Monday, March 5, 2012

All About Cake, Birthday Cake

Last weekend, along with the excitement of getting engaged, I also had a much awaited birthday dinner with my family. It was a great meal that I got to help my mother cook and it felt really good to be home. It was also nice to have great conversation and linger over the delicious spread. First of all, let me preface this post by saying that I really love birthdays! There have been years that between birthday parties with friends (always elaborate, ranging from sleepovers to boy-girl get-togethers with food planned weeks in advance, party favors, and sometimes arts and crafts) and celebrating with family, I have celebrated my birthday for two or three weeks. These celebrations usually involve several different cakes and many of my favorite meals. DSCN0811

Two layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. (Only when decorating this cake did I feel kind of pathetic for making my own birthday cake. The decorating was a first and last time thing.)

I think that my love of cake also adds to why I love birthdays so much. For probably the last five years (although I am not sure about one of those years in high school), I have baked my own birthday cake. This does not mean that my mom wouldn’t have made me a cake or gotten me one from a bakery of my choosing, I just have come to really enjoy deciding what to make and then baking and icing it. But, baking my own cake does not mean that I made the cakes single-handedly, my mother was there whenever I needed her and my dad washed numerous dishes. My mom literally went to at least five different grocery stores one year looking for Rainbow Chip cake mix. This elusive cake mix made by Betty Crocker is much harder to find that its icing counterpart. And, if you were to try to tell me that it’s the “same thing” as the Pillsbury or Duncan Hines version, I will tell you that it most definitely is not. It has a distinct and better taste than those other imitators, also the different colored sprinkle-like things baked in the cake and in the icing are round chips, not plain Jane sprinkles. Somehow these colorful discs make the icing so good that my sister and I would literally fight to eat it from the can and I always apply it very liberally to the actual cake. Year by year, I have become more adventurous and I would like to think that I have learned some things along the way. This year I made my own from scratch, which although I have made plenty of cakes from scratch, hadn’t yet attempted for my birthday. Although I am very interested in eating local, sustainably grown food and not much processed food, Rainbow Chip will always have a very special place in my heart.


Left: My somewhat deformed Rainbow Chip cake being lit by my mother; Right: Another cake from last year which was a surprise from two of my best friends, Jennie and JiSoo. It was a four-flavor cake from Harris-Teeter: carrot, chocolate, red velvet, and yellow cake.

Last year, my sister gave me a big cupcake cake mold for Christmas, like I am sure you have seen on TV. I was so excited to get it. I wanted to make one of the elaborate masterpieces that is featured in the recipe/instruction book that comes with the mold. However, I knew that you couldn’t really make anything cool with Rainbow Chip icing, so out went that idea. But, I still wanted to use the mold and just make it look like what it was, a giant cupcake covered in icing. I read the directions, or so I thought. To my dismay, the cake turned out looking not so much like a giant cupcake but more like the lopsided top part of the Mad Hatter’s hat (from Alice and Wonderland). I am not sure if I didn’t put correct proportions of cake batter in the top and bottom or what, but it did not have a perfectly spiraled top, instead we had to saw off part of the top and bottom so that the two pieces would fit. It still tasted as delicious as always. Still, I haven’t been adventurous enough to try this again.


I had to include this picture, partially because it is kind of funny. As you can see I am beaming and Jerry looks really happy as well. But, I was told to place my hand on the table in such an opportune spot, that was not of my own prerogative.

This year, for my 20th birthday I wanted to use a recipe that I had seen on a food blog (since I am sort of obsessed with them). I turned to one of my favorites, Willow Bird Baking. I made the Cranberry Orange Pecan Cake. I substituted some of the vegan ingredients for non-vegan ones, partly because you cannot find many of these in Lexington and because I like my dairy. It worked out perfectly with these substitutions and was just the right size, an 8 x8, so that my family wasn’t eating it for a week. Actually the cake was so good that about four hours after the happy birthday song and the blowing out of the candles, Jerry and I finished the remaining half of the cake. We totally lost all control. Yes, it was that good. I have a special weakness for cream cheese frosting and this one worked perfectly with the flavors of the cake. Also, it added a luxuriousness and slight tanginess. The cake itself baked up golden brown and the tart cranberries gave the cake vibrancy, both in color and in flavor (it was the star of the show). However, the orange zest and toasted pecans (subtly different in flavor from the untoasted ones) really added to the cranberries and the vanilla extract. I added gold sprinkles on top of the cake because I thought they complimented the icing and made it more festive.


This year’s cake, Cranberry Orange Pecan Cake. Top: This is my cake before I blew out the candles. My mom randomly decided that five candles was a good number to put on my cake for my 20th birthday. Everyone said, “just blow them out already” while I was taking this picture but I think it was worth it; Bottom: A piece of the cake, you can see that the texture is just right and the cranberries are so beautiful, especially with the icing and sprinkles.


This is the beautiful cake that my sister decorated in her foods class. She used all of my favorite colors and told me about all of the fancy piping techniques that totally surpass my knowledge like coral and stars. I really loved this one. Too pretty to cut!


Allyson (my sister) and me with the cake she decorated for me.


“All the world is birthday cake, so take a piece, but not too much."

-George Harrison

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