This past weekend was my niece Whitney’s first birthday. It’s so crazy to think that a year has past already. The year has gone by so fast, but at the same time it’s hard to remember life before Whitney. She has changed and grown so much in one year. I know that as an aunt it’s my duty to brag on Whitney, but really – she is awesome. She has soooooo much personality for someone her age. When we have story time, she’ll pick out a book and let me read about 3 or 4 pages, then she’ll want down and will walk (because she’s already walking like a boss at a year old) over to her books to pick out a new book and lift her arms and say her universal sound for book, up, yes, or more. Again, she’ll have me read a little bit then she’ll pick out a new book. This cycle can go on for a long time, but I love it. I have a confession, though. This might make me seem like a horrible aunt, but I had to hide a book from her when I was babysitting on Super Bowl Sunday. She kept bringing me the book “Doggies” by Sandra Boynton. Now listen, I LOVE Sandra Boynton books and I totally get the point of this book. It will have one doggy and that doggy’s barking sound. The next dog will bark twice, and it has a different sound for that. The next one will bark three times and so on and so forth. I understand that it’s a counting book and for that purpose it’s great. I’m sure there are a lot of kids who learn how to count from it. The problem is, I’m HORRIBLE at making animal noises (with the exception of a velociraptor). I’m lucky to just get out a “woof” in the right voice, but then I have to do it ten different ways. Some of them are weird, too. When have you ever heard a dog that goes “nnn-nnn-nnn??” I think a dog making noises like that probably needs to go to the vet, because he probably just ingested a bunch of chocolate or raw chicken and things are going to get ugly soon. Any way… when I was babysitting her, she KEPT bringing me this book. To top things off, this wasn’t a read 3 pages and put away. This was a read all the way through book. I swear she knew what she was doing to me, because this is not one of her usual favorites. Maybe she just liked hearing Aunt Sally sounding like she was having some sort of stroke or attack, but she was so into this book. Eventually, I had to put it on her dresser behind the lamp. She initially looked at me like “ummmm… what did you do with my book.” It was worth it, though, because we spent the next 30-45 minutes reading Jamberry, Goodnight Moon, a variety of Little Pookie Books, and ended the night with a continuous replay of Barnyard Dance. I honestly think I probably read it seven times before she fell asleep- and maybe a few times after she fell asleep. I sooo did not want to put her in her crib. It’s such a rarity for her to fall asleep while I’m holding her anymore, so I was willing to just spend the night in the rocking chair but I did eventually put her in her crib. I always have this weird anxiety about putting her to bed that the second I lay her on her mattress she’s going to wake up. However, she handled the transition magically this time.
I suppose it’s time to move on to the cakes. Not only was Whitney’s birthday on the 11th, but my brother’s was on the 12th, AND Whit’s cousin Will’s birthday was on the 13th. This meant I had a lot of cakes to make. Grant wanted an ice cream cake, so I didn’t have to worry about that.
Will’s Cake – Chocolate Butter Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting
I got the recipes for both the cake and frosting from Smitten Kitchen. I have to say, this was my favorite cake. It was my first time using these recipes and the cake turned out sooo rich, that I was worried the kids might not like it. They said they did, but they’re polite kids so they could’ve just been using their manners. The recipe was for three 9” square pans, but I ended up using two 9” round pans. I had every intention of using the left over batter for cupcakes, but by the time I got done with all the cakes it was about 11:00 or 11:30 pm, and I still had to clean.
A couple notes: You want to use a REALLY big bowl for the cake. I started with just a normal big mixing bowl and realized after mixing the dry ingredients it wasn’t going to be big enough so I switched to my mom’s giant Tupperware bowl that she mixes puppy chow in. It was plenty big.
Also… The recipe calls for cake flour, which the Aurora Mall did not have. To make my own cake flour, for every cup of all-purpose flour I put in, I took out two tablespoons of flour and replaced it with two tablespoons of corn starch.
So… Mathematically speaking: 1 cup flour – 2 T flour + 2 T corn starch = Cake Flour.
This might also be a good time to let you know, Mom, that you are out of corn starch… And also cocoa powder, but we will get to that later.
Chocolate Butter Cake
Makes one 8-inch square, three layer cake
3 cups cake flour
3 cups sugar
1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
3 teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 ½ cups freshly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature (I only had about a half cup of coffee left after my daily consumption, so I filled the rest with water. I think it turned out fine.)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 8-inch square cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper. (My method of preparing cake pans is spray or butter, then flour, parchment, spray, and flour. Flouring twice might be excessive, but I’m a little cautious when it comes to cake sticking to the pan)
2. In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Whisk the eggs and coffee together, and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition. Divide the batter among the three prepared pans; each pan will take about 3 1/4 cups of batter.
4. Bake for 38 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Carefully turn them out onto wire racks and allow to cool completely. Remove the paper liners only when they are cool.
Instant Fudge Frosting
Note: the recipe calls for the frosting to be mixed in a food processor. Unfortunately, I don’t have one. Instead I just used a regular mixer. It might not have been as easy, but it got the job done.
Makes about 5 cups (this was enough to frost this cake, decorate the owl on Whit’s cake, and have some left over).
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled.
4 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
6 Tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until the frosting is smooth.
Whitney’s Cake! – yellow cake with Swiss Buttercream frosting
I have another confession to make. For the actual cake, I used a box mix. I had every intention of making it from scratch, but our road was blocked so I couldn’t get into town to get to the grocery store until about 3:00 or 3:30 when our neighbor came through and cleared it. By that time, i decided to just settle on a box. My favorite kind of box mix to use is Duncan Hines. Unfortunately, Aurora Mall didn’t have any. (Seriously, AM step up your game in the baking aisle!) I think instead I used Sara Lee.
This was my first time making this frosting recipe. For decorating, it was a dream. It spread smoothly. It piped smoothly. It was just kind of perfect in that sense. I wasn’t a huge fan of the taste. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I liked it a lot better when it was actually on the cake, but I had my doubts when I was just tasting the frosting.
I made two 8″ round cakes and two 4″ round cakes with the box mix. I reallllly wish I would’ve made the big cake at least 9 inches. It was harder to fit everything on the 8 inch pan. Also, the owl kept getting bigger, so then I had less room to write. If I would do it over again, I would probably do the writing part first. I was so paranoid of hitting the owl that I felt it didn’t look the best.
Swiss Buttercream Frosting
adapted from: http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/07/project-wedding-cake-swiss-buttercream/
2 cups sugar
8 large egg whites
6 1/2 sticks of butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.
Transfer mixture into the mixer and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. (Here’s a tip: when you transfer to the mixer, make sure you wipe the condensation off the bottom of the bowl so that no water gets into the egg whites. This can keep them from whipping up properly.)
Add the vanilla.
Finally, add the butter a stick at a time and whip, whip, whip.
Beth (my sister-in-law) swam at Rice University and owls are so in right now, that it just made sense to have Whitney’s cake be owl themed. I wish I would’ve taken pictures of every step of decorating. It was a lot of making it up as I went. I pretty much traced a small circle on the cake and went from there. The little smudge of yellow at the bottom of the cake is not the owl having an accident. Initially, the owl had feet, but when there wasn’t enough room to write Whitney’s name, I had to amputate them.
Oh! I’m sure you’re wondering how the Birthday Girl liked her cake. After all, one of the best parts of first birthdays is getting to see the baby go crazy on their cake. Right?
She went crazy, all right! I won’t hold this against her. I mean, how can you? She manages to look adorable while crying. This talent will get her far in life.
Thank you, Beth, for taking such great pictures!