Create: A Sweet Tradition

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?


6 thoughts on “Create: A Sweet Tradition

  1. House, I love this post! It resonates with me because of the Riordan family fondness for sweets, and cake in particular. My Grandma Riordan made her famous chocolate cake frosted with white butter cream peaks, and drizzled with bittersweet chocolate; that was a favorite of my dad’s. My little brother once asked for a “camouflage” cake for a birthday party, and I still recall the collage of greenish-blue and chocolate chips that my mom assembled in order to honor the request for her little ‘soldier boy.’. Over the past years, I’ve grown fond of coconut cake (a departure from my love for chocolate), with rich coconut cream filling and flakes adorning thick frosting. Sweet Goodness.

  2. i loved the post. my favorite sugar memory is celebrating thanksgiving at your parents’ house. the chocolate pie was one of the few things that motivated a picky eater like me to finish thanksgiving dinner so that i could eat that chocolate pie.

    even to this day, my reputation with that pie remains with your mother. she often will have one ready for dessert for me when i come over.


  3. Although I love to cook and bake, I must have a yellow cake and milk chocolate frosting from….a box and a can! Somehow, it reminds me of the comfort of my grandma’s Duncan Hines cakes. Tom bakes one every year for me and now all three boys request the same! They want the cool, decorated bakery cake for the party with friends but still want their fix of processed goodness for our family celebrations. Oh, and there must be an extra can of frosting around…we like to add a little extra to the pieces that don’t have enough! Definitely not sophisticated but always reliably delish!

  4. Great post, Laura. And that picture of the boy…my goodness, it’s too much.

    Makes me think of the simple homemade chocolate cake w/buttercream frosting that my mom has made for my birthday since as long as I can remember. Back in the early-to-mid 70s, the cake was baked in a Mickey Mouse tin and painstakingly decorated with multiple colors of frosting out of an icing bag. By the time I was 8 or 9, it was simply a square cake with white frosting. (Can you blame her?) It’s been that way ever since. It’s always delicious and, at first bite, immediately makes me think of various birthdays celebrated in various kitchens and dining rooms at various stages of my life. Mostly, it makes me think of my mom. I’m sure my dad and brother feel the same way as I do about this cake, as they get the some one–every year.

    • thanks for responding everyone. your shared traditions make me want to quit my day job (again), gather up recipes and spend my time making you mousse pies (kev, if you only knew the ingredients!); baking cakes from boxes; pouring chocolate batter into mickey mouse tins and perfecting grandma’s butter cream peaks. it would be like going into the joy business.

  5. Oh does this bring back memories! My grandma used to make this angel food cake with this sweet frosting. Ow my aunt makes it for every occasion. We all try to replicate it, but somehow we never can! We had to make sure to be at the dessert table right away at Thanksgiving or else we it would be gone!!!