Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, John!

Rachel here: This past weekend my beloved partner in crime (and our beloved illustrator) heralded the end of another year and the start of his next. He and I have a deliciously wonderful birthday tradition of baking each other specially requested birthday cakes. In the past, John has made me a cake in the shape of a Life car (like, from the board favorite childhood board game because we didn't own it), tiered chocolate cake, flourless chocolate cake (ok, clearly a theme is emerging around what I usually ask for for my birthday)...the list goes on. Anyway, I, in turn, have dutifully made John a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting every year because, though he's anything BUT vanilla as a person, this is what he asks for. And so, this year I tried to up the ante a little bit, figuring I've been getting off pretty easy with this whole vanilla-vanilla thing year in and year out, and I endeavored to make his cake look like something...

a double chocolate stuffed golden oreo cookie (his latest obsession).

It didn't work.

First, I didn't have an exacto knife (as I was so sure we did) and so the stencil I tried to make had to be completely revamped at the last minute. Then, though absolutely freaking fantastic, the frosting that I made wasn't thick enough to function visually as whatever the "stuff" in oreos is and kept oozing down the sides of the cake.

And yet, the cake is totally totally good. The cake part itself is a little dense, but it's not too sweet which is nice for a cake and allowed for the chocolate, powdered sugar and whipped cream to shine through. Though I was a little disappointed not to have achieved my initial goal from the outset of my cake-baking endeavor, I was quite pleased with the end result (and I think the birthday man was, too). And, of course, I was delighted to celebrate another year in the life of my fantastic partner and best friend. To many more years, John, and many more cakes.

Rich and Tender Yellow Cake
from "The Best Recipe" by Cook's llustrated

4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 c. whole milk, room temperature
2 tspn. vanilla extract
2 1/4 c. sifted cake flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 tspn. baking powder
3/4 tspn. salt
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 16 pieces

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare two 9x1 1/2 inch cake pans with vegetable shortening. Line the bottoms of each pan with parchment paper and grease as well. Dust cake pans with flour, tapping out excess. In a small bowl, beat together the eggs, milk and vanilla. Measure out 1 c. of this liquid mixture and set aside. In your mixer, combine the dry ingredients, blending well. With the mixer running at its lowest speed, add the butter in one piece at a time, mixing until the flour and butter look sandy. Add the 1 c. of egg mixture and mix at the lowest speed until it's incorporated. Increase your mixer's speed to medium-high and beat everything until light and fluffy. Add the remaining egg mixture in a slow and steady stream. Scrape down the sides of your bowl and beat batter on medium-high until it looks slightly curdled. Divide batter evenly between your cake pans and smooth with a rubber spatula. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean, roughly 25 minutes. Remove and cool in pans for 10 minutes on a wire rack before removing and letting cool completely before icing.

Chocolate Cream Frosting
from "The Best Recipe" by Cook's llustrated

1 1/2 c. heavy cream
16 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/3 c. corn syrup
1 tspn. vanilla extract

Bring cream to a boil. Pour over chocolate and add corn syrup. Let rest for 3 minutes. Whisk gently until smooth. Add vanilla. Refrigerate, stirring periodically, until desired consistency is reached. Try really hard not to eat (this stuff is seriously good).

Once everything was cooled, I assembled my two cakes with a layer of frosting between them. I cut out letters and hearts and whatnot and placed them on the top and sifted powdered sugar over to create the design. When I served the cake, I drizzled more of the frosting over it and added a dollop of whipped cream. I took a few pictures of the cake in this state, but they all came out blurry and, well, it was time to eat. It sure was pretty, though. Anyway, what do you like on your birthday?

Janet here: Regular readers know that I don't "do" cakes. (And by "do," I mean bake. Certainly I've been known to eat them.) Instead, we all get the homemade ice cream cake of our desire (click here for recipe). That said, I have nothing but admiration for Rachel and John's birthday cake baking plan and think it is quite a lovely family tradition all of their own creation. I can't wait to see the cakes they make their little bun in the oven.

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