The Story of a Cake

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.

I thought for sure Jessica would have a great recipe for birthday cake. I almost gave up on finding a yellow cake when I saw her Hoho Cake recipe. I plugged on.

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.

birthday cake

Smitten Kitchen's Best Birthday Cake

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!

birthday cake

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...


birthday cake

Which I whipped when it was cool...

birthday cake

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.

birthday cake

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.

birthday cake

Was it perfect? Absolutely not. It looked great from one side.

birthday cake

And an absolute mess on the other.

birthday cake

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.

birthday cake

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"...

birthday 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.

birthday cake

Ok, not quite even. But layers!

birthday cake

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.



This entry was posted in Baking, dessert, family, vegetarian and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to The Story of a Cake

  1. Loved this post!! I’ve only made homemade cake twice. Good for you! And I always say that an imperfect cake means you get to use more frosting! Mmm! ♥- Katrina
    Katrina @ In Katrina’s Kitchen´s last blog post ..Foodie Friends Friday – Connies Chicken Enchiladas

  2. VeggieGirl says:

    I’m glad you went with that cake! 🙂
    VeggieGirl´s last blog post ..23 And Counting

  3. Erin says:

    Erin´s last blog post ..Lashola report!

  4. Miri Leigh says:

    This cake looks absolutely delicious! Great photos!
    Miri Leigh´s last blog post ..Dreaming of gardens gone- and gardens yet to be

  5. Kelly Wilson says:

    Great post. I little trick for moist cakes put if in the freeze for about an hour to make it easier to frost.

  6. Ali says:

    Mara, I LOVED this post – so well written, cute, funny….just great! The cake looks perfect 🙂 I used to only do real cakes, then switched to cupcakes, and with kids, lots of “shaped” cakes are happening. There is something so perfectly beautiful about an imperfect cake – truly.

  7. That looks wonderful! I agree, yellow cake with chocolate frosting is more birthday-y. 🙂 I sort of want to make one now and there are no birthdays in sight, LOL.

    Happy birtdhay to Adam!! 😀
    J3nn (Jenn’s Menu and Lifestyle Blog)´s last blog post ..New York Delicatessen in Your Kitchen

  8. that cake looks amazing!!!
    Salah@myhealthiestlifestyle´s last blog post ..Where’s the Love

  9. Brianna says:

    Enjoyed that story and am glad it had a happy ending! I’ll have to bookmark this cake recipe. I’ve never made a cake before (well, a 2-layer one, I mean). I like the sprinkles. Very festive.
    Brianna´s last blog post ..Ravioli Soup with Carrots- Kale &amp Parmesan

  10. I clicked over from Food Gawker not even realizing it was your blog! 😛

    What a beautiful cake Mara! As my husband would say, “Wifey WIN!”
    Toronto Girl West´s last blog post ..Healthy Apple Oatmeal Pancake Recipe

  11. Oh my sprinkles!! LOVE!
    Jessica @ How Sweet It Is´s last blog post ..Life is Good

  12. mom says:

    a love cake!

  13. Roz says:

    Hi Mara, that looks wonderful!!!! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I’m SURE Adam saw nothing but beauty!!!!! He’s a lucky man!!! Happy birthday to him! Have a great week.
    Roz´s last blog post ..It’s a THROWDOWN!!

  14. Kath says:

    Your cake is gorgeous!!! I love the rustic look of the icing and sprinkles 🙂
    Kath´s last blog post ..Have you met Mother Earth

  15. brandi says:

    it looks great!
    brandi´s last blog post ..Alton Brown’s Oatiest Oatmeal Cookies

  16. Carrie says:

    If the husbands happy that’s all that matters. The cake looks good.

  17. Marie says:

    Love this cake….I’m the worst frostinger ever! Yours looked like a dream compared to my last one….and its so true about the outward appearance don’t judge until you get a bite of it or them. haha

  18. gwynn says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more…. the apperance of a cake is not as important as how the cake is on the inside… The taste of the cake is by far the most important… good job..

  19. Simply Life says:

    wow! what a perfect cake! I’m so impressed!
    Simply Life´s last blog post ..Pretzel Rolls with Black Bean Burgers

  20. Jackie says:

    I have never made a perfect cake. Ever. But for those I’ve made it for they’ve always loved it, regardless!

    Sounds like Adam had a wonderful birthday and a beautiful cake to enjoy with the one he loves =)

    Jax x
    Jackie´s last blog post ..Take It Off- Take It All Off

  21. Kiersten says:

    My cakes never look perfect either, but that’s okay, as long as it tastes good. Nice job on the cake 🙂
    Kiersten´s last blog post ..Cajun Quinoa Burgers

  22. Biz says:

    It’s funny because every time I make a cake, I am like “it’s not gonna be that hard!” But while mine never look pretty, they taste delicious – and that’s what counts, right?!
    Biz´s last blog post ..Clean Eating’s Sesame Noodles and Pretzel Roll Burgers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge