Cake, I thought. I’m good at cakes. I don’t need to just put a bunch of cupcakes in a row and call them a lightsaber. I can make a lightsaber cake.
Hey, self, remember how you don’t do fancy cakes? How you’re not crafty? How you make delicious traditional round cakes with simple vanilla buttercream or chocolate icing, and deftly wield your little bottle of multicoloured sprinkles, and everyone is quite happy?
So. I said the first to myself. I did not think to add the second until it was too late. Much, much too late.
First I made the cake (Nigella’s buttermilk sponge, for just such occasions) in a rectangular pan. I almost fell at the first hurdle by buttering but not papering the pan, and was afraid for a few terrifying minutes that the whole thing had stuck to the bottom, but with a little help from my giant fish-slice, I managed to free the beast.
Then I cut it lengthwise in ever-decreasing thicknesses.
Then I cast about for some way to put it on the table. I taped together several pieces of discarded cereal box, covered in tinfoil. (And they said I wasn’t crafty.) And laid out my lightsaber, handle to tip.
I mixed up a lovely batch of buttercream.
Of the parts that went right, for a while.
Backtrack to the previous day, when I had belatedly decided that I had to buy not just food colouring, but natural food colouring, so as not to send everyone’s children home high on Red 40, that evilest of evils. With my stomach still loudly and painfully complaining that no, I was not entirely better yet, I made the entire family drive first to one organic foodstore and then to a second, where I triumphantly exited clutching my three tiny vials of stuff. Red stuff, blue stuff, and yellow stuff, guaranteed to enable me to mix any colour I liked. Visions of a perfectly lifelike silver-and-black-handled green or blue lightsaber cake danced before my eyes. (I may have still been a little feverish too.)
So here we were, the proto-birthday-boy and I, ready to mix our colours. He said he’d like a green lightsaber cake. I pulled a little ceramic eggcup, that had never before seen the light of day since we got it as a wedding present, out of the cupboard, and carefully dripped in one drip of blue. It didn’t look very blue, but it wasn’t the yellow bottle or the red bottle so it must have been. Then we carefully added one drip of yellow. The yellow was lovely and bright, but my mixture in the bowl was nothing but sludge brown. We added some more yellow. It was still sludgey.
Rather than taint my beautiful buttercream with mud-colour, we decided a blue lightsaber would be fine. Remembering past experience with cochineal (oh, dead red beetles of my past, why are you no longer around to be mushed into natural food colour?), I dripped one sole drip of blue into the sea of cream. Nothing happened. I dripped a couple more drips. Still nothing. The blue did nothing at all. Stupid natural colours made of vegetables. (But really. Have you ever seen a blue vegetable? The yellow is from turmeric or cumin, so it was great, and the red is from beets, but what is the blue from?)
“Purple?” I said. “How about we add a drop of red and it might turn purple?” The boy, bless him, was game. The red worked pretty well, beetles or no. We had lovely pale pink buttercream. If only it was his sister’s birthday, I thought. We put in more red. Pinker pink. Half the bottle. Damn pink.
At this point I was stumped. I found my old bottle of Evil Chemical Red and sloshed in some drops of that for good measure. Now it was what you might call definitely dark pink, and I had compromised all my principles, but it didn’t seem in any danger of turning red. Dash was getting disheartened. I was too. We decided to take a break and see what Daddy thought when he and Mabel got home.
Daddy thought the pink would be okay. I thought I should go out and buy something. There were three hours to go before the party, and nothing else was done yet. What’s a birthday party without a last-minute rush to the shops for something you didn’t know you needed?
I went to the local supermarket. No helpful bright blue or green or silver tins of frosting. There were more fake food colourings, but I wasn’t sure I was up to more mixing, and I was very vague about how I had been planning to make silver anyway. Silver balls, that’s what I need, I thought, with a brainwave. Remember those silver balls that were a decorating staple in days of yore? (Yore being the 70s.) Whatever happened to those? Because apparently they don’t sell them any more. Not in my stores, anyway.
I tried a different place, happening into Party City on the way to pick up some paper cups with Yoda on them and a Darth Vader mask – both vital, as it happened, to the party, so it was just as well I’d gone out. By my third stop I had a decision: a jar of red sprinkles (made entirely of Red 40, of course) to make the red icing look redder, and a jar of chocolate sprinkles to make the “black” lines on the handle, which I would just do in plain white buttercream.
I went home; I did the needful. The finished product looked like this.
A little, um, fleshy, perhaps, but the boys didn’t complain, and everyone wanted some of the red icing.
But remind me next year, okay? I don’t do fancy cakes.