Cake has never been something that I have particularly liked to eat. Growing up, I would have my mom’s ice cream cake, which she informed me is actually a “chocolate gateau bombe,” or my aunt’s chocolate chip pound cake for my birthdays. I didn’t, and still don’t, like to eat a lot of sweets. These days I will eat cake occasionally, mainly for birthdays, but I really just love to make cakes for other people. I also like to take risks, experiment, and make something totally new each time. Somehow, this past week we were able to pull off a surprise birthday party for my mom. HI say “somehow” because her mom, my grandmother, came in town the day before and we were busy getting the house ready all day; and yet it was still a complete surprise! It was a very special occasion with a catered dinner by Chef Kelly English, so the stakes were high, but I wanted to make the cake.
I scoured the internet for chocolate cake recipes. I tore through the pages of The Joy of Cooking. It all sounds rather dramatic, I know. I couldn’t find the perfect chocolate cake that wasn’t just plain chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I ended up choosing between two very similar cake recipes–they both had coffee, canola oil, and sour cream. I used the recipe from Apt. 2B for her chocolate cake, mainly because it yielded a larger cake. Her recipe makes a three layer 10″ cake, or a four layer 9″ cake. Three layers are so last year. I made a few substitutions in my cake: I substituted greek yogurt for the sour cream, and I substituted vegetable oil for canola oil (because I didn’t have those ingredients and the others were perfectly acceptable). The cake batter will look runny, but trust the recipe! It makes delicious, gorgeous, fluffy cakes.
I had the “easy” part decided–the cake. After a beautiful and luxurious catered meal, this cake had to be a showstopper. I searched for decorating inspiration on Pinterest and Google just by typing in “birthday cake,” or “celebration cake,” and even “wedding cake.” I found a picture of a gorgeous cake with pale pink frosting covered in berries and flowers. I pretty much copied the image I saw. My last decision came to the filling and the frosting. With the different berries on top, and not following any particular recipe, I decided I needed to incorporate berries into the cake. I made a blackberry filling and spread it between each layer along with a layer of frosting. The frosting was a simple buttercream with pink food coloring. Confession: I put WAY too much food coloring into my first batch of frosting and it was bright neon pink! I tried to lighten it by adding another batch of white frosting but it didn’t help the problem at all. After my dad rescued me with another bag of powdered sugar, I started over. Instead of adding food coloring to the new batch, I mixed in a few scoops of the hot pink frosting gradually into the new one until I reached my desired color. Decorating hack: cover the edges of your cake plate with plastic wrap before putting your first layer of cake on to decorate. When you’re done decorating the cake, peel off the plastic wrap gently from under the edges of the cake to reveal a perfectly spotless cake plate. (I didn’t come up with this idea–I read it somewhere and adopted it.)Blackberry filling:
1 jar Bonne Maman Blackberry preserves (or any kind you like)
1 tbsp. orange liquor
Heat the preserves and liquor in a small sauce pan until the preserves are warmed through and begin to thin out. Pour mixture through a small sieve to strain out the seeds and berries. Let cool to room temperature before using.
*Also delicious on toast, in yogurt, or on ice cream. Or on a spoon.
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
3 tbsp. milk
Beat the butter with a mixer on high until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, mixing after each addition until incorporated. Add the vanilla and milk and beat until smooth and creamy. Add food coloring or other flavorings if desired. If you refrigerate the icing, let it come to room temperature and beat it well before spreading on your cake.
—happy birthday mom