Beginning with a Birthday Cake

Here’s to birthdays and other beginnings. The birth of this blog happens to coincide with the blogger’s birthday. How else, then, to begin than with a birthday cake?

Last year, I was shamed out of making my own birthday cake. It had never occurred to me that this was such a sin. So there I was, with this beautiful cake in mind, all the ingredients purchased and a plan underway. And my mother told me (perhaps out of guilt because she was some 1,500 miles away and could not make me a cake herself), “You shouldn’t have to bake your own birthday cake!”

No, you shouldn’t. But what if you wanted to? What if the act of planning and the sensory deed of baking brought you utter joy at every turn and at the end of it, you had something delicious on a plate to boot? What better birthday experience could you give yourself?

I bought into the notion that you were somehow pathetic and unloved if you were making your own cake. Ridiculous. I am ashamed that I was shamed out of baking my own birthday cake, though last year’s purchased Key lime cake from Whole Foods was delicious. I vowed I would bake my own cake this year.

The cake I had in mind was quite feminine, true “girlie food,” as my Grandpa would have called it. Vanilla cake layers would be perfumed with rose flower water and sandwiched together with thick layers of raspberry jam. The cake would be cloaked in a frosting made delicately pink with raspberry syrup and a hint of more rosewater. The only decoration would be a scattering of – candied rose petals.

OK, I’ve got a thing for roses – their smell, their taste. I like to drink rose petal tea. The deep resonance of rose flavor – to me – seemed perfect for something sweet like a cake.

The cake recipe I worked from was from the back of the Softasilk cake flour box, which I only tweaked slightly with addition or rose water and the subtraction of splitting each of three cake layers in half (I might as well perform microsurgery). I had ordered the rose water through Amazon and the candied rose petals through an Oakland bakery.

Now let me just say that by the presence of baking blogs on the net, I see a revival in cake baking that I would never predicted, given how the cake mix took over decades ago, making it, well, shameful (and seemingly laborious) to bake a cake from scratch. I think most people find baking a cake from scratch daunting because a cake is a precarious creature, and, one fears that one misstep and all is lost. It’s an all or nothing proposition. But cakes of scratch do turn out well. I don’t and haven’t baked a lot of cakes over the years because you need a few folk around to finish them off and I’ve not had that much company lo these many years. But the challenge of putting a cake together intrigues me, so I give it a go and, you know what, it can be done without a cake mix.

So I stirred up the simple Softasilk cake batter and added one teaspoon of rose water. Upon tasting, the rose didn’t seem prominent enough. I added another teaspoon, tasted the batter again. I let my friend and collaborator dip his finger in the bowl. “Tastes like old lady,” he told me. I was on the right track! Three pans of batter went into the oven.

Here I must declare: the three top smells coming out of a working oven are roast chicken, yeast bread and vanilla cake (never have tried them together, but that might be a goal). So a cake baking is worth the endeavor if for no other reason than the aromatherapy.

Once the cake was baked and the layers stacked with its jam mortar, I whipped up the frosting of cheery pink, the unofficial birthday cake frosting color. The art of frosting – neatly that is – is not my strongsuit. I wanted the cake’s surface to look, so I tried out the trick of dipping the spatula in hot water and wiping it dry. Works quite nicely to smooth out any sugary stucco!

Then, the rose petals. They were a deep rose, some broken and folded imperfectly, but captured forever in their original blooming shade by a glaze of sugar. Like a flower girl, I scattered them over and around the cake.

Time to eat some cake. Would it have been worth the wait? Even before lifting the fork to my mouth, I knew the answer would be yes. It all means more to me than the eating. The cake was what I wanted, a pleasure to look at, smell and taste — delicious, light, moist layers with a hint of raspberry and rose. If you’re so inclined, don’t be ashamed to make your own birthday cake!

I’ve often used my birthday as an excuse to try something new – see a new place, try a new recipe, attempt a new venture. As with the first birthday, it’s the pressing urge to begin…again. And so, on this birthday, I begin to blog.

Here’s to beginnings…they can happen anytime.

Raspberry-and-Rose-Laced Vanilla Cake
(Adapted from Pillsbury Softasilk Cake Flour)

Baking spray with flour
3 cups Softasilk Cake Flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ cups butter, softened
1 ¼ cups sugar
2/3 cups milk
1 ½ teaspoon clear vanilla
2 teaspoons food grade rose water
4 large eggs
1 cup seedless raspberry jam

Raspberry-Rose Cream Frosting
2 cups butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon clear vanilla
1 teaspoon food grade rose water
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 cup Smuckers Red Raspberry Syrup
1 cup candied rose petals

Preheat oven to 350. Spray three 9-inch layer pans with baking spray.
Mix cake flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda; set aside. Beat softened butter and sugar in large mixing bowl with electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in flour mixture, milk, vanilla, rose water and eggs on medium speed until well-blended, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat two minutes longer. Spread batter evenly into prepared pans.
Bake 19 to 23 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes remove from pans to wire rack. Cool completely.

For frosting: beat room temperature butter, vanilla and rose water in bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar and syrup until well-combined.

Place one cake layer, top side facing down, on serving platter. Spread with ½ cup raspberry jam to within ¼ inch of edge. Top with second layer, spread with another ½ cup of jam. Top with third layer.
Frost the top and sides of cake. Advanced cake decorators are welcome to use a piping bag with ½ cup of frosting to create a lattice pattern across top of cake. Scatter rose petals across cake’s surface and around its base. Refrigerate cake to set frosting. Let stand at room temperature 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh raspberries, if desired.

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