Beloved birthday cake book turns 40

Beloved birthday cake book turns 40


I tried to make a cake from the AWW's Children's Birthday Cakes book. It didn't go well.


The famed Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cakes cookbook turns 40 this month.

You know the one. It has a picture of a train cake on the cover and no doubt pages that stick together thanks to buttercream you accidentally spilled on it the night before your child's birthday as you tried to whip up one of the marvellous creations within.

Every kid wanted one of these cakes at their party. From the lolly shop to the swimming pool with jelly for water, the cute Good Witch to the upright piano, the ice cream cake echidna to the Dolly Varden cake, there was something to amaze every child.

My brother got the Choo-Choo Train for his fifth birthday. It was magnificent, carrying precious cargo of coloured popcorn. It must have been tricky for mum to create because I never had the thrill of having the train at any of my birthday parties.

In honour of the book's big 4-0, I decided to have a go at making one of these cakes myself.

Full disclosure: I am not the world's best baker, or cook, or even cake-decorator for that matter. My husband wins all the culinary awards in our house. But I'm sure my 14-month-old son Clement will love it anyway - even if he is only allowed one very small piece after dinner.

I purposely picked the Hey Diddle Diddle cake. It looked fairly easy, I mean, it stays on the board. No fancy 3D cakes here!

What they Hey Diddle Diddle cake is meant to look like. Photo: The Australian Women's Weekly.

What they Hey Diddle Diddle cake is meant to look like. Photo: The Australian Women's Weekly.

It all started well enough. I nipped to Woolies, picked up some packet mix cakes, butter sticks for the icing and my lolly decorations. About an hour later, I had miraculously managed not to burn the cake in the oven!

"This is going to be a piece of cake," I laughed to myself. Wrong!

While cutting out the shape and mixing the right colour into the buttercream went well, icing it was another story.

Crumbs appeared in my smooth icing, my moon's nose fell off and nothing would stick to the sides of the cake!

My only saving grace was lots and lots of sprinkles and the pre-made chocolate stars I found in the baking aisle.

Sorry Clem - it looks like mummy won't be making your birthday cakes after all!

My attempts at the Hey Diddle Diddle cake.

My attempts at the Hey Diddle Diddle cake.

To work out where I went wrong, I got in touch with cake maker Kate Hallams.

"Never use a sponge cake for a carved cake," Kate said. "It doesn't have the structural integrity. Always use a heavier base like a mud cake as it has the density to handle being cut and shaped."

She also advised to do what she calls a "dirty layer" first.

"This means putting a thin layer of icing around your cake shape to trap all your crumbs into the first thin icing layer," she explained.

"Pop in the fridge for about 10 minutes and then start the icing process from there. You will find the 'dirty iced' cake will be more stable to work with and there will be no pesky crumbs.

"If you have tricky edges to cover in sprinkles, do a full layer of icing first. Pop it in the fridge to harden up and then come back and put a fresh thinner layer of icing over the top for you to press your sprinkles into.

"This way the structure of the cake is more solid and the new layer of icing is wet enough to hold the sprinkles."

The vintage edition of The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake cookbook is out now. You can buy your copy HERE.

Do you have pictures of a Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake you baked - triumph or tragedy? If so, we'd love to see it. Email us at