Growing up, I didn’t get to eat desserts as often as my kids do nowadays. But, the one day I could count on having sweets would be my birthday–a longing birthday cake 生日蛋糕 (saang1 yat6 daan6 gou1).
Traditionally, Chinese people don’t use an oven, so desserts are cooked on the stove, steamed, or deep fried. Even though my mom cooks a lot, she never bakes. Even when she makes dessert, it would be some kind of sweet soup 糖水 (tong4 seoi2). Although I had never had a homemade birthday cake growing up, my parents would buy me a “western” birthday cake. A typical birthday cake was a 2 layered sponge cake, filled with whipped cream and diced fruit, frosted with whipped cream, and decorated with more fresh fruit.
For my son’s past birthdays, I have made him birthday cakes which were fun for him at that time. He is obsessed with cars, from little matchbox cars to real fancy cars. So I have made my fair share of car cakes: a yellow school bus, a dump truck, an AE86 (a race car from a Japanese Manga 頭文字D/ Initial D), and a car tire. Other than cars, his main source of entertainment is a huge trunk full of Legos. So a Lego cake with mini-figures made his birthday cake list one year. And there was a year when he was into the Titanic, so a sinking ship cake it was that year! One year I made an airplane, but couldn’t remember why. When he turned 12, I made a dog cake to represent his 生肖 (sang1 ciu3), animal from Chinese zodiac.
Maybe you can tell that the “rustic” yellow school bus was my 1st ever homemade birthday cake! I wasn’t proud of that creation, but it was the smile on my son’s face when he 1st saw the cake counted, right?
Since my son’s birthday is 5 days before my husband’s birthday, and 6 days before my birthday (yes, my husband’s birthday is one day before mine!), I don’t normally make another birthday cake for my husband, but I did when he turned 40. That was the 1st time I played with fondant, so it wasn’t as smooth as Johnny Walker would be if it were aged 40 years!
For my beautiful daughter, I have made the girliest cakes: a Hello Kitty cake, a pink ballerina cake, a 3-tier pink ombre cake, and a unicorn cake. Of course, when she started learning the piano and the cello, I was excited to make a musical cake (half piano-half cello).
A few months ago it was my mom’s 70th 大壽 (daai6 sau6 ), a big birthday. Chinese people elaborately celebrate their elderly’s big birthdays at 10 year intervals starting from 60 years old. I felt sad that I couldn’t be in Hong Kong to celebrate with her, so I made her a birthday cake for her eyes to “eat”. Peaches of immortality, 壽桃 (sau6 tou4), is a common theme for elders’ birthday cakes in Hong Kong. To wish her eternal longevity I made her a 壽桃 cake. The Chinese character 寿 on the cake is the simplified version of the word 壽, which means long life or birthday.
We were lucky enough to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday with her a few years ago. She loves the color purple, so I made her a deep purple cake with light purple frosting. The purple cake blended well with the purple plate, the purple napkin, her purple nail polish, her purple bracelet, and her purple shirt (I sewed purple trim for the sleeves and ironed on the sparkling number 70)!
I love making birthday cakes! 生日快樂 (saang1 yat6 faai3 lok6), happy birthday!