Birthday Cake: one of RHS’s great quandaries – Tabitha Saunders

At this time of year – a time of indulgence and excess – we should remember the important things, so here’s a reminder about cake.


Birthdays come round but once a year for us all, and when this special day lies on a school day an RHS pupil is faced with one prospect and one prospect only: cake.


As a day pupil with many hungry boarder friends, practically starved of the comforts of unhealthy Co-op cakes all term long, I am never one to shy away from the implicit obligation of one who lives down the road from the local Co-op of bringing in a cake (or 2) for these poor souls. However, many problems and hurdles must be surpassed to properly carry out this task, and this article aims to draw these out and fully discuss the importance of this wholly under appreciated deed.


The most obvious thought that occurs to the day pupil upon entering the shop is what flavour would encompass the wide range of pallets your house/classmates have. Do you go for a classic Vicky sponge? Chocolate cake? Some adventurous flavour you’ve never heard of in the dark corner of the bakery shelf? More often than not we choose chocolate, since this is usually an overarching favourite of teenagers (and everyone). But you always find that one person who you planned to share this spectacular work of food with who says the fatal words that makes every cake-bringer die just a little bit inside: “but i don’t like cake really”. This person just ruins the rest of your special day with their negative attitudes to the perfection of this cake. In this scenario, it is best to ignore this person, since you do not need this kind of negativity in your life and you can do way better in a friend.


Then we come to a subtler conundrum: what shape do we use? When I ask you to picture a birthday cake in your mind, chances are you’re thinking of a round one. But this is so simplistic! What about a tray bake? Usually much bigger in size the tray bake is key for one with many friends or if you simply want to become popular with everyone in your immediate vicinity. Of course, you may choose to go classic with a round cake, but the trouble here is that not many appreciate is how the portioning of slices is very much erratic; I may start giving decent slices to my friends, but when I’m halfway round the cake I’ll find I’m not halfway through the queue of people waiting for food (reminiscent of the scene in Oliver Twist where all the children, starved, might pluck up the courage to ask for more). What I have found in my 7 years of experience here is that any shape is good; however the general favourite is the classic caterpillar cake. In no way is this childish, but rather a British delicacy in many critics’ opinions.



Finally, we come to the heart of the issue. You now have two options: go to the co-op and buy that £1 cake that you can’t go wrong with but is honestly depressingly small, or do you go all out: elaborate decoration, different textures and ingredients, and – of course – vegan-friendly. Now is generally the time when this birthday girl/boy asks one’s self a few questions. The first of these, “how popular am I?”. It’s all well and good going all out and enjoying yourself, but if you only want to share this calorific desert with 3 or so other people then you seem to have missed the point of sharing (unless your aim is to gorge yourself, of course, in which case, go right ahead). Additionally, we ask ourselves “how much money do I have to my name?”. If like me you seem to be horribly broke and in debt to multiple members of your family, you might then ask if a cake is really worth it at this point, since it’s obvious that although you are the one with a birthday, you are most likely going to be the one with the least amount of cake in your system due to the scavengers who take bits of food when you’re not looking and capitalise on your ‘generosity’.

I hope I have demonstrated the hidden complexities of bringing cake for birthdays when done in the proper fashion. Of course, there are exceptions to this guide. It does not appeal to those who, last minute, run to the shop in search of the first thing that resembles some form of a cake. It also does not appeal to those in houses, take Raleigh for example, who has a loving matron who will literally bake a cake for your birthday (thank you Mrs. WG!).


Birthdays will come and go, but what would they be without cake?

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