I was one lucky kid. I grew up with a grandmother who was a darn good baker and gifted with a cake decorating tip. From year to year, whatever I was into, Strawberry Shortcake or Wonder Woman, my grandmother brought it to life on cake. For my first birthday, she made a baby lamb — standing up. For my sister, when she was taking piano, she created an upright baby grand. She was my family’s very own Ace of Cakes.
I took my grandmother for granted, assuming everyone had one like mine chomping at the bit to bake them the cake of their dreams. I think of her now though on my daughter’s birthday. I want my daughter to grow up having delicious, fun homemade birthday cakes like I did. So I agonized on her first birthday.
Baking is one thing, cake decorating another.
I had ambitions of making my grandmother’s cake and pulled out the recipe card for her dense white almond cake, but it looked more complicated than I expected, so I chose a birthday cake from the Barefoot Contessa instead, a straightforward, dependable vanilla cake with butter cream frosting. It came out of the oven beautiful and golden, but after two hours under my knife, it looked like something Eloise, not Silvia Weinstock, had got her hands on. The cake tasted delicious though and I learned a thing or two that first year.
I learned that it’s easy to cover up mistakes with more frosting! You can smooth the finish by dipping a knife into milk or water and resurfacing. It’s worth every penny to invest in a real cake decorating bag. Most importantly, I confirmed what I already knew: I did not inherit my grandmother’s hand with a frosting tip.
This year, my daughter’s second birthday, I had fun with the cake instead. The end result was far from perfect-looking, but it tasted scrumptious, and a lot of love went into it. I can only imagine how much went into the cakes my grandmother used to make. Now, when Norah’s birthday rolls around and the party is all cleaned up, I’m lucky enough that I can pick up the phone and call my grandmother to tell her I love her back.
Barefoot Contessa Birthday Cake With Hot Pink Buttercream Icing
For the cake:
- 18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 cups sugar
- 6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
- 8 ounces (about 1 cup) sour cream, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
For the frosting:
- ¾ pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 pounds confectioners sugar, sifted
- 9 tablespoons milk
- 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Food Coloring
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan, a 6-inch cake pan and a 3-inch cake pan. I made this cake with two 9-inch layers instead.
To make the cake, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. On medium speed, add the eggs, two at a time, then the sour cream, vanilla, and lemon zest, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix well. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir just until smooth. Finish mixing by hand to be sure the batter is well mixed. Proportionately divide the batter between the three cake pans. Smooth the tops with a spatula, and bake as follows: the 9-inch pan for 45 minutes, the 6-inch pan for 35-40 minutes and the 3-inch pan for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean in each cake. Cool in the pans to room temperature.
For the frosting, cream the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the confectioners sugar, milk and vanilla extract. Mix on low speed for 1-2 minutes, until thickened. I layered my cakes and covered them in white frosting, but I set aside about a quarter of the frosting to make different colors for decorating.
All photos were taken by Jill Chen.
If you don’t have the time to make a homemade birthday cake for a friend this year, send them a gift box of local, pure and comforting handmade food. Eat Boutique sells a handmade gift box filled with handmade sweet and savory treats. Send food that hugs you back today. And for Father’s Day, get free shipping by entering “DAD” at check out!