My childhood birthday dessert memories are a chilled, sugary trifecta of mint-chocolate-chip ice cream, chocolate cake and the dense, glossy frosting found only in a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake. I cannot separate celebrating my dad’s birthday from an airy, spongy forkful of angel food cake. High school was flavored by the so fake (but so good) box birthday cakes and cupcakes that we’d make for friends. And people tell my husband and me that ding dongs-––we built a tower of the waxy pucks to make a cake––will always remind them of our wedding.
These sugary memories have sticking power. So when I asked what I could make for my niece, Ale’s, second birthday party and my sister-in-law handed me a cake recipe, I panicked a bit. The cake, presented to the birthday girl ablaze with candles, would not only be immortalized in photos, but people would actually eat it. Lots of people. And there is no hiding a bad cake.
Well, the cake came through, and the cooking assignment turned out to be one of the best ones yet. Because this cake, the Cook’s Illustrated carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, has now become the family birthday dessert. I have also baked it for the first birthdays of my son and nephew, Francis. Just last week we welcomed another nephew, Thomas, and I hope to make it for him too. The taste of tangy cream cheese frosting and spicy sweet cake is now mingled with watching my niece, son and nephew delight over a confection just for them. And the so-joyful-I-could-burst feeling of having these little ones here to bake for at all. It is a wonder certainly deserving of cake.
Pictured above is my son on his first birthday. I will probably never bake anything as well-received as that cake. Anyone else have a cake or sweets recipe that has become a tradition with family and friends?