Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Week of Birthday Cakes, Part 1

It is officially Birthday Week!

As I mentioned last week, I am always in a festive mood during the entire month August, not just on my actual birthday itself. While my birthday is on the 17th, my nephew Mac’s birthday is on August 10th. For several years now we have made a tradition of celebrating the week in between our two birthdays. 

Our Birthday Week schedule usually includes an outing at the movies on one day, breakfast at our favorite diner on another day, and a taxi ride just for the fun of it. We also make the pilgrimage to 18th Street, one of the best blocks in Manhattan, where we spend some time at the marvelous children’s store, Books Of Wonder. Eventually our sweet tooth trumps our love of reading stories together, and we wander across the street to City Bakery for an enormous chocolate chunk cookie or an outrageous passion fruit tart.

I’ve always felt a particular kinship with my nephew, and not just because we were both born on Fridays and our birthdays are exactly a week apart. If you have read previous Kitchen Fiddler posts, you will know that Mac (a.k.a. Little Chef) has been my very enthusiastic little buddy in the kitchen for several years now, ever since he insisted on helping me make the cake for his 4th birthday. He is an excellent helper and hilarious company as well.

Mac usually starts discussing his birthday cake in mid-July, for he is already thinking about the possibilities. (And you wonder why I feel a bond with this kid?!) This year he opted for vanilla cake with chocolate frosting for his 8th birthday. I decided to use my favorite Coconut Cupcake recipe—minus the coconut!—and bake it in 9-inch layer pans because it’s an incredibly fabulous vanilla cake to begin with. When I mentioned to Mac that we could make a four-layer cake, his enthusiasm for the project skyrocketed.
The Little Chef helped me sift all the dry ingredients while I creamed the butter and sugar together. He put his excellent egg-cracking skills to work, once again not spilling a single fleck of shell into the mixing bowl. And we are both experts at licking the beaters, whether they are covered in cake batter or frosting!

We baked two 9-inch layers and split them in half horizontally to create four separate layers. I think there’s a better ratio of cake-to-frosting when you have several thin layers filled with frosting, as opposed to a less integrated approach where you encounter a large forkful of plain cake and sometimes an entirely separate mouthful of frosting. But that's just my own personal taste.

After filling and covering the vanilla cake layers with a chocolate cream cheese frosting, the finished cake smelled divine but looked a little plain. I melted some bittersweet chocolate, put it into a small ziplock bag and snipped off the end, and I began to make very thin lines across the top of the cake, making a crisscross pattern. When Mac decided to try his hand at decorating, he created Jackson Pollack-type squiggles and blops with the melted chocolate. It seemed to be an appropriate decoration coming from the son of two artists!

We had Mac's party on Monday night, at which the birthday boy proudly informed each of the guests that there was a four-layer cake lying in wait in the fridge. When it was time for cake and candles, all twenty of us sang to a very happy little 8-year-old. I’m glad we had four layers of this vanilla&chocolate extravaganza, for there was enough scrumptiousness to go around for everyone, but there was hardly anything left at the end.

Several days later, I’ve heard through the family grapevine that Mac is still talking about his birthday cake and how great it was to have FOUR layers. After this quadruple-layered triumph, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to downsize back to a simple three-layer cake again!

Midway through the birthday week, the baking schedule reads: one cake down, two more to go. Yes, that’s right, I’m making two more cakes this weekend. To be continued...


1 recipe Coconut Cupcakes, prepared without coconut!

Divide the cake batter between two 9-inch round pans that have been lined with circles of parchment or waxed paper cut to fit, then buttered and floured. Bake at 350° for 45 to 50 minutes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge of the cake in case it is sticking to the pan, then invert onto a plate and reinvert back onto the wire rack, right side up. Let cakes cool completely on the rack.

When the cakes have cooled and you are ready to frost them, use a serrated knife to level off the top of the cake so you have an even surface. (Enjoy the cake scraps.) If you’re making the four-layer extravaganza, carefully split each layer in half horizontally.

Place the bottom layer on a large serving platter. Fill and frost the cake layers with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting (see recipe below). Makes one very tall cake that can serve 16 to 20, depending on how thinly you slice it.

CHOCOLATE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING (enough for the Four-Layer Cake)
2 – 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar

Combine the softened cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Add the melted chocolate and the vanilla, mixing in well. Add the cocoa powder and powdered sugar, mixing on LOW speed until incorporated, then on medium speed until the frosting is light and fluffy. Taste for balance, as you may want to add a bit more cocoa if you like a deeper chocolate flavor, or more powdered sugar if you like your icing on the sweeter side.


Ed V. said...

Louise! I was raving about you and your marvelousness (culinary, musical, and In everything else) tonight at the shore. Surely your ears must have been burning. Great post ... More! More! More! Feeeeeeed meeeeeeeee blog posts! (And Cake, too, please!). - Ed V.

louise said...

Thank you, Ed! I'm so glad that I could extend my birthday celebration with you the other day, cake and all. What could be better than an afternoon of sparkling conversation with inspiring friends, especially when there's yummy food involved?! I am very lucky indeed.

eileen said...

Your new truffle season looks yummy!!!
Perhaps I'll get a sample at the Owen household this season.

I heard about Oprah's fried butter and had to look it up online. There actually is such a delicacy, if you can wrap your mind around that concept.

Eileen M.