In which I make a birthday cake.
We are deep in the middle of birthday season at our house. Entrenched in what feels like constant present buying, cake making, perfect day planning. We have a great many discussions about who wants what to eat, to play with, to do. I can meet some of the requests like Shrimp and Olive Pie,even if I have to make it up. The request for “chocolate cake with pink frosting” was a no-brainer. I immediately found the cookbook I had made for grandma with her mom’s recipe box and turned to the cake and frosting section. It was time to get serious.
There were multiple recipes for Devils Food cake. I chose the one that looked like it made the most cake because I had visions of a layered cake with some sort of fluffy pink frosting. Because it was a special occasion I got out my cocoa powder from Penzey’s. It was one that I had gotten free with another purchase. It was perfect in this cake.
There is a difference between homemade cakes and cakes from a box mix. Making a cake isn’t a terribly difficult to do. But you do have to have a basic understanding of the science before you can look at a recipe like the one I had. First, in order to make a cake, you have to figure out how to create the lift. There are, of course, the normal leavening ingredients, baking soda and baking powder, especially combined with an acid like buttermilk. But it needs more fluff. Creaming the butter and sugar creates volume. Whipping the egg whites to soft or stiff peaks and folding those into the batter adds more air. Air=lift.
This cake is a very nice chocolate cake. A little dry in texture, but you know that you’ve eaten cake by the time you are done with a piece. It cries out for a thick creamy frosting to balance it out. This is not a glaze and go sort of cake. It’s not a cake that you could just sprinkle powdered sugar on and be content. It would hold up to soaking syrups, jam between layers, or really anything that you wanted to do to it. In this case, what I wanted to do was marshmallow frosting.
My inheritance from Great-Grandma included 3 recipes for marshmallow frosting. I chose the one that did not require melting marshmallows because I didn’t feel like figuring out how many small marshmallows equals one big marshmallow. I’m sure there is a conversion table on the web somewhere…
I am not sure that I’d ever had marshmallow frosting before. Perhaps I did as a young child, but I don’t remember. And this isn’t a choice that you get from bakeries. You probably see it more frequently at cupcakeries, but most bakeries will offer you a choice of whipped cream frosting or buttercream and that’s a shame. Marshmallow frosting is transformative. It’s life changing. It’s sweet and fluffy and a little spongy from the gelatin. It holds its shape. It can be swirled and streaked. It can make a cake look magazine perfect (if I’m not the one decorating it because I’m just not that good). Because the recipe said I could “flavor as you wish”, I decided to flavor it using some homemade strawberry jam since it needed to be pink. I stand by this decision. Ooey, gooey, subtly strawberry pink fluff. On top of chocolate cake. In between layers of chocolate cake.
You know those Sno Balls made by Hostess? The ones that you may pick up on a road trip when you are craving something overly sweet? The ones that come in packages of two and are vaguely neon-colored? Cream filled, coconut covered balls of chocolate cake and marshmallow fluff? This is the most grown up, best tasting version of that (minus the coconut). It’s also the version where you can control the quality of the ingredients.
This is important. Good ingredients well prepared makes good food.
All in all, the princess declared her cake delicious. Between that and learning to rollerskate, I think she had a perfect birthday.
Devils Food Cake
2 cup sugar 1/2 cup shortening
2 egg yolks 1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup water 1 tsp soda
2/3 cup sour milk 2 cup flour
2 egg whites stiffly beaten 1 tsp vanilla
1/2 envelope Knox Gelatin
1 cup granulated sugar, Boil sugar with 5 TB of cold water until it threads well.
Dissolve the gelatin in 5 TB of cold water and let set while syrup is cooking.
Pour boiled mixture while hot into gelatin stir gently and let set until lukewarm.
Flavor to suit taste and beat until stiff.