EVENT: Jill’s Birthday
VENUE: Cara’s Mom’s House, Long Island
TYPE: End of Summer Deliciousness
MENU: Hummus, Cheese, and Crackers; Surf and Turf (Lobster and Flank Steak); Grandpa Salad; Roasted Potatoes; Corn; Bread; Raspberry-Lemon Birthday Cake
To each her own.
This, I imagine, had to be my mom’s philosophy when my sisters and I were growing up. When you have three girls, I imagine, it can’t be easy to keep them out of each other’s hair.
Whatever Jill had, I wanted–even if it was a pair of patent leather sneakers, chunky platform clogs, or atrocious, square-toed boots that were just so in at that particular moment.
Katie, the youngest, either wanted the stuff Jill and I had ten times more than I wanted Jill’s stuff–or, cool as a cucumber, she wanted nothing to do with it at all. By the time she was in high school, anyway, clunky shoes had gone the way of the early ’00s and everyone was wearing delicate boots and sleek ballet flats.
When it came to birthday cakes, differing footwear or not, Rich Chocolate Cake was the one for all of us, though. Perhaps it would be decorated differently in October than August, but as the pinnacle of celebration cakes, it couldn’t be missed on a birthday. Jill and Kate, who have summer birthdays two days apart sometimes got an ice cream cake instead–this awesome watermelon one, preferably.
Despite the moments of being three peas in a birthday cake pod, there are differences too. I like roller coasters; no one else in my family does. I will always and forever love chocolate and tend to think fruit is a bit of a waste for dessert; others think tarts like this one are totally viable, even for a birthday.
To each her own.
In the end, the second most important ingredient for a homemade birthday cake (love, of course, is the first) has nothing to do with sisterly imitation. It’s perfect-as-possible customization. When I make a birthday cake for someone these days, the idea is not just that I’m giving them a slice of cake, but that I’ve created a cake that precisely suits their dining personality and their expressed desires. Mom got a creamy ricotta tart after filling out my “survey” one day in the car, not long before her birthday. Alex gets dairy-free carrot cake. Sarah gets peanut butter filling.
Jill, a backseat chef year-round, spent a while brainstorming the perfect cake for her 2011 birthday. Last year, I made a blueberry cake with lemony cream cheese frosting. It was pretty nice-looking and great-tasting, but I didn’t get a very good picture, so I never posted about it here.
This year, we figured out that what would be the perfect cake. It would have light, lemony layers. Pink-tinted raspberry buttercream. More raspberries for decoration. Pretty and delicious–and so perfectly suited to Jill that her friend Rachel actually guessed the flavor combination in advance.
For some of the fall birthdays (and it always seems there are a lot), give this cake a whirl. That is, if the birthday gal or guy has a special affection for raspberries and lemon. Otherwise, tweak it til it’s perfect for them.
From my kitchen, where a cake is a gift, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Lemon Birthday Cake with Raspberry Buttercream
Makes 1 cake
**Based on some questions in the comments, I want to clarify the amount of raspberries in this recipe. You’ll want to buy two pint-sized “clamshells” of raspberries. Then you use 1 1/2 of those in the icing’s puree and the remaining 1/2 for decorating. Clamshells in my area have always been labeled pints – they are about 1 dry cup’s worth of raspberries. That means it’s a different measurement than a pint of cream. So if the raspberries you buy are labelled differently, stick to the cup measurement.
Also: if you make this buttercream ahead of time and refrigerate it, you must let it get to room temperature and re-beat it before trying to spread it on the cake. If it curdles when you beat it, it’s still too cold.**
For the cake:
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sour cream, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest of 2 lemons
3 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at soft room temperature
For the icing and decoration:
(adapted from The Dessert Bible)
2 pints fresh raspberries (about 2 cups)
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
To make the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch springform cake pans, then place a circle of parchment at the bottom of each. Grease that with softened butter too.
Whisk the eggs with 6 tablespoons of the sour cream, vanilla, and lemon zest.
In a separate bowl–the bowl of a stand mixer if you have one–whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. Add the butter, cut into rough tablespoon-sized chunks, and the remaining sour cream, and, using your hand-held mixer or your very strong arm if you don’t have a stand mixer, beat this together for nearly two minutes. It will be very creamy. Pour in the egg mixture in two parts, beating for nearly a minute after each.
Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 30 minutes, until the edges are golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted will come out clean, and the cake will bounce back when you press it lightly. Run a butter knife along the edges, then remove the sides of the pan and cool completely. When cool, flip the cake to remove the parchment from the bottom.
To make the icing: Puree 1 1/2 pints of raspberries with 1/3 cup sugar in a blender or mini food processor. Strain through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds (this takes a little while, so be patient), then set aside the seedless puree. Reserve the remaining 1/2 pint for decorating the cake.
Combine the eggs and sugar in a heatproof bowl–metal works great–and set it over a pot of simmering water. Whisk constantly but not too hard, until the egg-sugar mixture is warm (a drop on the inside of your wrist should feel hot but not burning). Be careful not to curdle it. If you’re using a thermometer, you want it to read 160°F.
Remove from the heat and beat on high speed using a handheld or electric mixer (I wouldn’t recommend doing this by hand). After about 5 minutes, it should have increased in volume and be light, airy, and cool. Turn the mixer to medium and add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing until incorporated. At points, the icing may look curdled. When all the butter is in, add the salt and raspberry puree and beat again.
Store for up to 5 days in the fridge, but let the icing come to room temperature before using (you may have to re-whip it).
To assemble the cake, place one layer on a serving platter. Spread a thick layer of buttercream across. Carefully place the second layer, top side down, on the buttercream. Use the remaining icing to ice the top and sides thickly and evenly. Arrange the fresh raspberries in three-berry clusters around the edge of the cake–or any way that strikes your fancy.