It started out innocently enough.
“I’d like a full-sized cake for my birthday” was Adam’s request. “I don’t like the frosting-to-cake ratio in cupcakes.”
“Ok,” I said. “A full-sized cake. I’m on it.”
“Either chocolate cake with white frosting or yellow cake with chocolate frosting. But not dark chocolate,” the request continued.
“Ok,” I said. “I’m on it.”
According to my students, who are the foremost experts on birthday cakes, yellow cake with chocolate frosting is much more “birthday-y” than chocolate with white frosting. I agreed. And so the research began.
I checked with Ina, Martha, Alton, Julia… and something didn’t seem right. I didn’t want to use shortening. I knew it needed to use cake flour…Birthday cake should be sweet, moist, have a tender crumb… and so I turned to bloggers. A lot of us think the same way.
So I turned to my standby. None other than Smitten Kitchen. The cake looked perfect. The recipe included buttermilk, butter, cake flour, and a lot of vanilla. I’d found my recipe!
It mixed up like a dream.
Makes two 9″ cakes
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.
And then I opened the cabinet to get my cooking spray, and it was gone. GONE! Smitten Kitchen specifically said to either spray the pans with cooking spray, or use parchment rounds. I thought I had spray, so I didn’t get parchment. So I buttered and floured the inside of my cake pans and hoped for the best. *A little cake tip from my sister: Draw a swirl from the center of the cake outward to the edge to prevent doming*
They came out beautifully!
I let them cool. I tried to get them out of the pans. They cracked. Like, big chunks cracked… I took a deep breath and made the frosting. Just a simple ganache, stabilized with about 1/4 cup of light corn syrup. 24 ounces of chocolate, two cups of cream…
Which I whipped when it was cool…
And the cakes were cool. And I inverted one onto my new cake plate. And topped it with the frosting. And very very carefully put the other layer on top. It looked as if I’d succeeded.
I thought success too soon. When I tried to frost the cake, it started to fall apart. I was trying to do a “crumb coat” and the cake decided instead to break. And the frosting mixed with the pieces, and it looked as though I was going to have to start over. But again, I took a deep breath, gave it a few minutes, and tried again. And broke out the sprinkles.
Was it perfect? Absolutely not. It looked great from one side.
And an absolute mess on the other.
But I was still pretty proud of myself.
And so I went to bed, with the imperfect cake laying in wait in the refrigerator, being kept company by the seltzer water.
And when I woke up the next morning, I was thrilled to see it hadn’t collapsed. So after dinner on Friday April 8, 2011, I lit the birthday candles on Adam’s “full-size cake”…
I cut two generous slices and I was thrilled to see that, at least on the “pretty” side of the cake, there were beautiful, even layers.
Ok, not quite even. But layers!
And it was good. Adam loved it, and it’s proof again that a perfect outward appearance has little to nothing to do with what’s inside. And, a perfect outward appearance has nothing to do with being loved. I think we can all learn a little something from this story of a cake.