I love making birthday cakes for people. Birthday cake is personal, iconic, classic, and necessary. Who makes birthday cookies? Nobody, that’s who. I mean, unless you just want to win awards and compliment a birthday cake with extra baked deliciousness; in which case you’re invited to my next birthday party. Birthday cake might just be the most special food item out there. In my book it beats wedding cake by a long shot because it’s kind of lame to outsource birthday cake but it’s kind of crazy not to outsource wedding cake. (To be clear, I want a homemade wedding cake if the occasion should ever arise. However, I would not ask one of my closest friends to make it, as I would my birthday cake. I’d ask the mom of one of my best friends, Liz.)
I consider it a great privilege and honor to be the one to bake my friends’ special day food present. I try to cater to their tastes and personalities. My friend Nathan is allergic to chocolate and so often gets gypped when it comes to dessert. (Side note: I realize that gypped is a racist term. I used it on purpose because Nathan is proud of his gypsy heritage and I thought it’d be funny. It’s not racist if it’s funny.) For his birthday I made the best carrot cake I could muster, with spiced cream cheese icing to make it extra special. No one missed chocolate that day; which is a rare day indeed. You may remember that for Saayeh’s birthday I made red wine chocolate cake with raspberry preserves and chocolate ganache icing: all things classy, delicious, and fun. All things Saayeh. I already told you about Michael’s birthday meal. Now…the dessert.
Steps for making the perfect birthday cake:
One: Think of the birthday girl or boy’s favorite sweet or kind of cake and ponder ways to adapt them into the perfect, personalized birthday dessert. Michael’s favorite treats are Poptarts and Nutella. He loves Poptarts so much he thinks that his bestie Coleridge’s aesthetic theory perfectly applies to them. Nutella is something that Michael likes almost as much as Poptarts. He lived in France for awhile and my impression of his time there is that he mainly just ate Nutella and visited a couple holy sites. Last year I went all-out and created homemade raspberry and cinnamon sugar Poptarts for his birthday. (I used this King Arthur recipe, which has a super versatile and delicious pastry dough that will punch your stomach with heavy buttery goodness.) Side note: I KNOW WHAT I SAID earlier about cake being the only appropriate birthday treat. I’m contradictory. I’ve learned to accept it, and so should you. This year I did make a cake for Michael’s birthday. First I looked for the perfect Nutella cake recipe, which was oddly difficult to find. There was a Nutella yogurt cake, but it sounded too healthy for Michael’s tastes. There was an ooey-gooey cake, but that involved ground hazelnuts I didn’t want to buy/overwhelm the cake flavor—plus it looked like it might run off a plate. Finally I resorted to Nutella icings and made a simple chocolate cake as a canvas.
Step two: Keep calm when you screw everything up. So, this cake calls for instant coffee—which is a totally normal baking thing to have but I think is stupid to buy just for baking. I improvised in a weird way I won’t even explain, but in the process misread the teaspoons for tablespoons/added even more than that and made the cake taste so much like coffee I thought it might fail. I served the thing anyway, wishing for the best, and lo! the best was found. The cake was fine.
Then, I went to make some Nutella whipped cream to top the cake and instead made Nutella heavy whipping cream. It was pretty depressing. Dessert failure is one of the saddest of failures, and I generally avoid it. I think I put in excessive Nutella and it ended up too heavy to whip. But lo! again, Nutella heavy whipping cream—I mean Nutella Sweet Cream Sauce…is pretty delicious. We ended up drizzling it over the cake and it tasted amazing and actually looked fancy.
Step three: decorate the cake in a special birthday way. By special sometimes I mean weird. I was really focused on the Poptart/Nutella theme and ended up adhering pieces of cinnamon sugar Poptarts to the edges of the cake with Nutella. It actually looked kind of cool—like a chocolate tart with Poptart crust—which worked well with the chocolate sauce vibe. Plus, that extra little taste of Nutella on the edges was fairly delicious. Normal people would go with icing designs or untraditional cake toppers. Sometimes I’m normal too. And candles are a must. I hate singing in public and I hate lots of people looking at me, but singing happy birthday to someone on their birthday is not optional.
And there you have it: special (/weird) birthday cake for Michael. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo with the Nutella Sweet Cream Sauce.
Sturdy Chocolate Cake (adapted from Martha Stewart)
I think of this cake as a man’s chocolate cake. If a cake can be hearty, this cake is hearty. It would probably laugh at you if you tried to layer it with frilly frostings. It has oatmeal in it, for goodness sake.
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup quick-cooking oatmeal
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp instant coffee (or very finely ground regular coffee, if you’re okay with…more texture. I’ll leave it at that.)
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
- Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a round 9 inch pan.
- Combine flour, oats, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
- Whisk the heavy cream and coffee in a small bowl.
- Beat the butter and brown sugar together for a few minutes, until they’re fluffy. Then add the eggs one at a time. Then the melted chocolate.
- With your mixer on low begin adding the flour in batches, alternating with the cream. Beat until smooth.
- Pour into the cake pan, smacking it on your counter to release any air bubbles, and bake for about 25-35 min (until a tester comes out clean).
- If you’d like to create an exact replica of the monster above, then cut up some Brown Sugar Cinnamon Poptarts into quarters, and adhere each to the side of the cake (clean edge up) with a dollop of Nutella. The cake was weirdly the perfect height for this adornment.
Nutella Sweet Cream Sauce
The recipe I used suggests 1 cup of Nutella and 2 cups of heavy whipping cream. If you actually want whipped cream, I suggest less Nutella. If you want Nutella Sweet Cream Sauce, then have at it. Whip the cream and Nutella together, then pour over each slice of cake. Delicious.