Go bake a cake

Andreae Prozesky makes a birthday wish

It seems like only yesterday that a floppy little 8-page newborn Scope first tried out its wobbly foal’s legs, taking a few tentative steps down Duckworth Street. Oh, they grow up so fast! Sniff sniff!

And now that the first year has passed, it’s time for cake.

A child’s first birthday is a funny time. It has little to do with the child, who will surely remember nothing of the event, save some small imagined memories she will later piece together from photographs, and from a few gifts that escape being handed down. By rights, it should be a celebration for the parents, who have endured a year of living with a little alien creature who was a cat-sized, mewling thing a year ago but who is already showing interest in packing up and heading out the door.

A birthday cake will not give you back the year, but it’s a marker, a symbol. A significant bit of flour and frosting.

The birthday cakes of my childhood were seldom complicated: round layer cakes, icing in whatever colour I loved at the time, and little flowers fashioned from Smarties. We were never blessed with a decent oven or an unwarped floor, so cakes at my house were often a little uneven. On at least one birthday a support system had to be rigged using the empty Smarties box to prop up one side of the cake.

A memory like that forms the things you do for your own youngster when her birthday comes around. My daughter’s birthday cakes look the same as mine did (minus the slumping and sliding, thanks to even-heat distribution.) They are cheerful round things with thick icing and Smartie flowers. When my daughter’s first birthday happened, that’s exactly what I wanted, because that’s what I think a wickedly celebratory cake should be.

Of course, I did tweak the recipe a little.

I baked the cake from scratch, and, since I was a bit of a control freak about what my daughter ate that first year, I made it a Stealth Vegetable Chocolate Zucchini Cake. I made cream cheese icing for it, since that seemed to make sense with zucchini cake. This was also to be her first taste of sugar, and I wanted it to be balanced with at least a little wholesomeness. Plus, since it really was a cake for me, I wanted it to be something I could eat and enjoy too.

This recipe is really my only souvenir of that first birthday party. The photos didn’t turn out, and I was so frazzled from cooking an enormous pot of vegetable curry and from the general stresses of life with a one-year-old that I probably don’t have much more of a memory of the day than my youngster does. I remember, however, noticing at one point that my hair looked really frizzy, I remember lots of grown-ups sitting in a circle on the floor in my living room in Montreal, and I remember my kid sitting on a delighted aunt’s knee, face and eyes into a plate of cake, wearing an expression of sugar-lust (should I tell her about the zucchini?) She gave the impression she knew Something Important was going on.

I’ve baked a version of this cake for my daughter’s birthdays since, with minor experiments here and there. Last year I put coconut in there, which didn’t really work, but she didn’t mind. At this point she’s really more into picking off the Smartie flowers and licking all the icing.

I figure I don’t have many years left until she starts requesting cakes with princesses and the like, so I’m going to make the cake I want for as long as I can get away with it.

Happy birthday, Scope! Congratulations, Scopesters! Here’s to many more.

It’s-a-Tradition-’Cause-I-Said-It’s-a-Tradition Birthday Cake

1 1/3 cup unbleached white flour
2/3 cup canola oil
3 large eggs
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts or almonds
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 grated zucchini

Cream Cheese Icing

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round pans.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, ground nuts, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt. In another, smaller bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, and chocolate. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and beat until nicely combined. Stir in zucchini.

Scrape the batter into the pans and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.
Turn cakes out onto cooling racks and don’t even try to ice them until they’ve cooled completely.

Cream Cheese Icing
This isn’t really a recipe: I just keep adding things until it’s the right consistency. For a birthday cake you want to make too much icing, rather than risk not having enough. So what I do is whip together about 1 1/2 packs of cream cheese with 1/2 cup of butter, then start adding icing sugar until it looks right. In the end I’ll use probably 2 to 2 1/2 cups of sugar. Sometimes I add about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, sometimes I don’t. The key to having it turn out right, I find, is making sure the butter is at room temperature and the cream cheese is fridge-cold.

Ice cake, decorate with Smartie flowers, and hope the pictures turn out.

Send your questions, comments,
and smarty suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca