It’s weird how some Aussie icons happen. When the staff at the Australian Women’s Weekly created the now iconic Children’s Birthday Cake Book, featuring the hot mess that is Duck Cake, little did they know it would take on legendary status 40 years later because of an ABC kids show called Bluey.
Bluey, of course, is a blue healer dog who stars with her Mum, Dad and little sister Bingo. In the now infamous episode, Bingo is selecting a cake for her birthday when she happens upon the Duck Cake in the cook book that deadset every family in Australia must have at least one copy of by now.
Bless Mum for chiming in: “Oh Bingo, are you sure? That looks hard to make.” But it’s Dad who ends up having to make it happen, and Bingo has set some very high standards: “Make sure it looks exactly like the picture!”
Here’s where I get lumped into it — my niece Maisy requested Duck Cake for her 5th birthday, unbeknownst to me that it had become a cultural phenomenon thanks to a cartoon dog.
Now, had the creators of Bluey made Bingo stick to the pool cake, I could have easily pulled that one off. I made it for my own birthday last year (admittedly I’m a lot older than five). Look at this masterpiece!
Fair warning: there are graphic Duck Cake images ahead because this thing turned out like a dog’s breakfast.
I got up early on Maisy’s birthday to bake the cake parts and allow time for them to cool. This was my first mistake. I should’ve baked them the night before and kept them in the fridge so the cake was firm and easier to carve. There is A LOT of carving involved in Duck Cake.
After going through two heads and half a dozen large skewers, I had a base that vaguely resembled the shape of a duck — and a pile of mattered cake offcuts.
Now comes my second mistake: instead of making the meringue icing that the Women’s Weekly book recommends, I thought I would make things easier on myself and use pre-made Betty Crocker vanilla frosting. It was not easier. Not one bit. In hindsight, the meringue icing, which is light and hardens as it sets, would’ve held the cake together. Instead, the thick icing I used and the freshly baked cake immediately started to collapse. I added more and more skewers, cobbled together the decorations to make a face and popcorn hair, and quickly took a photo for bragging rights.
It all went downhill from there. The Duck Cake was too big to fit in any of my cake containers, so I had to place it in a cardboard box padded with towels to try and get this monstrosity to the birthday party. It was the most nerve-racking drive of my life — all five minutes of it.
The duck did not survive unscathed. The body was coming apart a the centre, and the back of its head split open. It was gruesome. I quickly shoved a bunch of skewers into it to try and pull it together before my niece could see my failure.
Bless kids for having such vivid imaginations, because not a single one of my nieces cried at the sight of this thing. Maisy squealed with delight. “Thank you for my Duck Cake, Melly!”
Duck Cake is now off-limits for all future birthdays. Stick to the pool cake, kids.