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The iconic Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book is celebrating its 40th anniversary

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book its publisher has created a limited edition copy with 50 recipes – a combination of the much-loved favourites and new ones.

The iconic cookbook featuring 106 recipes was originally released in 1980, with the castle cake, train, swimming pool and ‘Dolly’ dessert being reproduced by Australian parents thousands of times over. 

On August 17 the $19.99 anniversary special will find its way onto newsagent and supermarket shelves, before it is stocked in bookstores on August 18, while stocks last. 

The book will be divided into five themed sections – animals and creatures, playtime, numbers, for everyone and fantasy – and share helpful decorating tips, icings and frostings to go along with them.

While the recipes inside are a surprise, there is no question the ingredients and step-by-step guide will be just as intricate as it has always been.

‘The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book has been a part of family birthday traditions for over four decades,’ General Manager of Publishing for Bauer Media, Sally Eagle, said.

‘We are excited to bring this special 40th anniversary addition to life to not only celebrate the incredible imaginations behind this cookbook but also to keep the tradition alive for future generations.’ 

Previously, one of the key recipe developers of the book told FEMAIL it wasn’t an instant success when they went to market.

Pamela Clark, now 75, worked as the chief home economist at the Women’s Weekly test kitchen from 1969, planning meals that were then photographed for the magazine.

The idea of creating separate soft cover cookbooks started in the late 70s and became extremely popular, with the grandmother from Sydney saying they were ‘constantly reprinting them’.

‘There was talk of doing a children’s birthday book but people didn’t think it would go well but I was in there fighting for it because I was interested in making the cakes,’ Pamela told FEMAIL earlier this year.

‘We worked on them for a couple of years in between the other cookbooks. Sometimes we would be midway through when the food editor would say it looked “fantastic” and needed to be shot that moment.’

Pamela said that this is the reason most of the recipe photos look so ‘rough’, because they are prototypes in the process.

In the middle of 1980 the book was released but it didn’t ‘immediately run off the shelves’.

Pamela stayed decidedly quiet during this time, because it had partially been her idea, but she reasoned most people wouldn’t buy the book unless they were preparing for a birthday – it was a smaller market than the AWW’s other cookbooks.

But within a year it began to pick up in sales overseas, namely in the UK where the brand was expanding, and before long Australians were also searching for it on their local newsstands.

‘Gradually it took off. It’s a bit of an honour really. Who would have thought this daggy cookbook would became an Aussie icon,’ she said.

‘I remember at the time there was a comedian in Melbourne who even mentioned the book in his routine.’  

The most popular design was the ingenious castle cake, which featured smarties and liquorice and was the perfect choice for a little princess in your life.

Back in the era where food styling involved placing the cake on a clean bench, Pamela always used packet mixes to create the baked goods, including the ones in the book, because the consistency would be the same across the board.

‘We wanted the exact sizes to write the recipe and a consistent height and depth. That was the main focus,’ she said.

Her favourite ones to make were the Dolly cake with a marshmallow skirt and the swimming pool cake with musk stick ladder rungs.

She has put each together ‘plenty of times’ for various birthdays and continues to create recipes from the book for her two granddaughters. 

You’ll never find Pamela recreating the tip truck cake though, which she said is a ‘shocker’.

‘It’s defying gravity with the tip part… it’s cake for goodness sake it can’t hold up everything,’ she said.

The best part about making birthday cakes, Pamela said, is that just about anyone – skilled or unskilled in the baking department – will give it a try.

She recalls a neighbour of hers once calling over, pleading for Pamela’s help with her daughter’s intricate cake so it would be the perfect surprise.

The end result was just what she wanted but the most interesting thing about the experience was how evident it was that ‘people who aren’t good cooks would take on difficult tasks for their child’. 

‘Parents will stay up all night making these cakes. Sometimes their partner joins in to engineer it… it’s all about the love for the kids,’ she said.

Forty years later mothers and fathers are ‘hacking’ Woolworths and Coles mud cakes and creating masterpieces without working from scratch, something Pamela commends.

She believes the first thing any child looks for on a cake are the lollies on the top anyway, so as long as their favourites are in full view, they will be pleased. 

With 500,000 copies sold over four decades there is no missing how popular the birthday cook book was for a generation of parents. 

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