The tradition of birthday Smartie cake goes back to the early part of my own childhood.
Smarties themselves have been around a long time, and who knows, maybe Smartie cakes too. Rowntree started making 'chocolate beans' in 1882 and they picked up the word Smarties as part of their name in 1937. The name was shortened to just Smarties in 1977. Smarties are currently manufactured by Nestlé and their largest production facility is in Canada.
There is a family photo in our album of a big square Smartie cake placed on the dining room table for my oldest brother's eighth birthday. I was only four. The picture is a bit faded, but still in colour. You can see a sparse selection of Smarties dotting the 'sticky icing' in colours of brown, orange and red on one side. Nestlé changed the colours of Smarties in March 2009 as they switched to natural dyes. Their rainbow included yellow, brown, orange, red, green, pink and purple. Blue was re-introduced into the colour palate a year later.
As I recall, the Smartie cake was our mother's response to her kids protesting the more typical version of a celebration cake served in a Danish home. Lagkage is a delicious adult experience, but as kids, we didn't really warm to the rich tastes of a custard filling and a frosting of whipped cream. Our palates at that age were more geared to 'sweet'.
My mother was crafty and also loved to experiment in the kitchen. She had a paper recipe book by the Good Housekeeping Institute called Good Housekeeping's Cake Cook Book - Special Crisco Edition, which included a recipe for Seven-Minute Frosting. Or as we like to call it - Sticky Icing. I don't know if the cookbook offered the idea of decorating the cake with Smarties or if that was my mother's artistic flair. I remember helping to make the frosting.
And so a tradition was born. For just about all of our birthdays, while living at home, we had Smartie cake as our birthday cake - a simple white cake, filled and covered with Seven-Minute Frosting and decorated with Smarties.
As their long running marketing jingle was very catchy, when we ate our piece of cake we would almost always break into chorus, "When you eat your Smarties, do you eat the red ones last? Do you suck them very slowly, or crunch them very fast? Eat those candy-coated chocolates, but tell me when I ask, when you eat your Smarties, do you eat the red ones last?" It was a real coup to get a red Smartie on our slice.
The tradition was upheld. When the grandkids came to visit my mom, they too would receive a Smartie cake for their birthday. She often would use a white Duncan Heinz cake mix to lighten her load. If they were lucky, she made the orange flavoured cake. But this special cake was more about the sticky icing and the Smarties, than the cake itself.
When my mom passed away, the Smartie cake tradition was one I just couldn't let go by the wayside. I re-learned how to make the Seven-Minute Frosting myself. The first time my results were a bit rocky but the recipe is straightforward and I learned the nuances of the method. Our darling son's birthday Smartie cakes have continued on.
In fact, when he turned 16, he started making birthday Smartie cakes for his friends on their big day. The group would create a big birthday fuss with the cake when they all sat together at lunch time. I offered preemptive advice as the cakes headed to school - the smelly locker is not where one stores a Smartie cake for the morning. Bless her, the school's receptionist guarded many a pretty Smartie cake over his high school years. His reputation became known. He received a last minute call one weekend for a birthday Smartie cake, 'STAT'! Teenagers can be lousy planners. We always kept supplies on the ready.
It was during his tenure, that the sticky icing took on colour, instead of just being plain white. Trying to play to personalities, the frosting sported hues of pink, mauve, baby blue and sometimes light green. The Smartie decoration became more elaborate too. It must have been the influence of all that IB art!
As his university career began, the darling son missed birthdays at home because he was either in school or on a work term. This year I had the chance to have a cake personally delivered to him at university. I jumped at the chance to make a milestone birthday Smartie cake, rusty as I was.
I wonder. Will the traditional Smartie cake as THE birthday cake carry on for another generation? Time will tell.
2 egg whites
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water, or as little as 1/3 cup if you want a more crusty frosting
1 tablespoon corn syrup, white
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
It cooks in a double boiler.
Combine all ingredients except vanilla in double boiler top; place over rapidly boiling water and beat
with electric mixer at medium speed, or with hand beater, till mixture holds a peak (about 7 minutes).
Remove from boiling water. Add vanilla and continue to beat till mixture forms stiff peaks.
Generously fills and frosts tops and sides of 2 8" or 9" layers.
Once the cake is frosted, it should be refrigerated.
If there is too much humidity in the air, the frosting will not become fluffy. When it is muggy or rainy, I make sure the air conditioner has run for a bit if I attempt this recipe. A cool, clear day is best.