celebration

Best Ever Yellow Birthday Cake with Best Ever Chocolate Frosting (and raspberries)



I first baked this cake on graduating high school. 
I baked it in two layers, frosted them as individual cakes for a party, drank a glass of champagne, went swimming, and then promptly went to college. 

I hadn’t made this cake since then. 
Recently, I made it for my father’s birthday. 
Here he is, looking mildly pleased. 

 

What I can’t get over, is how much has changed between then and now. 

My last year of university is about to begin. “Season four begins.” My friends and I joke, because somehow, the entire three, now four years, has managed to feel like a bizarre, high drama miniseries, or at least, one that’s heavy on the taco-eating/beer-drinking/library-gossiping side of life. 

Since I was a child, college has always the goal and the next “next thing.” Somehow, I’m now facing the beginning of the end of it, and panicking a little about what my next “next thing” is going to be. 

I’m hopeful that I’ll bake this cake again soon, because it’s such a perfect, perfect cake. But also, I’m hopeful that I’ll bake it again soon because I really want to celebrate all the tiny victories and birthdays and half-birthdays and weekends and Monday nights and people. Mostly I want to celebrate all the people. 

Everything is going by so fast. 

There’s a bizarre musical called Auntie Mame. The best and only memorable line from the whole show is when Mame shouts, “Life is a banquet! And most poor suckers are starving to death!” And then she throws on a different wig and dances on the table, surrounded by multitudes of her tap-dancing lovers. Or at least, that’s how I remember it. 


When I think about goals or dreams for the upcoming months, of course I want to work hard and study and graduate-- but more than any of this, I really want to bake this cake, throw on the wig, dance on the table, just for the hell of it. 
Because life is a banquet. 
Because it’s the beginning of the end, which means it’s a new beginning all over again. 
And I want to celebrate. 
Because I’m so excited.
I’m so wildly excited. 

Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame

XOXO


Best Yellow Layer Cake
from SmittenKitchen.com 

In all sincerity, this one of the simplest and absolute best cakes you could ever wish that someone else would bake you for your birthday. 

Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers, and, in theory, 22 to 24 cupcakes, two 8-inch squares or a 9×13 single-layer cake (I have yet to audition the cupcakes, shame on me)
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (480 to 530 grams, see explanation) cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk (475 ml), well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.


Go-to Chocolate Frosting
from Allrecipes.com

Also this frosting makes me the happiest. It is so good. So so soooo good. 

1 cup butter, softened
4 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1 1/4 cups baking cocoa
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter. Gradually beat in confectioners sugar, cocoa and vanilla. Add enough milk until frosting reaches spreading consistency.



a booklist


When I was fifteen I read a book called, Are You Really Going to Eat That? by Robb Walsh. 
It detailed all the disgusting things the author had eaten and the stories behind them. 
It wasn’t the food, but the stories surrounding the food mesmerized me.
I became obsessed. 
I read cookbooks the way other people read novels. 
I read about the history of barbeque, the art of sushi, the architecture of the perfect loaf of bread. 
I read the food encyclopedia,
The Man Who Ate Everything, cover to cover. 
All five hundred and twenty-eight pages of it. 




My favorite books, however, were the food memoirs, because the lives of the authors wrapped around recipes and meals. 
Eating and love and destiny and history and romance-- in the lives of these magic people-- it was all interconnected and intertwined through food. 
These writers were the kind of people I wanted to know. 
They were all somewhat troubled, and clever, with strange childhoods. 
They had sexy lives-- slick with travel and encounters with famous chefs, rare cheeses, wine, cloud-like pastries, and sensuous lovers that entertained them in between courses. 
However, more than anything, I was fascinated that these magical people lived in pursuit of beauty. That an entire way of life could be structured around the ceaseless pursuit of flavors that lasted just long enough to be remembered and written about. 

And so eating and drinking, became for me, about the story. 

This year is almost over. 
I'm trying to comprehend all the stories, all the meals, all the drinks. 
Maybe it doesn't matter. 
But I can't help it. 
Do you remember? 
I want to say. 
Do you remember? 

Remember the butterscotch budino? 
Remember the time I cried, and he gave me the cookies for free?
Remember when I dropped the bowl of whipped cream?
Remember when we sat in Central Park and I gave you the rest of the pastries? 
Remember the rum, and the beach, and the lobster pasta?
Remember the Halloween samosas at 2am, and you were too drunk and I was too sober and everyone came and sat on the sidewalk, all in costume-- just to eat doughnuts? 
Remember the time I asked for “a pink drink please” and you touched my hand across the table?  
Remember the gelato and cheese and grapes, and rescuing a dog in the rain and I was barefoot? 
I didn't want an entree, but you insisted. 
You ate all the pizza, asshole. 
We only ever ate breakfast tacos. 

Do you remember? 

So it's been a hungry year. 
Very hungry. 
I have been learning that it is impossible to hold too tightly onto people. 
However, it is possible to love the memories and collect the recipes. 
And to remember this bitter and sweet year, with gratitude. 
Because if nothing else, at least we ate. 
And at least I got a story. 

XOXO
mary 


Some Food Memoirs You Might Read If You Are So Inclined 

* My favorites are italicized. 

The Man Who Ate Everything -- Jeffrey Steingarten

Are You Really Going to Eat That? -- Robb Walsh

The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food -- Judith Jones

Garlic and Sapphires -- Ruth Riechl 

Comfort Me With Apples -- Ruth Riechl 

How to Cook a Wolf -- MFK Fisher 

A Homemade Life -- Molly Wizenberg 

My Berlin Kitchen -- Luisa Weiss 

Blood, Bones and Butter -- Gabrielle Hamilton 

Toast -- Nigel Slater 

My Life in France -- Julia Child

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen -- Laurie Colwin 

The Sweet Life in Paris -- David Lebovitz

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti -- Giulia Melucci

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating Food in China -- Fushia Dunlop 

Climbing the Mango Tree: A Memoir of Childhood in India -- Madhur Jaffrey 

My Life from Scratch -- Gesine Bullock-Prado 

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle -- Barbara Kingsolver 



Tiramisu


I spent several hours last Friday with Luca and Piper, making a tiramisu. 
It was so beautiful. 
I accidentally dropped a entire bowl of whipped cream on the floor.
We dunked ladyfingers in rum and espresso, stirred custard, and layered everything with architectural precision for hours. 
I thought to myself: There is nothing else I would rather be doing. 



I don’t know quite how to explain to you, but sometimes I so strongly feel the unbearable brevity of life. 
Dessert is a perfect metaphor for this feeling: you eat it, and it is gone, living on only as a picture and a memory of a flavor. 

These days, there is so much to love, to hold on to, to learn, to do. 
There is so little time.
These nows do not last forever. 



I don’t know what to do with this feeling.
But it makes me want to make more tiramisu and sing louder and hold you tighter and tighter.
Because tomorrow is uncertain. 
Because life is too short to not do these things. 

Now does not last forever. 

It is all so short. 


It is just so very, very short. 



(We made it for a birthday.) (Also Luca took most of these pictures.) 

xoxo


Tiramisu
from allrecipes.com

6 egg yolks
3/4 cup white sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup strong brewed coffee at room temperature
2 tablespoons rum
2 (3 ounce) packages ladyfinger cookies
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder


-In a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until well blended. Whisk in milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Boil gently for 1 minute, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Cover tightly and chill in refrigerator 1 hour.

-In a medium bowl, beat cream with vanilla until stiff peaks form. Whisk mascarpone into yolk mixture until smooth.

-In a small bowl, combine coffee and rum. Split ladyfingers in half lengthwise and drizzle with coffee mixture.

-Arrange half of soaked ladyfingers in bottom of a 7x11 inch dish. Spread half of mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers, then half of whipped cream over that. Repeat layers and sprinkle with cocoa. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours, until set.

Carrot Cake




Dear One, 

I haven’t been sleeping very well for the past few days. 
I’m anxious about what’s going to happen. 
Whatever it is that's coming next. 
The unexpectedness of life is overwhelming. 
Helen Mirren told Esquire Magazine that “The hardest period in life is one’s twenties. It’s a shame because you’re your most gorgeous, and you’re physically in peak condition. But it’s actually when you’re most insecure and full of self-doubt. When you don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s frightening.”

So I don’t know what’s going to happen. 
And it’s got me a little frightened. 
But it’s ok. 

It’s really ok. 


I keep thinking about the past couple of years. 
And all these strangers who have become friends. 
And then I think about all the strangers I don’t know yet, who will someday be beloved. 
And all the things that have happened I could never have predicted. 
It’s overwhelming. 

But it’s been ok. 
Magical, even. 

For instance. 

This blog is five years old.
Five. Years. Old. 
And I only just realized. 
I never dreamed that it would last this long.
So I baked to carrot cake to celebrate. 

And on another note-- how the fuck did carrot cake happen? 
I mean, who decided to put carrots in a cake?
What a perfect example of something so surprisingly and unexpectedly dreamy. 


So for all the unanticipated collisions of wonder and pain and delight I have yet to have, for all the future stranger/friends I have yet to meet, for all the cakes I’ve yet to bake. 

I can’t wait. 
I really can’t wait. 

XOXO


Carrot Cake
from Stir-Ups
This is actually an heirloom recipe from an Oklahoman cookbook called Stir-Ups. From the 60's maybe? I don't know. It's really, truly grand and very, very simple.  And very, very worth your time. 
xo

For Cake:
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup canola oil
3 cups shredded carrot
1 teaspoon vanilla

For Icing:
1 stick butter
8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 box powdered sugar*
best quality maple syrup, to taste

Combine flour, sugar, soda, cinnamon, salt and oil. Beat in carrots and vanilla. Beat in eggs. Pour into two greatsed 9" cake pans, or a 9x13 inch loaf pan. Bake 9" ones at 350F for 30 minutes. Bake 1 hour when using loaf pan. Cool completely.
Icing: Cream butter with cream cheese. Add sugar, vanilla and several tablespoons maple syrup to taste. Beat until well blended. Slather cake. Eat. Immediately.