To be perfectly honest, ever since I gave up Diet Coke (it’s been 52 days), I’ve had–it would be safe to say–absolutely no interest in sweets. But that is a very good soapbox that I will stand on another day. Sweet tooth or not, a birthday just doesn’t feel like a birthday without a cake–or pie or muffin, hell something you can stick a candle in.
This Monday was indeed the anniversary of my birth, and with all my blood relatives states (or oceans) away, it was up me to produce the aforementioned baked good, or else I wasn’t going to be making any birthday wishes this year. And trust me, I’m not in a position to be skipping out on wishes.
I could sit here, snarky as ever, and pretend it was some giant inconvenience, but the truth of the matter is, ever since last week when Maggy mentioned my aptly described “to die for” chocolate cake, I’ve been thinking about whipping one up.
Funny thing about this cake. Even though it’s undeniably my Mom’s recipe, it’s somehow become my cake. I’ve practically got the recipe memorized and I’ve definitely got that bedeviling split-stack-frost-repeat process down to a science (my first few attempts listed somewhat dangerously to the left). I think most cooks have a go-to dessert, this cake is mine.
I planned to go home and make it alone–it really didn’t seem that depressing to me! But my friends vetoed that plan with the quickness. So, we bought the ingredients, a couple six packs, and some stuff to throw on the grill–because my mama taught me right, and I don’t (usually) drink without eating.
After a few hiccups (We have 4 eggs. We need 4 eggs. The first egg we separate doesn’t so much…separate.), we sat down to deep, dark, stacked-high chocolately goodness. I took three bites. Hands down, the best part of making your own cake is that nobody gets offended if you don’t want it.
I brought the rest of the cake into work the next day, and at the rather ungodly hour of 10:15, my co-workers fell upon it like rebel hordes attacking the walls of Rome. After the “mmmm-ing” and “ooooh-ing” subsided slightly (don’t worry Mom, I gave you the credit), everyone started discussing how “adorable” and “liberated” it was that I had baked my own birthday cake.
Liberated? Maybe. Adorable is a stretch. I don’t know, I think when you love to cook–it’s all about the process. I had a great time baking with my friends. Would I rather have been out at a bar in a plastic tiara getting free drinks? Eh, there are nights for that. This birthday was, in the immortal words of Goldilocks, juuuust right. And it doesn’t hurt one bit that the editor of Fine Cooking magazine thinks I’m spunky and “liberated.” Stick a bow on that and I’ll call it a gift.
It’s a good story, Sharona. Do I remain professional and not reveal that David and I actually drove across several states for a birthday eve celebration? That I, in fact, baked a cake, complete with festive candles my friend Terrie forgot to use on the birthday cake she baked for me the week before?
My penance for diluting your story’s potency is a confession. Ownership of my chocolate cake has shifted to you because you are, in fact, the better baker. I’m a competent baker. I just don’t love it. It’s a little too exacting and tedious for me. Fact is (and it has nothing to do with swearing off Diet Coke) I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.
For bakers who want a challenge, make Sharon’s birthday cake. If you prefer to keep it simple, I share the birthday eve cake recipe, which is actually Maggy’s from her husband’s grandmother, Muriel Mayhew. Thanks, Mags, for introducing me to the simplest, best yellow cake I’ve ever eaten.
Nanny’s Victoria Sponge
If using regular all-purpose flour whisk 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the flour
12 tablespoons softened butter
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour *
1 tablespoon warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raspberry jam
Confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Alternating between the two, add eggs and flour 1/3 at a time, beating until each is thoroughly incorporated. Beat in water and vanilla. Evenly divide batter between prepared pans. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, let stand a couple of minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Spread top of one cake layer with jam, cap with remaining layer. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, slice, and serve.
I’m sorry you were semi-alone on your birthday. Having lived abroad for six years, I’ve missed so many celebrations. But I feel less bad knowing you had that chocolate cake. I just walked into my kitchen and looked at the back cover of CookSmart, but I didn’t really need to—that photo is permanently etched in my mind.
It’s been a long time since you made chocolate cake when I was around, and I think I know why. Someone made it for a birthday or dinner party, and the next day there was half a cake left. Mom set it on a covered glass cake stand on the kitchen island, and there it sat, suspended in that glass case in all its sinful, chocolatey glory, like the rose in Beauty and the Beast.
The rest of the story is semi-predictable. We come downstairs the next morning, go for a run, have breakfast. The cake is on the counter, light dancing on the glass, sparkling in the morning light. We think simultaneously, “let’s just have a see-through sliver, “ or what Granny and Papa call, “a piece of cake with one side.” Just a mouthful. How many calories are in a sliver? Let’s call it 50, max. Two slivers gone.
Then comes lunch. We make a salad that we thoroughly enjoy, and then start the dishes. There’s that cake again… staring at us. I swear, it’s glistening—radiating light. One little sliver, then two more.
Tea time rolls around, four slices of cake gone. And so on it goes. By that evening we’ve damn near polished off the rest of that cake, and we feel kinda gross. I’m feeling like Miranda in that episode of Sex and the City where she can’t stop eating cake, so she throws it in the garbage. She may even pick at it in the garbage before squirting dish washing liquid all over it. That’s why the Anderson girls don’t bake often—we can’t handle having it in the house. We especially can’t handle that cake.
So I’ve been meaning to ask… can you make that cake for me our first night back home? I arrive December 22, 6:00 pm, Iceland Air (bizarre, I know). I’m not as strong as you, three bites is not enough. I’ll have a whole slice, please, but this time, let’s give the rest to the neighbors. That or we need an opaque cake stand and cover with a lock and key.
As one of three sisters whose birthdays fall on the 5th, 7th, and 8th days of January, growing up I think I had only one birthday cake of my own, and that was a store bought one because my mother didn’t bake. But I do, and I can whip myself up a cake any old time, like last night when I made Ree Drummond’s Texas sheet cake (most of which has been sent to school for my son’s football playing friends for the same reasons mentioned by Maggy). My husband came in and asked why the cake. Because I can.
Good for you, Sharon, for making your own cake, and Happy Birthday!
Terri A. says
I bake my own cake almost every year! I don’t live near family and my friends (nice as they are), usually buy me a cake (blech). So, I get the kind I want by baking it myself. Then I have to bring the rest to work because I could easily polish one off myself.
chocolate and whine says
No interest in sweets? I just can’t comprehend this…
Anyway, I didn’t have cake on my birthday this year. I was in a funky mood and very blah and it just didn’t matter.
Now, two months later, I’m still telling my husband that he needs to get his ass in gear and take me out for some cake. Because who has a birthday with NO CAKE???
Well, he does, now that I think about it. I made him a cake on his birthday and he didn’t eat any until the next day. But he’s an odd man in general.
Sharon, I choose not to be offended that you called me and the other FC staff members hordes of rebels… why? Because your chocolate cake is without question the best chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted. Well done, you! And thanks for the recipe. ; )
I too have given up diet coke – great and very very hard thing to do – I also noticed a change in my craving for sweets – Studies show that consuming fake sugars, like those in diet soft drinks, make you crave more real sugars….
p.s. I never had cake on my b-day as a kid – just wasn’t in to it, had my mom make me a 7 layer bean dip instead 🙂 I was a weird kid
Did I really call you spunky? Liberated? I need proof!
And why on earth would you give up Diet Coke?
But I really just wanted to send out a belated “Happy Birthday!”.
As one of the friends who “helped” with the cake (my idea of help is to drink beer and watch), this cake was indeed amazing. I’m glad I was able to share your birthday baking adventure with you, even if my baking skills need some work.