This year marks 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl. And today marks seven years since the birth of our eldest daughter. So this weekend we put the two together and had a good old fashioned knees up!
We’re massive Roald Dahl fans in our house. A few months ago we went to the Roald Dahl museum and since then, our eldest daughter asked for a Roald Dahl-themed party for her 7th birthday. Our awesome babysitter Charlotte (pictured with our youngest Oompa Loompa above) hosted the party and she, my wife Sarah and I have had great fun planning it over the past few weeks. (Incidentally if you’re based in London and are interested in having a Roald Dahl party yourself, if you get in touch I can pass on Charlotte’s details – just don’t book a party on a night we’re going to the cinema).
For us, parties (and most events really) usually start with the food. Our daughter said she would really like a Matilda cake so we came up with the design pictured above. Inside it obviously had to be chocolate, like Bruce Bogtrotter’s chocolate cake in the book. I tend to make chocolate cakes with real chocolate for adults but find them a bit heavy for kids. Instead, each tier was four layers of cocoa sponge sandwiched together with raspberry jam and chocolate ganache. We saved the top tier to have tonight on her actual birthday and it’s been demolished this evening by a hoard of ravenous cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.
We tried to cram in as many books as we could into the day and luckily, so many of Roald Dahl’s books feature food. For the birthday party tea, we gave the kids colourful boxes, with their own menus inside that Charlotte made for them (pictured above). They had snozcumber sandwiches from The BFG – cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, which we make for every kids party anyway as lots of our daughters’ friends have different dietary requirements but can eat these. The centipedes from James & The Giant Peach were green grapes on skewers. I made poisoned raisin cookies, as in Danny the Champion of the World they use raisins to drug the pheasants so I added raisins to my Anzac biscuit recipe. If you’re doing this, soak the raisins in water for about ten minutes, then drain the water out before adding to the mix. This will stop them from going burnt and bitter. Finally Mr Twit‘s Beard was broken up pieces of pretzel sticks and potato stick crisps. The kids loved the menus; you could hear them saying “don’t eat that, it’s poisoned!” and others saying “no don’t worry it’s just pretend!”
To drink, they had a choice between chocolate milk from Willy Wonka’s chocolate river, the BFG’s Frobscottle (cream soda – my favourite) or James & The Giant Peach squash. Charlotte made labels for us to add to the bottles and jugs, and again, the kids were really excited seeing these, especially discovering whether Frobscottle had the same whizz-popping side effects in real life!
The sweet table was a lot of fun to put together. Books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Giraffe and The Pelly and Me give loads of artistic license to be creative with sweets for a Roald Dahl theme. I made Tummytickler Marshmallows from the really easy recipe in my book (B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself – only £10 and perfect for Father’s Day – wink, wink!) and we coated half in pink coconut and the others in 100s & 1000s. Sarah made green Esio Trot fairy cakes too.
One of the most popular things with kids and their parents were the Willy Wonka’s Sweet Garden macaron flowers. I coloured the shells in pink and lilac and the buttercream had popping candy inside, which worked a treat! It was really easy to turn them into flowers using these sticks and we stuck them in oasis in a mixing bowl padded out with green paper napkins. There’s an easy macaron recipe in my book too, that can be adapted for different flavours. The other advantage is you can make macarons well in advance of the party as the shells freeze and keep well (if you don’t scoff them all – they’re very tempting to pick at). I waited until the morning of the party to knock up the buttercream though as I didn’t want the popping candy to get too wet and lose its potency.
About four years ago, just to prove a point to my curmudgeonly brother-in-law (who thought they were a waste of money), Sarah and I bought a candy floss maker in the January sales. We’ve only used it about three times since, which kind of proved him right, and it’s been gathering dust in a cupboard but it came into its own at the party. Our friends Helena and Will (pictured above) made candy floss for all the kids, using the rest of the sticks from the macaron flowers. The kids were so excited about this so the grown-ups didn’t get a look in!
The only thing I didn’t have time to finish for the party were Bunce’s doughnuts (from Fantastic Mr Fox) but as I’d knocked the dough up before the party anyway, I finished them off last night and our daughter brought them into school today as treats for her classmates and teachers.
In terms of the party entertainments, Charlotte really went to town. There were craft tables (above) to decorate your own BFG dreamcatcher jars to take home; a Violet Beauregarde balloon-popping game; Mike Teevee’s photo booth with dressing-up wigs / hats / glasses etc.; and lots of team games to play.
Charlotte also made three ‘Giant Peach’ piñatas that I roped two of my oldest mates into holding with me (looking a bit nervous above). The kids only missed a few times – ouch! We also put a few little things into party bags along the theme, like aeroplane gliders for ‘Going Solo‘ and small tubs of bubbles to be ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine‘.
It was a very special day and our daughter loved it. She is always so appreciative and hadn’t asked for anything more than a Matilda-themed cake and a Roald Dahl party with no mention of The Witches (as it scares her) so everything came as a big surprise to her too.
In terms of tips for how I made the cake, I used fondant for most of the decoration (I like to use Renshaw) but for the Matilda figurine I made her out of modelling chocolate. Fondant can sag a bit over time whereas modelling chocolate holds its shape better. It is a bit tricky to work with if you haven’t done it before though. My top tips are to work near the fridge, particularly if like me you’re warm-handed. Allow yourself a lot of time if you’re using modelling chocolate, as colouring can be difficult to work into the chocolate. Get stuck in and use gel colours, but be aware it’ll get hot and sloppy quite quickly. Whack it back in the fridge for five minutes and you’ll be able to work with it again. If you’re planning to make a figurine of anything in future, my best advice would be get some to play with first to get used to it. Otherwise, like me, you might find yourself up until 4am the night before! I built the figure around a frame I made in electrical wire, coated with tape, basically making a T-800 Terminator version of Matilda – so warn people if they want to eat it!
When I construct birthday cakes I like to leave space for the candles and let the candles form part of the decoration. I like long candles (like these) as they give cakes extra-height. As I’ve mentioned before (see here) I cover my cake boards with fondant and then line the edges, but I’m lazy so use coloured washi tape (like this) rather than ribbon. This cake was four layers of 6″ cakes in the top tier, four layers of 9″ cakes in the bottom tier, and sat on a 12″ base. Again, you can make the sponges a few days in advance of a party and they’ll keep well if you wrap them in cling film and put in an airtight container.
If you’re thinking of doing your own Roald Dahl birthday party, or are planning to throw one for Roald Dahl Day on 13 September, I hope this has given you lots of ideas. I also received the official Roald Dahl party pack in my inbox today, which is available to download here. Remember, this summer Roald Dahl is the summer reading challenge for local libraries, so get the kids reading and support your local library! Finally, only about five weeks to wait now until the BFG Movie is released. We’ve been watching the trailer below on loop.
Father’s Day on Sunday so a quick reminder that my coffee and walnut cake (recipe here) always goes down a treat. Or get Dad a copy of of B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself for only £10 on Amazon here. Until next week, Happy Baking!