Thursday, September 22, 2005

Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake

Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake
WHEN I was a wee girl the mammy of one my school friends made the best birthday cakes in the world- bar none.

We used to love being invited to her daughters' birthday parties because you just never knew what you would find on the table when you showed up with your birthday card, best dress and £1 box of Maltesers from Dorian's Newsagents in Beechwood.
One year there would be a beautifully decorated tennis court moulded out of a marzipan and icing- completed with little figures hitting a ball back and forth across the net. The next you would find a glamorous Barbie doll bedecked in a glorious ball gown- the skirt of which was made entirely of sponge cake and multi-coloured icing.
While equally delicious, my own mammy preferred the quick baked victoria-sponge-slathered-in-chocolate-and-smattered-with-smarties approach to birthday cake making.
My friend's mammy, however, had birthday parties which were in another league. She introduced us to the concept of Top Hats (those wee marshmallow and chocolate treats) tray bakes and green Quosh (we only ever had boring old Kia Ora in our house).
She was the uber mammy of the 80s, with a perfect house, a gorgeously groomed garden and a mind full of weird and wonderful party games to keep us all amused. You were no one on the party circuit if you didn't get invited to her renowned bashes- and no party was complete without at least one child throwing up through sheer over indulgence.
(To prevent any distress or offence being caused to my own mammy or any other mammy whose party I attended as a child- all the parties of my childhood were fun and greatly appreciated.)
Perhaps all the other mammies of the day wanted to hit uber mammy a good slap, but as a naive little girl I thought she was the bees knees and promised myself there and then I would be the kind of mammy who baked her own biscuits and created birthday cakes all the other parents would envy.
Needless to say, I've not lived up to my promises. Joseph's first birthday cake came courtesy of Doherty's Bakery and the nearest he has come to home-baked wholesome cooking is the carrot cake a colleague of mine baked in his honour.
So in a fit of mammy-guilt combined with a mad notion that I could make Nigella Lawson look like Waynetta Slob I set about opening my very own Allan home bakery last weekend.

I reasoned that the cost of stocking a hitherto bare baking cupboard with a variety of flours, flavours, fillings and sugars would be a worthy investment as my freezer and cupboards filled up with batch upon batch of delicious bakes and treats ready to take on any daring member of the yummy mummy brigade.
I searched the Internet for suitable recipes and tortured a few friends along the way to share their own baking secrets (including the colleague of the delicious carrot cake fame) and I familiarised myself with the concept of vanilla essence and baking powder. (I'm still not entirely sure what the difference is between baking powder and bicarbonate of soda- a bag of freshly baked peanut butter and raisin cookies goes to whoever can tell me!).
So on Saturday afternoon I donned my designer pinny, pulled my hair back off my perfectly made up face and set about becoming Claire Allan, Uber Mammy of the Noughties.
Within a short time, however, I started to grow a little flustered as I sifted, folded and battered my concoctions to within an inch of their lives. My image of domestic bliss was shattered somewhat when, instead of standing side by side with my son enjoying some bonding, I instead felt my blood pressure raising as the wee man decided it would be more fun to stand beside me calling "Ut nonny, ut!" (Translation "Up, Mammy, Up!")
When he tried for the 13th time to climb into the oven ("Ah wan light nonny") I had to call my husband through to rescue his child and what was left of my sanity. There was I, standing amid a cloud of flour, a trail of cookie mix splattered on every surface while himself looked on at me with a mixture of pity and disgust. I realised then I was more Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show than Nigella Lawson- all that was missing was me shouting "Put de chicky in de basket" in a funny voice.
But an hour later, with the wee man ensconced safely in the living room, I stood in my reclaimed kitchen watching my cookies cool by the window, breathing in deeply the delicious aroma of home baking; and I felt great about myself.
I even felt, dare I say it, somewhat of a rebel. After all us modern women aren't supposed to be interested in baking, cooking or anything that could possibly be construed as being tied to the kitchen sink or cooker.
But I felt I was carrying on a tradition- where mammies baked for their children on Saturday afternoons the city over. And as Joseph made "yummy" sounds while dipping his chocolate chip cookie into the remains of his spaghetti bolognaise after dinner (he is a strange child) I felt like a success.
I still doubt I will be of a standard to perfect the best birthday cake in Derry by the time his next big day rolls around- but somewhere down the line I hope someone will fondly recall Joseph Allan's mammy and her status as queen of the birthday bashes.

1 comment:

Noo Noo said...

The Cookies are mine! Baking soda is simply bicarbonate of soda whilst while Baking Powder is a mixture of Bicarbonate of Soda, Cream of Tartar and Starch. (I knew my O'Grade Food & Nutrition would come in handy at some point....)

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