Posts Tagged ‘Birthday Cake’

It’s not the work, it’s the stairs.

Birthday cake

Again?

I recently had an epiphany.

Epiphanies usually come to me when crisis strikes.  You know those moments:  when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when the cable goes out just as they’re about to announce the next couple to be cut from “Dancing with the Stars”.

This epiphany occurred during a moment of looming claustrophobia.  Claustrophobia usually only looms when I’ve been pushed to the back of a crowded elevator, but in this case I was sequestered in a conference room with a young woman—seconds out of her twenties—whose bloated sense of self-importance was matched only by her avoirdupois.  As she thumbed through her BlackBerry she bleated, “Bob is going to get back to me at any moment; we’re in the middle of something important.” (Translation: “YOU’RE not.”)

What followed was a monologue devoid of irony but tinted by a rather virulent strain of work martyrdom that concluded with the words, “When you get to be my age you expect these things.”

The lack of a “tell” on the part of the other folks in the room only betrayed that this crowd would have made a tough Poker circle.  But I’d wager that we were all thinking the same thing: “MY AGE?”

After escaping from this “Poseidon Adventure” of meetings, I repaired to my local Starbucks to ponder the wisdom of overstating one’s age.  I’ve been answering the age question with a coy “twenty-nine, again, ha, ha” for so long that it has become a bit precious. Clearly a new approach is needed.

So as the steam from my cup of Komodo Dragon Blend softened my pores, I resolved that forevermore I will be answering the age question with a resolute, “Five hundred and two. Again.” I will omit the “ha ha” so people will think I’m serious, but will be prepared to admit that I remember the strip mall they tore down to build Stonehenge, that my Social Security number is 1, and that when I was a kid and they said you were green around the gills it was because you were green and had gills.

LOL. YOLO.

Here’s how this works: if I were to tell you that I was twenty-nine you’d look at me and think, “Whoo…hard life.”  But if I were to tell you that I am five hundred and two you’d say, “Damn, you look amazing” because—and I can say this without boasting—for five hundred and two I am a total hottie.

I decided that this hypothesis required a bit of real world testing, so, like any good sociologist I headed off to Duane Reade for research.

As I purchased the candles on the cake seen in the picture that accompanies this story, the cashier asked if someone was turning 205. I explained that I was turning 502. She said, “Son, you look good for 502, but you cray-cray” which I’m just going to assume confirms my hypothesis. Thank you again Duane Reade.

Methuselah lived to be 969. He was Noah’s grandfather. (Fine old family. I believe they got into the shipping business.)  502 is a good round number, has a lovely symmetry, and gives me a bit of a “cushion” until I turn 969 and watch the big boat sail away.

In the meantime I have at least 467 more birthday cakes to eat…

Happy Small Birthday

Chocolate Peanut Birthday Cake

Chocolate Peanut Birthday Cake

I recently had the pleasure of celebrating yet another birthday. I turned thirty-three, an age I chose because I enjoy the alliteration. (I received multiple Hallmark birthday greetings exhorting me to “do” whatever I want, after all, “…it’s your birthday!” I’m “doing” thirty-three. Thank you to Hallmark for the de facto permission slips.)

If you detect the slightest note of bitterness in my tone I will confess that I am not a big birthday guy. I don’t go around crowing, “Next Wednesday is my birthday! Yaaaay!” Just not my style. For me, birthdays help to tick the box on the following tasks: 1. Eat chocolate. 2. Check my surroundings and the overhead compartment to make sure I am still vertical, a/k/a breathing, a/k/a alive. Check. Double check.

The great thing about these reduced expectations is that I enjoy other peoples’ birthdays in a proportion equal to my own if not more—again, if there’s chocolate, and I’m still breathing, and they’re older.

On the surface it would seem ironic that I enjoy baking birthday cakes for my friends, but again, that simply ensures a socially acceptable source of chocolate consumption. Furtive chocolate consumption can be so…dreary. (Dreary is such a great word, but hard to use without sounding, well, dreary.)

Speaking of cake, a few months ago I got together with four or five friends to celebrate one of their birthdays. Someone had stopped by Magnolia Bakery and bought an enormous chocolate cake with frosting the color of a yellow highlighter. It was absolutely delicious. But the cake was so big that even after we all had seconds there was still enough left over for many, many more birthday boys and girls. I love birthday cake, but even a glutton like me has limits.

This is a scene repeated at birthday celebrations around the globe. Birthday revelers circled around a table, pointy hats perched jauntily on their heads, playing a game of, “Have another piece!”/ “No you have another piece.”/ “PLEASE, I’m just going to throw the rest away!”

Well, I’m here to end this game once and for all.

Here’s my proposal: I insist that it is easier to bake a little birthday cake than it is to bake a big birthday cake. Big cakes make you think of big metal pans, drums of frosting, and an endlessly whirling stand mixer.

But my little birthday cake concept is much more relaxed. Let’s break it down, shall we?

This is one time when baking from scratch has a clear advantage over a mix. When you bake from scratch you actually can scale down a recipe to make a smaller cake. Using a mix you are locked in to one or two pan sizes. While you could perhaps bake half a box of mix, the question would remain what to do with the other half? My easy chocolate cake recipe can be made with a big bowl and a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.

Paper Panetone Molds

Paper Panetone Molds

Okay let’s talk pans shall we? I don’t have the nerve to insist that you should go out and buy five inch cake pans. (Martha would, but she and I run in different circles.) Instead, I recommend paper Panetone molds which will break the bank at approximately fifty cents a piece. Admittedly this is not a green solution. You use them once then toss them. But you won’t have to worry about your cake sticking to the pan.

So, the cake is done, but what about the frosting? For that thick, creamy, sugary frosting don’t you need a mixer? Fear not mixer-less folk! I have a magic ingredient. Sweetened Condensed Milk is a worthy short cut—yes, you may think I am taking a page from Sandra Lee, but the end result is too noble, and…uh, addictive for it to be offensive. It is a bit wholesome, and will pull together and smooth out the few other ingredients you’ll need to make frosting. (Like a Kitchen Aid in a can!)

I toyed with this concept for a while. Too much sugar? Too much fat? Then it dawned on me: this is cake frosting we’re talking about. It’ll never be health food.

As it happens, peanut butter is one of my favorite foods, and combining it with chocolate makes my heart sing. My Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting is worthy of the most important birthday on your list. It also tastes like something from an old-fashioned ice cream and confectionary shop, so if cake isn’t on your mind, warm it a bit and pour it over some ice cream.

Finally, don’t be afraid of decorating the cake. Just spread half the frosting between the layers and spread half the frosting on top. Don’t fret about getting the sides just right; Leave the sides naked to the breeze. Even cake maven Rose Levy Beranbaum endorses this concept for its relaxing informality.

But don’t forget the candles. Thirty three. Yes. That’s all.

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Here’s the Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting recipe.

And here’s the All Occasion Chocolate Cake recipe.

And here’s more information about the paper Panetone molds. (Available at Sur La Table.)

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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The first tweet of spring!

Why is this woman smiling?

Chocolate cake makes people smile.

Chocolate cake makes people smile.

Well, a good old fashioned chocolate fudge cake will do that to you. You can tell from the candles that this one was a birthday cake–my mom’s birthday–and you can tell from the picture that we decimated about half of a pretty big cake. I made the cake.

There’s actually a fun story about what happened to the rest of the cake: my sister-in-law finished it over the course of several days in her usual manner: fork-full by fork-full, her entire upper body in the fridge. And yes, she left her fork in the box between sessions. I always find that a huge compliment: the cake was too good to bother taking the time to slice it and put it on a plate. Who needs all that ceremony? Just dive in!

I made the same cake for a friend’s 50th birthday party a couple of years ago. He threw himself a huge party, and I did not know most of the people there. The waiter he’d hired for the night assessed the crowd and sniffed, “These people won’t eat much of it.” (I wasn’t insulted. I looked at the crowd and thought the same thing. Lots of tight shirts.) Turns out we were both wrong. The cake evaporated. One guest, on finding out I’d baked the cake proposed marriage. Sort of. (He was already married.)

I don’t want you to think I’m boasting. The cake is good, yes, but that’s not what I’m all about. I’m more about what the cake (or any, uh, “celebratory pastry”) stands for. It says, “I love you. You are worth celebrating.” Isn’t that what everybody wants to hear as the years tick by?

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