Happy birthday to my handsome and illustrious husband! Knowing how much he hates having his birthday celebrated, and knowing how uncomfortable he is with allowing his military coworkers to know anything about his personal life whatsoever, I decided to mark the occasion by making him a gorgeous cake and surprising him with it at his Very Serious Physicians Grand Rounds Discussion. On his birthday!
He’s so lucky to have me. Maybe they’ll sing him “Happy Birthday.” Or maybe they’ll let him wear a party hat when he presents his cases. Who knows? All I know (and what they DON’T know) is that I’ve laced this bitch with enough whiskey, rum, amaretto, and vanilla liqueur that it could, quite possibly, actually catch fire if they put it too close to an electrical device.
Birthdays all around!
Making a good layer cake is a many step affair, and having only one refrigerator, one oven, and no other places to hide things has made this a full three day process of sneakery. Fortunately, I am well-versed in the art of sneakery.
Step 1: Create the cake. I use Warren Brown’s LCD pound cake recipe, with a few little modifications. I like it because it has real vanilla beans and lots of booze. I also like it because it’s a sturdy-ass cake that can stand up to the ministrations of someone who is pretty sucky at high-speed cake decorating (ME!). I bake the cake, let it cool ALL THE WAY (failing to let your cake cool is basically guaranteeing that you’ll fail at life. It has to cool in the pan for long enough that it’s only slightly warm, then be turned out onto a parchment-lined cooling rack to finish cooling to room temperature. Then I wrap them individually, each supported by a round cake board, and hide them in the vegetable crisper of the fridge. The next day…
MISE EN PLACE!
Everything gets “oot and aboot” as they say in Canada. The frosting is so simple it’s almost a con. I’ll post a recipe at the end here, but know that the main ingredient is salted Plugra butter. There’s a grippe of frosting, 4 cartons of fresh, in-season raspberries (washed, dried, and sorted), the cakes (each cut in half), an offset spatula, a simple cake turntable, and a modicum of patience.
See the tiny little flecks of vanilla bean?
And see how fresh and beautiful those raspberries are?
And the fluffy, tasty, buttery frosting that even a child could cobble together with ease
I hate store-bought frosting so much that it almost burns when I pee. It’s horrid and lazy and tastes like chemicals and in no way acts as a complement to a cake of any kind. If you don’t have a ton of time, I’m all for doctoring a basic cake mix. But to use canned frosting is basically to tell the person for whom you’re baking “by the way, I don’t love you at all, and I’m tired of you having all these birthdays year after year, you tedious waste of time.” Blech. Ugh. NO BUENO. Corn syrup and vegetable shortening and preservatives have no business in a frosting, unless you’re baking a cake with a dagger in it to spring someone from prison. Then it’s okay, because the likelihood of it getting eaten is almost zilch. No, it’s much more likely that a lonely inmate will attempt coitus with your dagger cake, in which case vegetable shortening can act as a valuable, life-like lubricant. I think. Either way, stop using canned frosting. If you don’t have time for a real, meringue-based buttercream, then try this:
-24 oz salted Plugra butter, softened (or other high-quality, European butter)
-1 t vanilla extract
-1 vanilla bean, scraped (you can omit this if you don’t have it or don’t want flecks of vanilla bean in your frosting)
-About 8 C of powdered sugar (more or less to taste. Get it good and sweet.)
-About .25 C heavy cream or half and half (more or less to achieve fluffy, spreadable texture)
–Whip it all together in an electric mixer until it’s as fluffy as a golden retriever puppy, and about as sweet. This will fill and frost a 9 inch cake. Be prepared to make more if you’re decorating it also.
Fill your cake layers with a 1/4 inch layer of frosting, stacking carefully. In the middle layer, try laying out a single layer of raspberry. I like to tear them in half so they lay flat.
Plus they just look so pretty this way. Pretty AWESOME. Like my husband, who is incidentally celebrating his 34th birthday today!
Spread a thin layer of the frosting all around the cake to seal it, then put it back in the refrigerator to set the frosting. It will firm up nicely because butter is one of a few things in life that gets hard when cold.
When your thin layer of frosting is set (called the “crumb coat” because it holds all the crumbs onto your cake and keeps them from ending up in the outer layer of frosting. Or because it keeps the crumbs warm in the fridge while it’s setting. Who knows?), splodge a whole bunch of new, room-temperature frosting on top of the cake.
Start to spread it quickly, as the chill of the cake will firm it up and make it harder to spread. This is the layer that you want to look relatively nice and smooth, so take your time with it. Don’t be stingy with the frosting, either, or you’ll start to tear up your crumb coat. And don’t over-frost or your cake will be heavy and the frosting will slide down the sides. A good 1/2″ layer of smooth frosting is all you need.
It should look better than this when you’re done, but I’m clearly not a super-talented cake-froster. Get off me.
The final product, ready to take to the hospital for grand rounds.
I put his last name initial instead of his first, since I know there are multiple Chris-names floating around in there, and also because in my head I harbor this secret fantasy that men really DO go through life referring to one another by last name only, like in high school sports. And also because I call him by his last name half of the time, despite having his same last name. If anyone thinks that’s weird, then they can just pretend the “W” is for “Wife.” As in, “Chris’s WIFE loves him so much that she made him a cake that weighs upwards of 15 lbs, transported it to base, and presented it to him in a very serious and non-cakey setting.”
Happy birthday, honey! And if you don’t bring me home a slice of this cake to taste, then we’ll likely be celebrating the next year with divorce proceedings.