Birthday Cake

It’s that time again, the anniversary/birthday of our loss of our twin babies. Sunday was 4 years. While my living children get bakery confections for their birthdays and other celebrations, it’s important to me to go to more effort on this day, especially since this is the only day they get from me. Prior years I’ve used a mix but now that I’m baking more I thought this year warranted a recipe from scratch. I went with Smitten Kitchen’s Best Birthday Cake (although I don’t know if I agree with the designation after the final product):

Best Yellow Layer Cake:

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (480 grams) cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml), 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.)

[This time I wasn’t messing around. I actually made a special trip to Hobby Lobby (aka the tenth circle of hell) specifically for parchment paper, and even picked up some cake boards (which I forgot to use). I have pretty much NEVER been able to properly extricate cake from pan prior to this attempt, so I am now officially a parchment paper convertee. But I may have uttered an exasperated “Jesus!” in the cake-making aisle at Hobby Lobby and scandalized my fellow shoppers. Whoops.]

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…

[Um – we’re starting out with butter and sugar – am I wrong, or aren’t they pale to begin with? Fluffy is a little easier to gauge as compared to our base point, but still a judgment call. This is what I deemed worthy of the pale/fluffy designation.]

…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).

[Kinda 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.

[Here’s my batter. It was way lighter/fluffier than I’m accustomed to seeing cake batter (usually when I’ve made cake the batter is much more liquid than this, so I was CERTAIN I had seriously messed something up).]

(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.

[Mid-baking they were super inflated and again, certain I’d messed up, but as seen below, they came out ok after all.]

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.

[Hey, look at that – perfectly de-panned!]

[I do have to say though, after finishing/eating, that the cake was a bit dry, which I attribute to (i) probably over-mixing, since the instructions to just barely beat in the flour were hard to follow when I kept finding lumps and extra flour on the sides of the bowl, so I think I mixed more than intended, and (ii) we ate it directly out of the fridge where I had to hide the finished product from grabby almost 3 year old hands.]

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
Adapted from The Dessert Bible

Cooking note: Be sure that your sour cream is at room temperature before you make the frosting.

Makes 5 cups of frosting, or enough to frost and fill a two layer 9-inch cake

15 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped [I used morsels which I think was a bad choice. ]
1 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso (optional, but can be used to pick up the flavor of average chocolate) [Skipped it ]
2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 to 1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the chocolate and espresso powder, if using, in the top of a double-boiler or in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted. (Alternately, you can melt the chocolate in a microwave for 30 seconds, stirring well, and then heating in 15 second increments, stirring between each, until the chocolate is melted.)

[Yeah, so the microwave thing didn’t work, I ended up with a giant congealed hunk o’ chocolate. We don’t have a double boiler so we then tried the bowl over simmering water thing which, after vigorous stirring by the husband for a long time, finally somewhat melted the chocolate which we then IMMEDIATELY threw into the sour cream rather than risk it re-congealing.]

Remove from heat and let chocolate cool until tepid.

Whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the corn syrup and vanilla extract until combined. Add the tepid chocolate slowly and stir quickly until the mixture is uniform. Taste for sweetness, and if needed, add additional corn syrup in one tablespoon increments until desired level of sweetness is achieved.

Let cool in the refrigerator until the frosting is a spreadable consistency. This should not take more than 30 minutes. Should the frosting become too thick or stiff, just leave it out until it softens again.

So, here’s the final steps of decoration:

1) Leveling the layers: I followed the layer cake tips on the source site and froze the cakes for an hour or so before finishing and decorating and it made things super easy. I just sliced the rounded tops off with a kitchen knife using my own eye to make as flat as I could, and I think it came out ok.

2) Frosting: So, I haven’t had a TON of cake frosting experience and I was far too stingy with the frosting. Frosted the top of the first layer and put the second layer on, and you couldn’t even see the frosting. :/

Then I frosted the outside of the cake and I thought it looked beautiful, but I had a ton of frosting leftover which, in retrospect, I should have used all of. Oh well. The finished product LOOKED beautiful, and tasted ok.

Again, I think it looked much better than it tasted. The cake was a bit dry, and I wasn’t crazy about the sour cream frosting. Next time I’m sticking with buttercream!

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