Birthday cakes for children around the world
It’s every Kiwi parent’s aspiration and every child’s wish to get a cake that’s in the shape of the latest trend, whether it’s a unicorn, a Lego figure or just something with lots of lollipops to pick up before reaching the icing and cake.
And while we eat a piece of Superman sponge, there’s the spread of french fries, fairy bread, and general junk food to inhale between the kids’ games.
The go-to catalog for DIY cakes in Australia and New Zealand has to be the iconic Australian Children’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book, which is still among my cookbooks, passed down from my mum, and still brandishing the award $8.48.
But while Kiwi and Aussie parents are creating their own squishy piece-by-piece mermaid cakes, filling goodie bags and preparing games, what in the world are they doing?
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There are two separate celebrations for birthdays, one on the child’s date of birth and another on the New Year when your new age is considered complete. Traditionally, babies in Korea are considered to be one year old when they are born.
For a colorful birthday cake, similar to the time-consuming western rainbow cake, Koreans have rainbow rice cake, or mujigae-tteok. Presented most often on a baby’s celebrated first birthday, one year after birth, and to those over 60, its ingredients are rice flour, sugar, salt, water and food coloring , steamed.
The time you might see someone eating hand cake at a Kiwi celebration is most likely at a wedding, but in India cake eating is a tradition on birthdays. After Happy Birthday is sung, the cake, similar to what we would see here, will be cut by the birthday celebrant before being served in small pieces and given first to immediate family and then to other guests.
16th and 21st birthdays can be very important here, but in Mexico and countries in South America, a girl’s coming of age is celebrated on the 15th, called a quinceañera.
Think wedding meets school prom and you’ll get the idea. The girl’s entry into womanhood sees the whole family attend, as well as friends. There’s live music, salsa, often a mariachi band, and of course, cake. A Latino mother who celebrated her daughter’s quinceañera last year tells me it’s a “beautiful” and “very expensive” party.
The girl entering her new life swaps her flats for heels, representing coming of age, while wearing a formal dress and her hair done up.
Among the diverse cultures of Indonesia, made up of more than 100,000 ethnicities, one birthday tradition stands out, and it’s not a cake, it’s a tumpeng.
A tumpeng is made from medium-grain rice with coconut milk and herbs, shaped into a cone while the ingredients are still warm. Instead of cutting the tumpeng like a cake, the tip is cut and traditionally given by the person whose birthday it is to the one they love the most, be it a parent or a other family member.
I know from a reliable source, from an Italian and his mother, that in the south of Italy, it is traditional to make torta cake for birthdays. It’s a sponge similar to the classic Kiwi sponge, “only better” and instead of cream it contains custard. It used to be the job of the parents to make the special birthday cake, but those days are over; instead, they are purchased from the local bakery. I am told that by the time the children reach their teens, if there are more adults than children at the party, there will also be cognac added to the cake!
A Ukrainian I spoke to says that honey cake and Kyiv cake are traditional birthday cakes in this Eastern European country, but the one that looks appetizing is the Napoleon cake that his grandmother cooks. The mille-feuille style cake consists of several layers of puff pastry with alternating layers of pastry cream.
A baby’s first birthday party is a big event in Tonga, attended by friends, family and the church pastor. And for this reason, the cake usually has multiple tiers to offer, with the first tier going to the faifekau (church minister) after the cake has been cut, along with gifts and a cash envelope. The aunt, or the father’s sister, also receives a level and more gifts than the faifekau. And finally another cake is offered to the mother’s family as a sign of respect for the birth.