Shouldn’t we? For it is comfort and light and sweetness and heft all wrapped up tidily (or messily, depending on preference) into a delicious-smelling packet. A day that includes cake is always a good one.
So I suppose it follows that I don’t believe in holding back when it comes to birthdays — and, for me, one of the most important aspects of the birthday celebration is cake.
This weekend, for a pre-birthday wine and cheese party with the friend with whom I share both the date and year of my birthday, I madethree cakes — not necessarily because I am an overachiever, but because I thought it would be pretty (and fun!) to have an assortment of differently-flavored small cakes, rather than one large one.
And how pretty (and fun!) they were.
I initially waffled about what kind to make: I knew there would have to be one chocolate (because, really), and probably one white cake, and while I was at it, why not do the opera cake I had made three years ago for my birthday dinner, and which I vaguely remembered as outstanding? So I gathered some well-used and loved recipes, and set to work.
I stayed up rather late Friday night, littering the kitchen with flour and bits of melted chocolate (luckily I didn’t have to do most of the dishes). I was almost dropping by the time I finished (I also made an enormous batch of hummus and baked a batch of mini madeleines because in for a penny, in for a pound — right, Jeremy? — and what’s good enough for Proust is certainly good enough for me). But when Saturday night — and the party — rolled around, I was so glad I’d made the extra push.
The chocolate cake was very good — a classic, if not terribly exciting. The opera cake, the bane of my existence the night before when fatigue settled in and I had to re-do the coffee syrup not once, not twice, but three times to get it right, was a hit after all. My own personal favorite, however, was a coconut-pineapple dream, piled high with whipped cream.
I [almost] hesitate to share this recipe because it’s really my thing when it comes to birthday cakes, except that everyone should eat this cake at least once in his or her life (preferably more often than that). I’ve made it for so many beloved friends throughout the years, and I’ll keep on making it because it’s just that good. Enrobed in velvety whipped cream and sprinkled over with coconut, this cake tastes like a cloud — and looks a bit, as my friend said the other night, like a snowball. The cake layers are thinly sliced and stacked with crushed pineapple and more coconut in between; and it is light and moist and tropical all at once.
Today, my actualy birthday, it is grey here, but I am headed off to Pt. Reyes for a hike and a visit. I am thinking of my other birthday pal, and wishing for a good year for we three — and, yes, lots of cake, too — and for all else who might share this birth-date with me.
For the rest of you, I wish a lifetime of delicious cakes, made for you by those you love.
Coconut-pineapple layer cake, long-ago adapted from gourmet.com
For cake layers
2 1/3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, beaten lightly
a 28-ounce can crushed pineapple in unsweetened juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
a rounded 1/4 cup sugar
2 2/3 cups sweetened flaked coconut (a 7-ounce bag), toasted golden
Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottoms of 2 buttered 9- by2-inch round cake pans with rounds of wax paper. Dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.
Into a bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a glass measuring cup stir together milk and vanilla. In a bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed cream butter 1 minute and add sugar in a steady stream, beating until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition, until pale and fluffy. Stir in flour mixture in 4 batches alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture and stirring after each addition until batter is smooth.
Divide batter between pans, smoothing tops, and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool cake layers in pans on racks 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of each pan and invert cake layers onto racks. Remove wax paper carefully and cool cake layers completely. Cake layers may be made 5 days ahead and frozen, wrapped in plastic wrap and foil. Thaw cake layers in refrigerator 1 day before proceeding with recipe.
* delicious and dreamy photos by Michael.