Friday, July 22, 2011

Birthday Cake! (and cookies)

Yesterday was my birthday! I love birthdays. I’m incredibly bad at remembering other’s birthdays and getting gifts to them on time, so I feel kind of selfish in that respect. But when it comes to celebrating the fact that someone is here for another year, birthdays are great. As I’ve gotten older I realize I don’t need a big party or mounds of gifts. But I do need cake. Preferably chocolate.

Not too long ago I finished the previously mentioned book A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. The final chapter was about her wedding cake, dubbed the “Winning Hearts and Mind” cake. I’ve been trying to find appropriate times to make this cake and nothing was working out right. Finally I gave in and just had to make it for my birthday. It seemed a bit odd to make a cake for myself, but I like the logic of it. After all, it’s my birthday and no one else should feel pressured to make or buy me a cake to celebrate. I should be feeding others so they have a reason to be happy that I’m around. So I made the winning hearts and minds cake for Andy and I, and delightful Toffee Chocolate Snicker doodles for work buddies.

The nice thing about birthdays is that they help you reminisce about birthdays past. A great birthday isn’t about the gifts, it’s more about the friends and family around you. And, if we’re going to be honest, it’s also about the cake. As a kid I had a birthday that was flower themed and a lot of fun to put together with my mom. It came complete with a cake that looked like a garden, with Oreo crumble dirt and gummy worms peaking out of the soil. There was the memorable birthday I had in Cuernavaca, Mexico where I actually received two cakes, one of which was involved in a food fight (that I later helped clean up). Then there was the year when my mom took a business trip to Florida and invited me along because I had nothing better to do and it was my birthday. We upgraded to first class for the occasion and went out to dinner with her coworkers. One got a little too tipsy and explained to me the wonders of asparagus pee, a delight I had yet to enjoy. After dinner we ate cake from Publix, which I thought sounded like a wonderful, for-the-people kind of grocery, and this birthday with strangers was a delightful one.

There were some, shall we say, not so great birthdays too. Such as the one in Indiana where my brother got a pair of Rollerblades for my birthday, thereby stealing my “this day is all about me” thunder. And by the time my brother’s birthday rolled around my family conveniently forgot that we now gave siblings gifts on birthdays too. Once I had to run the mile during weight training class. There was the year I had to go to band practice after getting a tamagotchi and had to keep feeding the damn thing when I should have been crashing cymbals. One year I had to clean the bathrooms of our house, which was probably more my fault for putting it off than my mother being mean. The worst of all birthdays was the year my Grandma Summerville died. We were leaving for Indiana shortly after the celebration to visit her in the hospital. Opening gifts that year didn’t have much joy and she passed away a couple days after my birthday.

Despite what it may seem, that’s what I like about birthdays. They help me to remember the good and bad, and the not actually-bad-but-rather-kind-of-funny-now-that-I-think-about-it times. It gets me to thinking about other people’s birthdays and the things I’ve done for them, the people I spent time with, and how the years keep rolling by, no matter what you do. I love birthdays and celebrating life.

Did I mention cake? I’m sorry to entice you with pictures and then blather on and on about memories. You’re probably interested in some cake. Andy graciously offered to make me Special K bars I declined. Mostly because I need actual cake on my birthday, but actually more because I’ve been dying to make the Winning Hearts and Minds cake. It only has FIVE ingredients! Five! That’s so easy. Andy doesn’t like cake much and requests brownies frequently for his birthday celebrations. When I answered his question as to what was in this cake he responded with, “So it’s like a brownie cake?” Yes. And he loved it. He said he wanted it for his birthday. And I’m more than happy to oblige. It has a delightfully crunchy crust and a soft, ooey center.
The only advice I have to give is to get high quality ingredients. This cake would cost you around $30 if you were to purchase a similar one from a particular Scandinavian bakery that I used to work at (in 2007 dollars). The one I made cost me roughly $10. Next time I would up the ante with a little Olive and Sinclair chocolate and hope to score some free range eggs from Andy’s coworker. Here’s the recipe that you can also find on Orangette.

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 ¾ sticks (7 oz) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon unbleached, all purpose flour
5 large eggs

(Whipped cream for serving)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and butter an 8 inch round cake pan (I used a 9 inch one and it turned out just fine). Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper (craft time!) and grease the paper.

Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave or a double boiler. When the mixture is smooth stir in the sugar and then set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Then add the eggs one by one (be sure not to lose count!), stirring well after each addition. Add the flour and stir well. The batter should be dark and silky.

Pour the batter into your pan and bake for 25 minutes, or until the top is lightly crackled, the edges are puffed and the center of the cake looks set. It’s best to set the timer early and check on the cake every couple of minutes by jiggling the pan. It’s done when the center only jiggles slightly, if at all.

Cook the cake for about 15 minutes in the pan. Turn it out of the pan and flip it back onto a plate (or better yet, a cake stand!). Be careful with this, as I turned my cake out onto the edge of my dish and broke the edge. Cool completely before serving with a dollop of whipped cream (best if you whip it yourself).

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