She simply could not believe she was 91. When asked how old she felt, she replied, “Oh, I don’t know, 50?” Carry on sweet grandmother…may this year be a wonderful year of feeling 50 every.single.day! Let us share some cake together. This birthday cake was baked by a granddaughter (myself) and a daughter (my mother). However, it was this woman who taught us to bake, fuss, frost, fix, and decorate, among many other things.
I started working on this cake in my new home. (Yes, I still call it my new home even after 6 months. It is slowly starting to feel like ‘home’ but it takes a little while, yes?) I worried about making a vanilla cake. I have made chocolate cakes from scratch and did not bat an eye. Heck, I even put roasted beets in a chocolate cake once. But the thought of baking a beautiful vanilla cake was just scary to me for some reason. I reached out to other baker friends. I knew my grandmother liked berries and I knew she liked vanilla. Several cakes came through – an angel food cake with strawberry ‘sparkle’ was one suggestion. That was a cake we always had growing up! However, I kept searching for a slightly different cake recipe.
The cake that won my vote was from a dear friend who has taken many classes on all things related to pies, cakes and treats from Gesine Bullock-Prado. She steered me towards this ‘go to’ vanilla cake from Gesine Bullock-Prado. If it is a go-to cake for Gesine, I figured it had to be a reliable recipe! I read through the recipe a few times…and it was so detailed with each step of creaming, scraping, adding eggs, etc. I gave my Mom a call and expressed my silly worries over making this cake. She said not to worry – it really is a matter of scraping, creaming and mixing the right way. She knew this from her days by my grandmother’s side baking cakes in Howard’s Restaurant. I can babysit my mixer and watch magic appear before my eyes I thought. This was all I the encouragement I needed as I set out to begin this project.
My mixer was ready and so was I. First up, is mixing together room temperature butter and room temperature eggs for at least 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. There were pauses for scraping down the mixture. There are many pauses in this entire cake baking process and if you do not wear your patience pants that day you will likely end up with a disaster. Patience, friends.
I used vanilla bean paste vs. pure vanilla extract. I wanted a true vanilla flavor to shine through and the vanilla paste did the trick.
Room temperature eggs were added, one at a time. Then the dry ingredients (sifted regular all purpose flour, salt & baking powder) were added, alternately with buttermilk. Again stopping to scrape down the batter, mix again, scraping, mixing. I liked how I could use regular flour vs. cake flour and buttermilk. So accessible. I only use King Arthur flour for any flour needs I may have.
Three 8-inch pans (given to me by my grandmother herself, oh, about 15 years ago) were filled with cake batter and baked. This is where I got a little bit nervous. I didn’t want an underdone cake or an overdone cake. Careful checking of the cakes as they bake is crucial. When you lightly touch the center of the cake and it gently springs back, pull that cake out! If the indentation stays there it is overdone…and you have just wasted a half pound of butter, 5 eggs, and flour. This is an expensive mistake that can be easily be prevented.
At this point the cakes were cooled completely, wrapped and packed to head north. Next up? Frosting and decorating! I was super lucky to observe and learn from my Mom who taught me how to fill, frost and decorate.
We used a little help from fairly ‘local’ resources. Stonewall Kitchen seedless black raspberry jam was the filling.
We tried to make a buttercream frosting but my Mom’s hand mixer was on the fritz. We are really hoping she wins the Kitchen Aid mixer from King Arthur Flour!! Since King Arthur was right down the road – she ran out and picked up a buttercream frosting mix they have. Thank you, King Arthur for saving the day!
I dipped some strawberries in chocolate as my Mom finished the decorations on the cake.
We packed up gifts, decorations, ice cream and the cake.
The cake was so tender and light. The berry filling was a perfect compliment and the strawberries added a perfect touch. My grandmother was thrilled and so very happy when we told her how we learned to cook and bake from her. She was glad she did some good… it made her day she said.
It made my day to spend this time with her, alongside my Mom and Sweet Z (who my grandmother refers to as her ‘new friend’). Happy 91st birthday to you, Mimi!