01 October 2011

Two Birthday Cakes

I made birthday cake for two little boys who insist on growing up and turning 5. One little boy loves all things chocolate, and one little boy will have no cake at all if chocolate is the only choice. Given the opposing preferences and the size of the joint party I made two cakes.

Chocolate boy got the same chocolate cake I made for him two years ago. It was a hit then and it was just as popular this time around. I won't reproduce the recipe because I baked without adaptation from the Chocolate Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting on Epicurious. People rave about it and ask me how I got the frosting so creamy. The answer is butter, silly, lots and lots of butter. (And then a bit more butter.)

Yes, it is off kilter.  You know who cares?  Nobody cares.

Not-chocolate boy requested a strawberry cake. I don't know why strawberry occurred to him, since normally he asks for vanilla cake. I found a promising recipe for strawberry cupcakes at Annie's Eats. Of course there are no good strawberries in the stores here at this time of year, so I had to use frozen, and boy wanted layer cake, not cupcake because, he told me, a layer cake means more cake for everybody. I don't claim to understand the logic, but I couldn't argue with it, either.

So I made the cupcakes into layer cake by baking them in two 9”X2” round cake pans at 350 Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. The layers collapsed after they came out of the oven, and then a certain Beagle I know managed to knock one of the layers to the floor. We'll not discuss what words I might have uttered when I heard the crash.

Left with one deflated (though tasty) layer I used a recipe for buttermilk cake in The Cake Bible which produces a single layer. This baked up beautifully and kept its height.

The buttermilk cake wasn't really meant to be part of a layer cake, and I think it would have done better as the base for some fresh, sliced berries, but it held its own, and helped compensate for the flat strawberry layer.

In addition to being a bit flat, the strawberry layer didn't retain the flavor of the strawberries. If I were to make another strawberry cake I would probably use a basic yellow cake (like this one but without the lemon and maybe a just enough strawberry puree to tint the batter.) and then frost it with the strawberry frosting because that was really good, creamy and full of strawberry flavor.

I used the strawberry frosting recipe as written except that I was using frozen strawberries where Annie's Eats used fresh, and I don't have a stand mixer. This was my first attempt at a Swiss Meringue Buttercream,and I was slightly concerned that using a hand-held mixer would doom me to failure. But no, the frosting beat together beautifully the night before, and then beat back to fluffy yumminess after a night in the fridge.

There are some tricks to using a hand-held mixer in these long-slog recipes. Put a slightly damp folded kitchen towel between your mixing bowl and the counter to keep your bowl from spinning away from you. That effectively gives you another hand. During the long beating sessions try tilting the bowl just enough that you can rest the base of the hand-mixer on the counter and tilt the beaters into the mix. And don't limit your self to holding the mixer by the handle. I find it much easier to slide my whole hand under the handle and hold the body of the mixer.

None of these recipes were particularly tricky, and if the Beagle hadn't knocked the cake to the floor I would have said it was a fairly simple evening of baking. I'm not an expert baker. I grew up using cake mixes. I promise you, making a great cake isn't a matter of culinary genius. It's simply a matter of finding a good recipe, following the instructions, and learning to say “Thank you. I'll send you the recipe.” when people start hunting you down at parties to tell you how good the cake is.


  1. Happy birthday to both little boys! Strawberry cake does sound good, though I'm sure they were both delicious. I've been making vanilla these past few years and tinting/flavoring that batter as necessary ... a good recipe *is* important, but so is execution. :)

  2. no photo of the strawberry? :(

  3. jhl, the execution does matter, which is why a good recipe is so important for a novice baker. The Cake Bible and BakeWise are both good.

    Ali, I just added a picture of the strawberry cake. It wasn't nearly as pretty as the chocolate cake because of time constraints, and the cake portion of the party was a bit rushed, so there wasn't a lot of photography happening



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