Sunday, April 29, 2007

Aude's Birthday Cake

The problem on the morning of the 28th of April was how to really party up Aude’s birthday without too much planning or expenditures, since I had done nothing and the cupboards were nearly bare. I had the in-laws coming up from the midi and Grenoble, all expecting to eat well, and Aude’s cake to bake. Every year, Aude gets a cake from me, and every year it is something different.

I inherited the Mama cake gene, which means that all cakes coming from me will be audacious in planning, original, involve no frosting from a can, and they will be successful approximately 12% of the time. For genetic reasons, I am not a very adventurous dessert person. It is out of self preservation. I woefully consider desserts to be the last frontier, and more often I serve some stodgy boring thing at dessert time. One exception is that everyone has gotten used to my throwing myself into baking a cake in the “American style” when they come to our house to celebrate someone’s birthday.

I will be the first to admit I came to bake birthday cakes for semi-selfish reasons. When I turned 16 years old, my friends got together and threw me a surprise party. It was the one and only surprise party ever thrown for me in my whole life up to now. They even baked a cake, with my name on it. I was permanently marked by the experience. I foster an indelible memory of joy and appreciation for the beauty of their collective project on that day. I will simply never forget it. Knowing that a cake for a friend can have such a profound effect personally keeps me baking them. I know how good they feel. I just can't help myself.

On Saturday morning, I was in bed with coffee and clipboard like many weekend mornings. I like to sit in the early glow of the morning while things are still and quiet and just get some images down about how I want things to go, especially when I have people coming in from out of town. My mind scanned the landscape of recent birthday cakes. A bumpy mountainous landscape, indeed.

One year was the classic buttercream meltdown, another the famous crazy bitter ganache just barely palatable, the lumpy like dumpling crème patissière, the solid layer of chocolate in the center that couldn’t be cut through and smashed the bottom layer, the fallen this and the lopsided that. One classic was the rock solid caramel casing hindering us from entering Loic’s cake. Oh and don’t forget the hot tangerine colored volcano which contained, once we sawed through it, rubbery dry angelfood that collapsed on contact with the knife like a feather pillow. Poor birthday souls, getting pitiful cakes. But people still love ‘em. It’s the thought that counts.

One of these days, the cakes will come together in my kitchen as the glorious harmonious sum of all of their parts. One day. The time of cake disasters too shall pass, or is that a fantasy?

This year I wanted something elegant for Aude, she deserves it after the tangerine volcano. Speaking of fantasies, Swiss Meringue Buttercream from Martha Stewart would be my new icing conquest this year, and instead of chocolate as I envisioned during my coffee hour, I went all the way with a try at Wedgewood blue.

Noted, that Martha Stewart icing is really a good one, it worked by some miracle even though I didn’t heat the meringue to 160 degrees F for fear of reproducing another plaster disaster.

Just as soon as I remembered to let the cake cool completely, the icing worked even better! The crumb coat was truly effective. Check. Noted in kitchen notebook. I put the cake in the fridge to rest and cool off before I would add my third and final coat. I was off doing something else and the good fairy came in to do a sweep of the disaster in progress called the kitchen and eliminated the remaining slightly Wedgewood blue tinted Swiss Meringue Buttercream which was to be my third and perfect coat. Drat! Oh well, good enough.

My mind was working on on two tracks – inside and outside for the cake. They didn’t match very well. One of these days they'll match, maybe. I think that the hot tangerine pink after all was following tradition. -ahem.

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Blogger Julia said...

That cake looks so beautiful, I want a slice!

5:22 PM, April 30, 2007  
Blogger Mercedes said...

Oh, what a lovely story. I love classic birthday cakes, and that is a beautiful one, you have very lucky friends!

5:48 PM, April 30, 2007  
Blogger David said...

Congratulations! I always wonder why anyone would bake a cake in France when there's so many decent bakeries (as well as some very good ones). Plus who's got room in their fridge? Obviously you do...thanks for sharing and looks like your success rate has gone way, way up!

6:25 PM, April 30, 2007  
Blogger Katie said...

It's a lovely cake, everyone should have beed delighted!
I love the checkerboard colors.
My mother always baked a birthday cake for every birthday, for everyone. Wonderful memories - but I didn't get the cake gene, either. I've never made one!

9:28 PM, April 30, 2007  
Blogger Linda said...

that cake is absolutely stunning! wow. i hope i have someone like you around to bake me such a beauty when my bday comes around!

11:10 PM, April 30, 2007  
Blogger Connie said...

wonderful! the color combination is so fun... and seasonal

7:57 PM, May 01, 2007  
Blogger Jann said...

This cake deserves a prize-it is beautiful and what a wonderful party it looked like!

5:50 AM, May 04, 2007  
Anonymous Franchini said...

The cake looks lovely. I rather like the contrast of delicate blue frosting with the vibrant colours within. It's exactly how birthday cakes should be.

11:35 AM, May 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You used the BLOCK pan!!! That's just the perfect birthday cake, for the birthday when you receive no socks or underpants, but that book you've been coveting, a wonderfully-shaped bottle of lovely cologne, and some fancy clips for your ponytail.

And I love the sorting of the colors into the pans, the wonder of how-will-it-turn-out, and the ooohs of amazement when the first slice falls beneath the knife.

I can taste the delicate orange, and blue is also one of my favorite flavors.

Just lovely, and it upped your percentage appreciably, I'm sure.

8:59 PM, June 17, 2007  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Well, I think it upped my percentage of birthday cake success only a little bit. But that was because of the frosting. The cake tasted great even if it was a bit too colorful. It is a really great recipe. I will post it the next time I make a birthday cake.

9:15 PM, June 17, 2007  
Blogger ammu said...

your cake looks so good... and the icing too... i tried swiss meringue buttercream recently and tho it was perfectly smooth and shiny, it sort of curdled on adding the cream... i couldnt nderstand why.. and i think it also deflated slighly...

9:58 PM, September 22, 2007  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Ammu, thanks for coming by! You need to keep beating it and it will turn out alright. It's normal to deflate a little bit too.

10:35 PM, September 22, 2007  

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