I’m finally getting around to celebrating my birthday—properly, that is—with a cake. I couldn’t let the year pass without having a birthday cake, including blowing out the candles and making a wish. This is despite the fact that my birthday was back in August.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I’ve been putting it off. One initial stalling point was deciding what kind of cake to make. Such a decision never involved so much trepidation when I was a kid. It was almost always Funfetti cake with pink frosting for me. I relived a bit of that nostalgia last year when I baked Milk Bar’s recipe for Birthday Cake. It was a fun update to a blast from the past making it as an adult and having such a knockout recipe to follow instead of just opening a box. I even went so far as to pipe a happy birthday message to myself on the top with some extra frosting, which I had colored pink using beet powder for a cheerful effect that I prefer to traditional food coloring. Ryan and I merrily chipped away at that cake for the better part of a week.
Thinking back it was my mom who took on the birthday cake making for my dad and two brothers on their special days, but when it came to our birthdays—my sister and I, that is—it had become a practice pretty early on that we each made our own. It was a tradition that we embraced and very much looked forward to each year.
We liked being in the kitchen—watching and helping, however small of a task—it was like learning a new language, and there was a magic to it: the passing on of knowledge, experience, memories, and secrets. Moreover, there was an alchemy to it: we were taking bits and pieces and combining them in a way that made them whole, something that we had created. My memories of cooking, baking, and being in the kitchen are all imbued with such a whimsical haze. And when it came to making our birthday cakes, back then, the biggest decision was how to decorate them.
My big sister, whose birthday is three days before mine, always had a well-thought-out plan for her cake and was quite skilled, even as a youngin, in decorating her cakes. She’d create cheerful landscapes of flowers framed by scrolling designs using candies like M&M’s, Reese’s Pieces, Reese's peanut butter cups—both miniature and full size, which would be cut into wedges and used as flower petals— Jordan almonds, sprinkles and different colored frostings.
The placement of each item was precise, deliberate, and the resulting cake was always a sight to behold. I probably wouldn’t have admitted it back then, but as a little sister I drew major inspiration from her works. I, however, lacked Annie’s finesse for design. Annie’s cakes would turn out looking like the work of Claude Monet—everything a beautiful brushstroke—whereas my cakes more closely resembled, rather unintentionally, Dali’s melting clock. Things were just a little off-kilter, the designs I’d attempted to create with my frostings would weep, the resulting effect a little too jarring to be pretty. My cakes were the Mona “Hatchet-Face” Malnorowski to Annie’s Wanda Woodward cakes. Why yes. That is, in fact, a Crybaby reference.
The more I think about it and the more I write about it, the more I realize where the initial procrastination to celebrate came from. I often find myself reminiscing about times past, especially when my birthday rolls around. I’ll catch myself smiling as I recall what that used to mean: summertime, swimming in the pool, cake and presents—of course—but most of all, my family all sitting around the table together. I find myself getting tripped up on the ‘what that used to mean’ part, because while the sentiment and memories are still there, rare are the moments when my family is able to gather around the same table. What gives me even more of a somber pause is the felt absence of family no longer here to partake in any birthday revelry. So while I want to celebrate and mark the occasion because time is all we have until we don’t, I also kind of want to ruminate on these things, and take my time with them, and make sure I’m appreciating it, just how fortunate I am to make another turn around the sun.
So this year I’m falling back on something I can still rely on: drawing birthday cake inspiration from my big sister. When Annie described to me the intensely chocolate cake with chocolate ganache she’d made this year I was practically drooling on the other end of the phone, and before long I was rifling through tried and true recipes for the chocolatiest cakes I could find. This recipe is adapted from the Tassajara Bread Book. I’ve made it several times as written and a few times with modifications for the sake of convenience as well, for example, this time around I didn’t have the almond meal called for but I did have hazelnut flour, and I have it on pretty good authority that hazelnut and chocolate is a winning combination. This cake was worth the wait, because now I’ve had the chance to get ready for it, and not just have a perfunctory celebration. This is a cake to taste, to savor, and to let the candles burn just a little longer before they are extinguished.
Triple Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Glaze
Yield: 1 9” Cake
For the Cake
Well hello! I'm Kat, and
I'm always either cooking or thinking about what I want to cook next. For me, food is always about so much more than just my next meal. This is a place for sharing stories and recipes from a life lived through the lens of food...