mama’s birthday cake

I have two really great grandmothers. But they’re not actually grandmothers. I have a MaMa and I have a Gowie. Those are very different from regular grandmothers. And no one else has a MaMa and no one else has a Gowie (except my twin sister, I guess). MaMa introduced me to jacuzzis with dish soap (the bubbles practically reach the ceiling this way), allowed me to climb on the roof to eat pizza, and taught me that the only way to properly camp was in a tent. Gowie always made sure I had clean Lion King sheets, was completely supportive in our creation of the Leafy Club in her big Magnolia tree in the front yard, and gave me one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received: a vintage Kitchenaid stand mixer.

The day she gave it to me, I rode it home (yes, of course it was buckled in. duh.) and jumped up and down around it for about three hours. It probably looked at me and thought, “Stupid human.” I polished it up and didn’t use it for several days just so I could see it shine on my counter. I use it all the time now and it works beautifully.

MaMa’s birthday was this past week and I love birthdays. I grew up in a family where we celebrate every person’s birthday, every year. My friends in college would always say, “You’re going to another birthday party?” I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of getting together after church, singing the traditional song, and passing around cards with pictures of dogs with big teeth wearing party hats. I decided that I wanted to make a special cake for MaMa and love any opportunity to use Gowie’s stand mixer.

The recipe for the cake I wanted to use is from Ina Garten. As much as the Husband and I imitate her, I trust every recipe she creates. She’s just good (heh, Ina fan humor…) and there’s a tiny part of me that wants to be her. La tee dah, walk into my garden to gather tulips and herbs for the table, ho hum, perfectly plate any dish with my endless supply of beautiful platters, doo de doo, go into my pantry (that’s the size of my current house) to shelves lined with Pellegrino and Espuny.

lemon cake
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups natural cane sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (about 6 to 8 lemons)
3 cups unbleached flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350º. Ina’s recipe uses loaf pans, but I needed three, smaller rounds for the layer cake. I don’t own small cake pans, so I just baked the cake in a 13×9 pan and used a bowl to trace three circles in the cake sheet. Butter and flour whichever pan you choose to use.
Cream the butter and sugar together (in a mixer!) using the paddle attachment until light and fluffy like a cloud, about five minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time. Add the lemon zest.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine the lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixture alternately to the sugar mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Add the batter to the pan, smooth the top, and bake about 45 minutes, or until a tester returns clean.

Ina’s recipe calls for a lemon glaze (which would totally be delicious and if you’re making a loaf, the glaze would be ideal), but I needed something that would hold my cake layers together. Buttercream, you are it! I also knew that I wanted a little yellow accent on the cake, but I try to never consume artificial colors. Per an employee’s advice at EarthFare (bless you), I experimented with turmeric. I added a teensy, teensy bit at a time and probably ended up using about 1/4 teaspoon to about 1/2 cup of buttercream. Just add a little at a time and keep tasting it to make sure it’s the color and taste you’re looking for (after all, turmeric is a spice).

lemon cream cheese buttercream
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1 pound natural confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Beat cream cheese and butter in a mixer, using the paddle attachment, until creamy, about 30 seconds. With the mixer on low, slowly add the sugar, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the lemon juice and increase the mixer speed to medium. Beat until fluffy, about one minute.
To make the accent color, use about 1/2 cup of the completed buttercream, ≈1/4 teaspoon turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest.

Once the cake has cooled and you’ve cut it into the shape you’d like, frost the layers of cake together. Before icing the sides and top, I like to put the layered cake in the freezer for a short time (it helps prevent crumbs from getting into the icing). Smooth the buttercream over the whole cake.
(You’ll have to forgive my accents on the pictures of this cake. I didn’t have my icing tips…yeah, yeah, excuses, excuses…and resorted to using a straight-up cut sandwich bag as my piping tool.)
Now you can decorate however you’d like!

We decided on MaMa’s birthday that we’d surprise her with our company and her cake. When the Husband, my sister, her fiancé, my brother, and myself arrived, she was sound asleep in her bed. So, what should grandchildren do in this situation? Hm. Well, we gathered around her bed and, after the whispered count to three, screamed, “Happy Birthday!”

She woke up. And then we ate cake.

9 thoughts on “mama’s birthday cake

  1. Great pictures! I cannot decide if you are a better chef or photographer. Great at both. I enjoyed the memories about your grandmothers.

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