Making cakes is something Christine Allard has done for a long time. You can tell because not only does she still have her copy of The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book from the 1980s, but it’s also held together with a mixture of sticky tape, cream and butter.
“My kids had so many cakes made out of it,” she says. “They used to look through it all the time and say, ‘I’ll have this one for my third birthday and this one for my fourth birthday.'”
It was a fun hobby for the Canberra-based mother and grandmother when, in 2016, she heard on the radio that a local organisation was holding a fundraising event called CakeOff.
The event’s brief was simple, but challenging: find a sponsor and make a cake from The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book. All money raised would assist the Perinatal Wellbeing Centre in supporting more than 300 families across the Canberra region every year.
“I thought that’s a good cause and I can make a cake and make it look pretty good,” says Christine.
CakeOff has become an annual fundraiser for the Perinatal Wellbeing Centre in Canberra, formerly known as PANDSI. The organisation provides in-person group and telephone support, as well as information and referral services to mothers, fathers and families affected by depression and anxiety during pregnancy and up to two years after birth.
Every year, CakeOff features a different theme, ranging from ‘Australia’s Big Things’ to ‘World Cultures’, and the results have become increasingly spectacular. Ducks, cockatoos, pineapples, cactus, fairy castles, the Big Prawn and even Canberra’s favourite, The Green Shed, have all been immortalised in eggs, flour, sugar and baking powder.
A couple of businesses are involved each year, but most of the cakes come straight out of domestic kitchens around the ACT.
If decades of baking for her children and grandchildren weren’t enough, Christine also went along with her daughter to a cake decorating course at TAFE several years ago.
“She wanted us to do it because we were going to make her wedding cake,” says Christine. “At the time, she didn’t even have a boyfriend!”
Christine has since made her daughter’s wedding cake, and her son’s before that, all of which have placed her in good stead for CakeOff.
She says the actual cake part is easy – it’s the decorating that can take weeks.
For the various CakeOff events, Christine has toiled over edible versions of the remembrance wall at the Australian War Memorial, a large meat pie, and – a particular highlight for her – the Parthenon.
The process starts with a standard rectangular cake.
“I did a sort of column cake for the top so it was two stories,” says Christine of her Greek-themed cake. “Then I made all of the decorative columns, which stood around the outside of the bottom cake – the part that was to look a bit like the Parthenon.
“Then the top part of it depicted Greek dances. I cut out silhouettes of Greek dances made out of icing, then placed these on the top section.”
But before any of this, Christine approached a Greek company she knew off from her work.
“Most of the [work of gathering sponsors] comes through networking – people you’ve worked for or worked with over time,” she says. “Sponsors are really important for raising revenue, but also raising awareness in the community.”
After laying out what the Perinatal Wellbeing Centre stands for and does, the company agreed to sponsor the Greek cake and donate it to the auction.
Health restrictions around COVID-19 meant the 2020 CakeOff had to go online, Nailed It! style, but CakeOff is properly back for 2021.
The theme is ‘Decades of Cake!’ and Canberrans are invited to capture memories and mementos since 1960 and turn them into a cake. Fifty spots are available and registration is now open.
Christine is yet to lock in a sponsor, and she says they will have some input on the idea, but she drops a hint that her cake for this year may be inspired by the most popular toys from one of the decades.
For more information or to register, visit the Perinatal Wellbeing Centre website. CakeOff 2021 will be held on Sunday, 15 August, from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm in the Federation Room of Hyatt Hotel Canberra.