Friday 16 June 2017

The Scrumptiousness of Cake (do not read if hungry)

by Paula Harrison

It's fair to say that cake occupies a special place in many authors' hearts. There's the cake that keeps you going during the tear-your-hair-out stage of editing, there's cake eaten to ease the pain of rejection and just now and then there is celebratory cake when something special happens.

There's also (Shh... insider knowledge alert) quite a bit of cake wafting around publishers' office which is offered to hungry authors who might wander in off the streets. I've only been in one publishing meeting which didn't involve cake. Looking back, I feel this was a terrible oversight. 

Book cover cupcakes at the SCBWI 20th anniversary last Autumn
Cake also features heavily in children's books. There are lashings of them in Enid Blyton, with my favourite being the pop cakes in The Enchanted Wood:

She [Silky] brought out a tin of Pop Cakes, which were lovely. As soon as you bit into them they went pop! and you suddenly found your mouth filled with new honey from the middle of the little cakes. 

So it was inevitable that I would include some cake in my own stories. The Rescue Princesses have a particular habit of planning adventures and ninja moves over slices of cake. The Emperor's birthday cake at the end of The Stolen Crystals is one that sticks in my mind:

The twelve-tier birthday cake kept everyone happy, with its layers of chocolate fudge cake, cherry and sultana cake, ginger, lemon, toffee and many other flavours. Emily's little sister, Lottie, ate a slice from all twelve tiers and then had to sit very still on a garden chair to calm her aching tummy.

Cake is not just a food in children's books. It's something that brings characters together, lets them interact, celebrate and commiserate. It can be a tool for setting the scene and signalling characters roles in the story and attitudes to each other. It can be important to the plot.

Who can forget the floating pudding (nearly a cake) which Dobby uses to ruin Harry Potter's uncle and aunt's dinner party in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets?

Aunt Petunia's masterpiece of a pudding, the mountain of cream and sugared violets, was floating up near the ceiling. On top of a cupboard in the corner crouched Dobby...

Probably the most memorable cake scene in my opinion is Miss Trunchball's attempt to punish Bruce Bogtrotter by making him eat an entire chocolate cake in Matilda by Roald Dahl. She fails miserably.

She [Trunchball] glared at Bruce Bogtrotter, who was sitting on his chair like some huge overstuffed grub, replete, comatose, unable to move or speak. A fine sweat was beading his forehead but there was a grin of triumph on his face.
Suddenly the Trunchball lunged forward and grabbed the large empty china platter on which the cake had rested. She raised it high in the air and brought it down with a crash right on the top of the wretched Bruce Bogtrotter's head and pieces flew all over the platform.
The boy was by now so full of cake he was like a sackful of wet cement and you couldn't have hurt him with a sledge-hammer. He simply shook his head a few times and went on grinning.

So what's your favourite cake scene in a children's book?


  1. Crumbs - you're right ( see what I did there?!)

  2. I note that a bottle of Prosecco hovers over the pile of cakes. What a brilliant combination. I want them both now.

  3. Cake is not quite as big a thing in the US; I think of it more as a special occasion item. Taylor's The Haunters had a good bit about cake in it. I remember being greatly distracted by the concept of a cake tin while reading it!

  4. That's very interesting! Is there anything in the US that fulfills this role? Cookies maybe?

  5. I use a mega chocolate cake as a bribe in my book but the main food of delight is pies. I love how food is used in books. Bringing people together, being irritated by eating habbits (Honestly, Ron Weasley get some table manners), showing character through what, when and how they eat. It's a lot of fun.


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