I think birthday cake is the best food in the entire world, and my son would agree. We had our friends over for dinner last night and made a nice Italian feast - chicken piccata, risotto, grilled vegetables and homemade focaccia. Recipes to come someday, but in the meantime, I'm focusing on dessert.
Jack was ready for cake as soon as the dinner plates were cleared. It was our friend Steve's birthday but I couldn't take my eyes off of my son. That pure joy of watching the dancing light of the candles and singing along with everyone else - I wish I could bottle that sweet moment. That's why I do what I do. Food is great and nourishing but it's really the moments around the table - the memories created that make cooking so special for me.
Jack helped me make this cake; it really is so simple you might throw your Duncan Hines away:
Chocolate birthday cake
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa
Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.
Now, as we know the Barefoot Contessa can be a vixen. Her complementary frosting recipe calls for one egg yolk. I wasn't going to go there so I instead used my mom's time-tested buttercream recipe that she has used for years and years on our family's birthday cakes:
Mom's buttercream frosting
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 t. almond or clear vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup half and half
Cream shortening and butter; add extract. Gradually add powdered sugar and then half and half. Scrape down sides of the bowl (add a few more drops of half and half, if needed). Beat on high until light and fluffy (about five minutes).
Jack and I dyed the frosting blue - I was going for manly blue, but we got Tiffany blue, which still looked very beautiful against the dark chocolate cake layers. Yummy!