MAN, birthdays are just the best. You get to be around your favorite people, you get to plan fun things to do, and SOMETIMES, there are presents. Oh, and cake. For days. In fact, I can’t think of a single birthday I have had, ever, in which there has not been a trove of leftover cake to enjoy. Friends, I am standing on the other side of the rainbow, and I can tell you that there is, in fact, that mythical treasure chest, chock full of golden yellow cake swathed in delicately creamy chocolate buttercream. And we can’t forget the sprinkles.
I guess I decided to go all out this year. It’s well deserved. I haven’t used any of my PTO at work for anything other than uprooting myself and heading to new cities (which I guess I’m starting to see as new adventures). The thing is, I used all my PTO doing that; in essence, I got paid to be tired from taking on too much. I guess now that the air has cleared and I have forged through a bazillion blustery blasts of weirdness, I am in Cashmere Velvet Candy Cane Mode. This weekend, I AM TAKING A REAL VACATION with friends to rest, relax, and celebrate my 27th year as me. And then I am coming home to my apartment and my things and curling up on my bed to read and watch Meerkat Manor forever.
Admittedly, though, the celebrations started last week, in which I baked TWO BIRTHDAY CAKES and felt the most popular I ever have in my life. It turns out that cake, or cakes, are magnets for cheer. Even if the depth of whatever conversation is floating above the plates of yellowy chocolate fluff is serious, we are united. I remember sitting on my floor on one of many birthday cake occasions last week as Christian and Jordan and Melissa were delving into their plates, and I felt so grateful that I have people in my life who gather in the name of something that, really, is pure and simple.
At its heart, cake ends up being more than the sum of its parts: sugar, butter, eggs, and flour. How can something so uncomplicated result in such delicate, comforting, sweet, sprinkled magnificence?
As you may well know, there are two ways to shove cake at someone’s face. First and foremost, you place your hands at the base of the cake and then lift and aim. Arguably, this is a bit messy and wasteful, especially when bits and pieces of your masterpiece find their way to the floor. Here’s where my new technique comes in handy: BRAG.
I brought pieces of it everywhere and invited friends over and even gave out my phone number to an acquaintance, all to honor my need to share my birthday cake. I texted friends pictures of it. I broke out my iPhone at work and scrolled through my photos with customers, coworkers, and even the gal I was training. I bragged and bragged until that cake was gone, and I find myself still talking about it with those who had some.
Friends, this is my absolute favorite cake combination, and here is my favorite recipe for it, courtesy of the inspirational Joy the Baker. And I just have to say:
The simplicity of all of it, the grandeur of the sum of the parts, has gotten me to thinking about how many wonderful things are in my life right now. Thank you all so much for being a part of that. This is already my best birthday yet, and I am still two days away from the real thing. And it’s because there is real love, of all kinds, in my life, and I can feel it.
One Year: Birthday Brie Grilled Cheese with Raspberries, Avocado, and Caramelized Onions
Two Years: Marzipan-Cardamom Snickerdoodles
Three Years: Black Currant Earl Grey Iced Tea
Yellow Birthday Cake with Chocolate Buttercream
Recipe Thanks to Joy the Baker
Makes one sheet cake or one layer cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
(double the frosting recipe for a layer cake of generously frosted cupcakes)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons whole milk
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/3 cup Rich Chocolate Ovaltine powder
Nonpareil sprinkles (optional), to serve
To make the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9×13-inch cake pan or 2 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (you can also use a large bowl and electric hand beaters) cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute between each addition. Beat in vanilla extract. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients all at once to the butter and egg mixture and beat on low until just combined. Add the buttermilk and beat on low for 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 3 minutes more. Pour batter into prepared pan or pans. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until cooked through and the top springs back lightly when touch. Test the cake by inserted a skewer into the center of the cake. Cake is done when just a few crumbs are left on the skewer. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan completely before frosting. If making a layered round cake, remove the cakes to a wire rack to cool completely. Let cool completely before frosting. To make the frosting, cream together butter, cocoa powder and salt. Butter mixture will be very thick. Turn off the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add powdered sugar. Turn mixer on low and mix in powdered sugar while adding milk and vanilla extract. As the sugar incorporates, raise the speed of the mixer to beat the frosting. Beat until smooth, about 1 minute. In a 2 cup measuring glass, stir together heavy cream and Ovaltine. Turn mixer speed to medium and pour half of the cream mixture into frosting in a slow, steady stream. Stop the mister scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add remaining cream mixture or until you’ve reached your desired consistency. Beat until soft and creamy, about 1 minute.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. Bring to room temperature before frosting cakes and cupcakes. Slather cake generously with frosting and sprinkles.