent Great New Zealand Baking Book, wanted his son Henry to share the joy — and all that glorious icing — on his second birthday too.
As Tim borrowed his mother’s Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book, now wrapped in plastic to protect its ageing covers, the thought struck him: there was no Kiwi version.
Enter a whole new world of cakes: there’s a scarfie’s beanie, kiwi, Jellytip, rugby ball, an adorable kina and Murray (no relation) the Sheep, along with your international mermaid, toolbox and his and hers magical kingdoms, and some grown-up beauties for adults too.
They are among the 80 cakes photographed, along with stencils and detailed decorating instructions, in The Great New Zealand Birthday Cake Book, which launched in September 2016 for a whole new generation of kids. It’s a timely launch, coinciding nicely with Bite’s fourth birthday and, as you can see for yourself, we’re all about cake.
Enter the draw to win a copy of The Great New Zealand Birthday Cake Book here
It’s true that Bite’s birthday may not have been uppermost in Murray’s mind when he decided to launch now — September and October are party central in New Zealand. One third of all birthdays in the country occur in these two months. Like many things nostalgic, family played a key role in the book’s creation.
From Copenhagen, celebrated Kiwi baker Dean Brettschneider created two recipes for the cakes (one chocolate, the other vanilla) which Wendy Nixon, Murray’s sister and the team’s project editor, baked over and over in varying sizes, to specifications dictated by her daughter-in-law, Jazmine Nixon. Jaz dreamed up the cake designs and went on to decorate each one.
“Jaz [below left] and Wendy[right] did the hard yards,” Murray says, without a shred of exaggeration. The pair made 100 cakes in the evenings and weekends over eight weeks.
Jaz, a graphic designer, makes special-occasion cakes to order on the side, and she and Wendy both worked full days before their nocturnal forays in Wendy’s kitchen, beginning at 7pm and finishing around 1 or 2am. The shoots for the book were done at 9am, so at least photographer Lottie Hedley got some sleep.
“I gave them a tight brief — eight cakes a week. Poor Jaz, she’s a coeliac. She couldn’t even eat the cakes,” Tim says.
Actually no one ate cake. They were much too tired. Henry has now turned 3 (that’s him on the left at the top of the page, enjoying a cupcake with his 2-year-old cousin Archie). Henry chose the choo-choo train (the hardest, biggest cake in the book, according to Tim). Archie’s Number 2 cake, made for his recent birthday, was decorated like a racetrack (the same as the number 5 cake in the book).
“My sister Liv was desperate to make the birthday cake herself, but she’s not a baker,” Tim says. “I told her it would take two days; one day to make the cake and the next to decorate it. She didn’t listen. I got a panicky call at 11pm [the party was the next day]. The cake had exploded in the oven. She didn’t have the right tin or anything. She raced out to New World and bought a ready-made sponge and sat up until 3am decorating it. She says she has never sworn so much in her life.”
The racetrack is made with deconstructed liquorice from allsorts lollies, which need to be washed first. “I still remember washing liquorice for that cake,” Murray interjects. “Mum and I washed them in warm water.”
“Anyway,” Tim says, “next day at the party, Liv says the sense of achievement was as great as that she felt after having her second baby.”
That says it all. That’s the power of cake for you.
The Great New Zealand Birthday Cake Book, created by Tim Harper and Murray Thom, published by PQ Blackwell, available nationwide, $39.95.