Birthday Cake; A Labour of Love

The perfect birthday cake for my five year old girl

My son’s birthday falls in April and my daughter’s birthday in May; that means we have two birthday cakes to feast on in back to back months. Sweet.

I never fail to bake a birthday cake for my kids and my husband on their birthdays. Although I do get them presents, I like to think of my homemade effort as the real birthday present. I start planning months in advance sourcing for a recipe that would make the perfect cake for the birthday person, taking into account deciding factors like the ever changing tastes of my kids, the seasonality of the ingredients and now that my daughter is old enough to request it, the colour of the frosting. In short, I invest a lot of time in the birthday cake making process. I consider it a labour of love.

Where birthday cakes are concerned, chocolate is a non-negotiable ingredient for my family. And they always have to be a double layered, frosted affair. That makes my job easier yet it does get kind of boring after a while and I look to fancy things up by making little changes. For my son’s birthday back in April, I replaced the usual chocolate cake layers with banana cake. He loves banana bread and chocolate; putting them two together was a no-brainer and the end result was really delicious.

For my daughter’s birthday yesterday, I had many consultation sessions with her before her final mandate to me was for a cake with “chocolate cake layers and pink frosting”. And I got to work.

So here goes:

For the chocolate cake layers, I used the simple and delicious recipe from Ina Garten – her Beatty’s Chocolate Cake. So easy to make and stays moist for days, it is my go to recipe for a basic chocolate cake.

For the chocolate ganache filling between the cake layers, I melted 3 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips and whisked in half a stick of room temperature butter until everything is glossy and smooth, adding a few tablespoonfuls of milk to get the ganache to the spreading consistency I was looking for.

For the pink frosting, I wanted one that is tinted pink with strawberries and not food colouring. After intensive googling, I settled on this recipe that I found on Allrecipes. It turned out great, it was full of strawberry flavour and most importantly, it was pink!

Oh and of course, I couldn’t leave out the obligatory rainbow sprinkles.

And now, my little girl is five!

Birthday Brownies

These pretty cheesecake brownies are another hit from David Lebovitz. His cakes, cookies and other sweet treats always turn out superbly for me so I know I can trust his recipes, even when making them for the first time as a birthday gift for a friend.

I made these brownies for Liva, one of the few good friends I am fortunate enough to have since I moved to Toronto. Our children are similar in ages so it’s great to have a friend who relates to all the angst associated with raising babies, toddlers and picky eaters. Four years ago, we were merely two young mothers raising our children on our own in a new city that we just moved to; we didn’t know many people then and it was a really isolating experience, to say the least. Having someone else that was going through the same experience as I did to talk to was relieving in some ways, and I’m just so thankful that we had each other during those difficult days of early motherhood.

This year for my birthday, Liva gifted me some gorgeous cookies that she baked herself. They are a Latvian specialty, where she is from. These cookies resemble an unshelled walnut and are a work of art; have a look. The outer shell is a thin and delicate cookie that encases a rich dulce de leche filling inside. With each bite yielding a mouthful of crispness and gooey goodness all at once, these cookies are a sweet birthday treat I will never forget.

So, for her birthday, I want to repay the favour. Liva loves cheesecake and chocolate; with the cream cheese marbling such pretty Florentine swirls in the brownies, I think these beautiful cheesecake brownies make for the perfect birthday treat for her. Plus, brownies keep well for several days. She totally loved them.

And of course, I couldn’t resist giving an entire platter of brownies away without sampling one, can I? My daughter would never allow me to do that even if I tried. We shared one of the brownie squares and it indeed tasted as good as it looked. The cream cheese provided a light, tangy foil to the sweet and deeply chocolaty brownie; they go really well together. Since I baked my brownies in a ceramic dish (the only 9-inch dish that I have), I was cautious to take them out of the oven at least 5 minutes before the stipulated baking time is up; the ceramic dish retains heat that will continue cooking the brownies well after they’ve been removed from the oven. And my brownies turned out perfectly done: gooey and moist like a true brownie should be.

Martha Stewart’s S’mores Bark

After yesterday’s epic failure with my attempt to bake s’mores bars with homemade marshmallow creme, anything would be considered a success as long as it does not end up looking like a sorry mess. But look at these beauties, they are the complete opposite. Aren’t they pretty?

The recipe for them is from the December 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living. I added dried cranberries for a burst of colour and also, I wanted their tartness to provide a foil to the tooth-achingly sweet marshmallows. It worked! A super simple no-bake treat that comprises of only four ingredients. And everyone thought I was such a genius.

The cake in the picture is a blueberry coffee cake that I make every year for my daughter’s birthday. It is her favourite cake and no wonder- moist and tender, it has layers of blueberries bursting with their juices and a crisp brown sugar topping to cap it off. My 13 month old son loves this cake too. His favourite fruit is blueberries and to be able to eat them in cake form – what a treat!

My daughter’s birthday will always have a special place in my heart because I mark it as the day when this beautiful family of ours started. Happy birthday Lana!


S’mores. Bars. Fail.

There is a quote “ambition is the last refuge of failure” from Oscar Wilde that I can prove wrong by my attempt to make s’mores bars. Just look at that gooey mess: the proof is in the pudding. Tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday party (she is turning four!) and I thought making s’mores bars is a good idea because Lana loves marshmallows and chocolate so what better way to combine those two than in a much beloved, classic s’mores-type confection?

Googling s’mores bars led me to many recipes and I settled on one that required marshmallow creme, a product which I could not find in every supermarket that I had been to. A wiser soul would have given up and switched recipes. But not me. My perseverance stands in the way of my wisdom sometimes. I decided that if I couldn’t buy marshmallow creme I would make it at home. Nothing is going to stop me.

I bought a bag of marshmallows and followed another internet sourced recipe for homemade marshmallow creme by melting marshmallows and corn syrup together. I did this despite reading from other internet posts that this method will not work. Hey, I said nothing is going to stop me, right?

And indeed, the internet gods were right. The melted marshmallows dissolved in the heat of the oven, fused with the chocolate into a sticky brown gloop and bubbled over the cookie crust. The result was ugly but proclaimed delicious by my long suffering husband (thank you, dear).

Nothing brings me down like a baking failure. It is a waste of time, energy, money, good ingredients and most of all, a dash of all the hopes I had for these s’mores bars. The only good that came out of this failure is that I now know not to replace marshmallow creme with melted marshmallows. They are two wholly different creatures.

In case you were wondering, I picked myself up from the ashes and made another s’mores-inspired confection that is now chilling in the fridge for tomorrow’s party.