How to Make a Birthday Cake for Some Lovely Swedish People
Reza from Afghanistan baked his guardian, Marina, a cake to say "Cheers for helping out!"
Reza is 17 and originally from Afghanistan. He lives in a refugee centre in Stockholm, Sweden.
I travelled to Sweden from Afghanistan by myself, more than a year and a half ago. Because I'm a minor, I was assigned a god man when I arrived in Stockholm. "God man" literally means a "kind man" in Swedish, or a "trustee", and of course they can be of any gender. This person is basically your guardian, your point of contact – they're supposed to help teenage refugees like myself to make sense of Swedish society and to deal with Swedish authorities.
My god man is Marina and she visits me twice a week. She's in her seventies and probably the kindest person I've ever met – she completely lives up to the " god" part of her job title. People who work as god men generally do it for one of two reasons – either for the money (the Swedish government typically pays a god man about 11872 SEK [about £1000] per year), or because they actually just want to help people. Marina is the kind of person who doesn't care about the money.
It's so cool meeting people who put so much time and effort into helping a stranger. I couldn't name one particular thing Marina and her husband have done for me, it's more just the fact that they're genuinely kind and seem to enjoy helping me. That's why I do what I can to make sure they know I'm thankful for having them in my life. My family lives in Iran now, so Marina and her husband have become my family in Sweden.
Recently, Marina had her birthday. She said that people in Sweden don't like celebrating their birthdays when they get older, so she went on a holiday instead. But since I don't know for how much longer I will be allowed to stay in Sweden (as soon as I turn 18 I might have to leave), I told her that it was important to me to get the chance to celebrate her. Marina decided to make an exception to her anti-birthday rule for me and allow me to make my second-ever cake for her birthday. Here's how I did it:
- Vanilla sauce
- Whipped cream
- Frozen strawberries
- Cake base
- Edible crayons
Back in Afghanistan, I used to work as a tailor and I dream of becoming a fashion designer one day. Two of the most important things about being a tailor are precision and patience. When you bake a cake, you need those same two virtues.
You should start off by carefully whipping the cream for about 10 minutes. During that time, heat the frozen strawberries in a microwave. Once the cream is light and fluffy, add your vanilla sauce, which helps to make it really sweet and sticky.
Peel and chop the bananas, then mash the slices with a fork. The result of this is going to look like scrambled eggs gone bad, but together with the cream and vanilla sauce, it tastes great.
Now you've got to turn this mess into an actual cake. While I bought a prepared cake base, you may want to make one yourself if you're have some experience with that stuff. Since this is only my second attempt at making a cake, I figured I didn't want to risk the base becoming as messy as the filling. Plus I don't actually have access to an oven, so don't blame me.
Carefully spread the vanilla cream on top of the bottom layer of the cake. Then add the banana mash directly on top of the vanilla cream, before laying the second layer of pastry on top of that.
Mix more of the vanilla sauce, banana, cream and all the strawberries together into another sweet mash, then smear that on top of the second layer of the sponge. In my case the strawberries weren't mashed properly, so that layer became really thick.
Once you add the top layer of the cake, you can see that even if you can't mash strawberries like me, it doesn't really matter (even though it does make it look like an enormous cream hamburger). It's hard to keep all the cream stuff from spilling out of the sides of the pastry, but you have to be patient and just push some of it back in.
Next, slap cream all over the outside. It's important to add it evenly and make it look neat. I had some of the strawberry stuff left over so decided to add some of that, too.
At this point, you might need a friend's help. I had some ready-made marzipan from the supermarket, but again – if you're a master baker, you may want to make it yourself. You need to carefully fold this over the cake. If not done right, it won't look like a cake and you will have failed, basically. I asked my friend and translator Arash to help me out. Shout out to Arash!
Now that the marzipan is in place, it's time for the finishing touches. I had bought some marzipan flowers, so I placed them on the top and around the sides. Lastly, I wrote an edible message for Marina on it.
I debated long and hard with myself on what colours to use and what to write exactly, but I finally settled on green and red, and the Swedish words for "Happy Birthday, Marina" and "You're the best". Because it's true – Marina really is the best.
So this is my finished cake. Frankly, I'm slightly disappointed with the result – I didn't have a lot of equipment and kind of thought it would turn out prettier. A cake relies on quality design just as much as clothing does. I usually watch YouTube tutorials that show me how to make certain clothing designs, but I've never watched a tutorial on making cakes, so I had to improvise and take suggestions from Arash. Maybe if I'd been able to bake it from scratch, it would have worked out better.
I was worried that it may not be nice enough to make Marina happy at all, but Arash eased my mind. He reckons cakes make everyone happy, and I think that's probably true. Anyway, even the most perfect cake would still not have been able to fully express how grateful I am for everything Marina and her husband have done for me.
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