Foodie Tuesday: Madame X’s Birthday Cake

Photo: Birthday Cupcakes for Madame XJust a little treat for a friend on the anniversary of her birth. And, since she shares her natal day with my dear brother-in-law, separated at birth by mere decades, I send a virtual cake to him, too, despite the separation of mere thousands of miles. Happy birthday to both!

Malted Buttermilk Cakes with Strawberry-Peach Buttercream
Servings: 24 cupcakes, or [as I made] a dozen + a small sheet cake. Preheat your oven to 350°F/177°C.

The Cakes

Dry goods: Whisk together in a big mixing bowl: 2-3/4 cups all-purpose [optional: GF] flour, 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and baking soda, 1-2 teaspoons cardamom, and 2 cups sugar (I used about 1 1/2 cups cane sugar plus 1/2 cup coconut sugar, to deepen the flavor).

Mix 2-3 Tablespoons of malted milk powder into a cup of buttermilk. And if there’s really such a thing as “low fat” buttermilk, please tell me how it can parade around under the first name of Butter. Just get the real deal and cinch up your waistband a little if you have to, okay?

Now, in a fresh mixing bowl or your trusty 1-gallon plastic measuring pitcher, mix the wet ingredients: a good slug of quality vanilla extract, and a splash of butter emulsion if you like, the cup of malted buttermilk you mixed earlier, and four large eggs. When those have been well whisked together, pour them into the dry ingredients, along with 2 sticks (1/2 pound) of your best butter, softened—don’t forget that I’m a believer in well-salted sweets, so I use salted butter (sorry, baking purists. But not really sorry). Whisk just until it’s smooth. This makes a thick batter, but not so thick that it’s the least bit difficult to whisk entirely by hand.

Bake the batter in muffin tins or cake tins that have been well greased (coconut oil is nice) and, if you like a little crunch for added pizzazz, dusted with either almond meal or cornmeal, for about 20-25 minutes. Cool for another 15 minutes or so, gently remove the cakes from their pans (unless, as I am, you’re going to take the cake tin right along to your friend’s house), and let it finish cooling before getting all frosty on ’em.Photo: Tutti-frutti Icing

The Icing on this here Cake:

Pop a batch of freeze-dried peach (about 2 oz) and strawberry slices (about 1 oz), along with a cup or so of granulated or icing sugar, a tiny pinch of salt, and a teaspoon of cardamom into your food processor. If you don’t have such a beast in your kitchen, you can crush these little fruity beauties with a rolling pin or bottle, a full tin of beans, a rock, or your hands, depending on your mood and tool availability, but boy howdy, the processor makes quick and thorough work of it! I don’t recommend inhaling deeply as you open the processor or bag you pulverize this mixture in, or you’ll be sneezing fruit for a week, and that can put a damper on your next brunch with the queen. No, I didn’t realize I could buy freeze-dried fruit already powdered. Once the dust has settled sufficiently, however, home crushed works fine; blend this gloriousness into another half pound of butter, along with about a quarter cup of whole-milk plain yogurt. The ingredients of the frosting are all very much to-taste and adjustable in quantity in order to reach the creamy texture and proportions of deep sweetness and fruitiness you prefer. This is best spread or piped at room temperature or slightly cooled onto equally cool cake surfaces.

Whether you choose to refrigerate and serve the finished cakes cold or serve them at room temperature is up to you. Me, I’ll just see if I can wait long enough for either to happen. I went so far as to snip the corner of the plastic zipper bag I’d put the frosting into, making a wildly erratic star tip, but waiting for or fussing over anything fancier is not my strong suit, as you all know.

Photo: The Rest of the Cake

I sprinkled black sesame seeds on the sheet cake before I remembered I had Dutch chocolate sprinkles for my birthday girl’s cupcakes. If my spouse and I want, we can always add sprinkles on top of the sesame seeds, no? The touch of crunch was what mattered, anyhow.

Foodie Tuesday: Birthday Cake for a Peach of a Guy!

Photo: Birthday Cake for a Peach of a GuyDad, who celebrated his eightieth birthday last week, is a peach of a guy. His uncle was fond of using that phrase to extol the sweetness and excellence of anybody he liked and admired greatly, including his own nephew David, and Uncle Lloyd himself was special, as the only person in the known universe (other than us kids, who imitated him with a certain amount of childish glee when we heard it) who ever called my dad Davy. But he was fond and proud, too, of his nephew—enough to include him in the Peachy category. So to my father David, and to my late great-uncle Lloyd, and to all of the other ‘guys’ (male, female, or other) worthy of the title, I dedicate this birthday treat that I made in honor of their being truly swell human beings.

It’s a gluten-free pound cake recipe, essentially (as long as you check that the individual ingredients meet that requirement in their production, should you be truly gluten sensitive); I only went GF because I happened to find several GF pound cake recipes that piqued my interest and I also happened to have the necessary ingredients for this variant of them on hand. I made it with cardamom both because I think that a grand companion flavor for peaches and because, being of Norwegian descent, I believe there may be at least a hint of cardamom in my bloodstream. In any case, I love the stuff. Almond flavors, too, and what better flour to use in the cake than almond flour, then?

The topping, which of course one can eliminate if it’s too much for the occasion—not that I know any people who absolutely adore sliced, toasted day-old pound cake for breakfast, preferably with yet more butter melted on top—is less Norwegian in its overall flavor profile, perhaps. It is somewhat like a peach sangria, I suppose. But maybe I can pass it off as “Scan-gria,” if pressed for a commitment. No matter; it’s a bit peachy, zippy, happy, has a lot of color and flavor, and is pretty sweet. All kind of like Dad and Uncle Lloyd, come to think of it. PS—no law against using the icing for the breakfast version of this, either.

Cardamom-Almond Cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F/ca. 177°C. In a mixing bowl, whisk together 2-1/4 cups almond flour/meal, 1/4 cup coconut flour (I ground some from toasted coconut flakes), 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground cardamom, and 1 tsp baking soda. In another container (I like to use a spouted measuring pitcher for prepping liquids so I can easily pour them up when ready), blend 2/3 cup melted butter or oil (I used clarified browned butter), 2/3 cup raw honey, 1/2 cup + 3 Tablespoons full-fat coconut milk, 2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp almond extract, and beat in 4 large eggs until all is blended thoroughly. Pour the mix into the dry ingredients and gently blend everything together. The batter fits into a standard 9×9″ baking pan or, as I used, a round casserole of about the same capacity, and goes into the oven for about 25-35 minutes.

My famously unreliable oven temperatures make me distrust giving anything other than approximate times and temps, and I just watch every individual dish, as I did this time. It’s a gooey cake, not light and fluffy, but I’d rather err on the moist side than otherwise. Just my thing. Meanwhile, I had prepared and refrigerated the icing earlier.

Tipsy Peaches & Cream Icing

Simmer together 2 ounces sliced freeze-dried peaches, 1/2 tsp rosewater, 1/2 tsp almond extract, 2 tsp vanilla, a pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp cardamom, 3/4 cup red wine, and 1 cup brown sugar until the sugar melts and the peaches are well rehydrated. [I warmed this mix in the evening until it was close to ready and then just left the pot sitting, covered, until the morning, so there was no question everything was well soaked and softened, but that was just because I was too tired after a long day of work to do it all that night.] Then, using a stick blender, puree the mix fully, adding 3/4 cup coconut oil (melted or room temp), 1 cup marshmallow fluff, and 1 cup cream cheese (or labneh). I threw in about 1/4 tsp silver edible glitter, just for fun. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Photomontage: Cake-WreckingI will confess to going a little further over the top this time, since I was in the mood to play with my food and it was for a good person’s cause. So I sliced a “lid” from the cake, carved out its middle, crumbled the interior hunk, blended it with a bunch of the icing stuff (reserving enough icing to drizzle over the exterior), packed the icing/cake crumb mix into the crater of the cake, closed the lid and covered up my tracks with a slathering of the remaining icing before putting peach (canned—it’s winter, y’all) and toasted almond slices on top of it all. I pinned the toppings together before sticking it in the refrigerator to chill out and set without sliding into oblivion. But it’s messy enough that it just might end up being a trifle or a bombe (possibly even a bomb) instead of a cake this way. And that’s okay. If I learned nothing else from my father, I did see in him a fine example of both how to make any situation work as well as possible—and how to play with my food.Photo: Squishy Cake

Flowers for Mom

P&I drawingIt’s your birthday. You look in the mirror and you can’t imagine who that strange person looking back at you could possibly be–your grandmother, maybe? The family and your friends are all busy and far away and there’s a ton of work to be done, so the party on your big day this year will probably be a cookie or two after dinner while you read the couple of chapters you can fit in before unceremoniously dropping off to sleep in the chair. In the hours between that morning mirror check and dinner, you wonder where all the time went and what could possibly lie ahead.

And then you wonder what your mother experiences on her birthday.

It is my mother’s birthday today, and I am far away from her and have a ton of work to do, so any party she has will be without me, as it often is anymore. And having had a cascade of health challenges in the last decade or so, she will likely wonder at the speed of the passing years and the uncertainty of those approaching.

But I hope that, somewhere in the midst of all that, she still finds cause for celebration. My own collection of birthdays is growing, as are those of my sisters and families, and for all of these we owe a certain debt of gratitude to Mom for having had the perfect mixture of innocent foolhardiness and courage that it takes to become a mother, not just biologically but with the dedication of throwing umpteen birthday parties for us, coaxing us through the many of those days when there wasn’t time or space for the party, and giving us the love and support it took to each take off on our own and have our full lives. Small as it may be, the birthday gift that I think my mother might like the best is that she created a whole slew of birthday opportunities for us her family and for many others whom she annexed to the bloodline over the years.

We are an exponentially widening universe of what-ifs and why-nots ourselves, each of us growing up, growing older and asking our own questions of the unexpected people we’ve become, and finding and building lives and loves that, in turn, reach out further than any one of us could possibly do alone. That seems to me to be the closest thing to a purpose for existence that silly creatures like humans can have. A pretty grand one, at that.

Thank you, Mama, and may your birthday glow brightly with the expansiveness that you taught the rest of us, and may we pass it along to all the others we cherish too.digital illustration from a P&I drawing