By many peoples’ standards, we spoil our children. We have a basement full of toys, bikes in the garage, an X-Box and other gaming things, and lots of movies to watch. We go on nice vacations. Both boys have plenty of clothes to wear and ski gear (though we rent skis and boots). Their chores consist of bringing over their plate after dinner and cleaning up their rooms. They get a lot of hugs and kisses and treats after dinner.
But. We are sticklers about manners and being polite and respectful to adults and kids both older and younger. We try to encourage awareness about how lucky they are without being morbid about it. About once a year we go through our toys and clean out things they are not using to give to children who are less lucky. They are old enough to understand that we can go look in a toy store but we are not going to buy anything. (Unless they are with dad, who usually caves.)
This year Spencer is getting two birthday cakes. This is the first year that we are having a real true party for him. I’m not the mom who treasures throwing themed birthday parties for my kids complete with perfect invitations and favors. I try and farm the party part out. Seeing as Spencer is the second child, we tried to get away with just doing family for as long as possible. There have been years where we have been in Sun Valley over his birthday (spoiled!). But this year we are home, he turned five, and we are doing a trampoline party (spoiled!).
Spencer wants a Batman cake for the party which we will be getting from the same bakery as Graham’s cake. Mommy doesn’t do Batman cakes. Or she could, but it would end up looking like a gerbil cake or a blob cake which wouldn’t make him very happy. For his “real” birthday cake, we sat down with several of my baking books and paged through options. “I want that one! Or wait, I want that one! No, that one!”, is kind of how the conversation went. I thought we were going with a lemon cake with a meringue frosting when he spied a cake in Flour that sealed the deal. I guess to him it just looked like a birthday cake. That may have been because there are birthday candles on the cake in the photo. At any rate, I was glad to make a traditional cake that I knew he would like.
I feel like some of my cookbooks are kind of like the good guy friend in college who patiently listens to your love life failures, all the while secretly hoping you will actually notice him. Flour has been sitting on my shelf for about a year now. I made a couple ho hum things from it in the first few weeks after purchase and then moved on to brighter shinier things. I knew it would house some good birthday cake ideas and this perfect birthday cake was in there waiting for me all this time. Actually, not perfect, but pretty darn good. The cakes themselves were very crummy and the frosting kind of set up too much after I put the cake in the refrigerator with the crumb coat, but the taste and the look was pretty close to perfect. According to the birthday boy, that is.
One Year Ago: Macaroon Brownie Bars, White Chocolate Tiramisu, Red, White, and Green Lasagne
Two Years Ago: Olivetta Loaf, Spicy Smoky Chili
Three Years Ago: Roasted Orange Pepper Soup, Mushroom Enchiladas, Broccoli and Red Pepper Pie, Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
Yellow Birthday Cake with Fluffy Chocolate Ganache Frosting
Makes one 8-inch layer cake (serves 8-12)
I’m giving you the (very wordy) recipe as written in the book. A couple of tips. The cake cools completely in the pans, presumably because it is large and thick, so be sure to grease them well and use a parchment round in the bottom of the pan. I always refrigerate my cakes with a crumb coating for about 30-60 minutes, but I think the frosting hardened up too much during the waiting time. So be sure to follow her advice and just frost the cake right after the crumb coating. She recommends using non-fat buttermilk but I can never find that so I just used low fat.
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
Fluffy Chocolate Ganache Frosting
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. (DT: Don’t forget the parchment here!)
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), cream together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. (This step will take 8 to 10 minutes if using a handheld mixer.) Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla just until combined. On low speed, slowly pour the egg mixture into the butter mixture and mix just until incorporated. Scrape the bowl and paddle again, then beat on medium speed for 20 to 30 seconds, or until the mixture is homogeneous.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. On the lowest speed, add about one-third of the flour mixture to the egg-butter mixture and mix just until barely combined. Immediately pour in about half of the buttermilk and continue to mix on the lowest speed until the buttermilk is almost thoroughly incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl well. Again on the lowest speed, add about half of the remaining flour mixture and mix just until barely combined. Add the rest of the butter milk and mix just until combined. Be careful not to overmix.
At this point, it is best to finish the mixing by hand. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and, using a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining flour mixture until the batter is just homogeneous. As you fold, be sure to incorporate any batter clinging to the sides and bottom of the bowl. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the ops are golden brown and the cakes spring back when pressed in the middle with a fingertip. Let cool completely in the pans on wire racks. (The cooled cakes can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer for up to 1 week. Thaw at room temperature, still wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.)
To make the ganache frosting: While the cake layers are cooling, put the chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl. In a small saucepan, scald the cream over medium-high heat (bubbles start to form around the edge of the pan, but the cream is not boiling). Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for about 1 minute, then slowly whisk together the chocolate and cream until the chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth. Let sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, or until completely cool. (Or refrigerate the ganache until cool, about 30 minutes, whisking every ten minutes.)
Fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or use a handheld mixer) and beat the butter on medium-low speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, and vanilla and continue to beat on medium-low speed for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy and smooth. Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl and paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar. On medium speed, add the cooled ganache and beat for about 2 minutes, or until completely combined. Stop to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for about 1 minute, or until the frosting lightens in color and thickens. You should have about 4 cups.
Remove the cooled cakes from their pans. (Be sure they are completely cool. If they are even the slightest bit warm, the frosting will melt and you will have a mess.) Using a long, serrated knife, trim the top of each cake to level it (the layers will have rounded a bit in the oven; the trimmed scraps make great nibbles). Place one cake layer on a cake plate or cake pedestal (if you have a revolving cake stand, use it.) Spoon about 1 cup of the frosting on top and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly to the edges.
Carefully place the second layer top-side down (so the even sharp edges will be on the top of the finished cake), on top. Spoon about 1 cup of the frosting on top and spread it over the top and down the sides of the cake, smoothing the frosting as well as you can and covering the entire cake with a thin layer. This the crumb coat which will keep any loose crumbs from migrating to the surface of the finished cake. Spoon a heaping cup of frosting on top of the cake, an spread it evenly across the top and down the sides. This is the finishing layer of frosting. If desired, spoon any remaining frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a small round or star tip and pipe a decorative line along the top and/or bottom edge of the cake.
The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.