Happy New Year!!
The beginning of the New Year is synonymous with “new year, new me” resolutions; better diet and exercise being the obvious goals for most. And I can’t say that I too don’t start working out more come January 1st, or start learning how to meal prep, or baking a batch of sad-looking blueberry, zucchini and kale muffins from Pinterest. I too pledge to take better care of my body after the holiday indulgence ends, and its back to the cold, harsh reality of the January blues.
But January also happens to bring my birthday. And because of this my staunch dedication to a healthy lifestyle on the first of the month quickly relaxes in to a “treat yourself” attitude. My love of all things baked and sweet being as persistent as it is throughout the entire year, how could I possibly forgo my favourite sweets around my birthday!?
So a piece of cake for my birthday and were back on track right? Wrong. Within the next week is my eldest brothers birthday (more cake and cookies) followed by my middle brother’s birthday only a week after that (a full-out cake and pizza bonanza)! Not to mention my extended family which sees another three birthdays all within the final two weeks of January. And so January has officially been re-named as Cake-uary.
As a kid I loved my birthday like any other child does, for the special attention, the presents, the birthday parties and the extra sweets Mom and Dad let you have. I always, always requested a Loblaw’s Oreo birthday cake for the special day, probably because thats what my big brothers would ask for. And sure I was excited about having a cake with my name written in pink scribbly icing and blowing out the candles while everyone sang and watched, but I was never truly excited about the cake itself like I assumed most other kids and even adults were. Cake was never my first choice of indulgent sweet. Store bought cakes were so sugary yet flavourless, chocolatey and dense in all the wrong ways and just boring. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have out of this world taste and insight as a child, but I don’t recall ever being excited about eating my birthday cake, or anyone else’s for that matter. In fact, I usually turned down a piece of cake at other kids bowling parties.
Birthday cake to me was a let down. There was so much excitement about the yearly right of passage in blowing out the candles, the singing, getting the first cut piece, or cutting it yourself when your parents finally deemed you old enough to hold the knife. But then you took a bite and it didn’t nearly reach the expectation. As I grew up and I became more interested in baking, and even worked in a bakery throughout high-school. I eventually decided that birthday cakes were simply meant to look pretty; a necessary object to catalogue another year having passed, something to pose with for a photo.
Shows that were popular around that time like Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes encouraged what became a cultural obsession with grossly ridiculous fantasy cakes, with absolutely no emphasis on creating the perfect fluffy and rich cake layers, or a flavourful icing. I was disappointed. If I was going to indulge in dessert, and especially a dessert with so much potential for deliciousness like cake, I wanted it to be worth it.
My dissatisfaction with cakes seeped in to my love of baking as well. I rarely attempted to bake cakes, my interest leaning towards muffins and cookies, brownies and cupcakes and the occasional pie, never thinking of a cake as a way to fill my craving for sweets. When I recently began learning to bake more seriously and taking photos of my baking too, a cake just seemed like an even more pointless task. Why bother baking a cake when it won’t turn out looking like the amazing cakes you see on social media, food blogs and elsewhere?
So I stuck to perfecting my muffin recipe, my all-time favourite cookies and other small treats full of buttery goodness. Until birthday season rolled around this year. With an undeniable craving for a rich chocolatey cake, I decided it was time to reclaim the birthday cake tradition by making my own. What I realized in the process is that I never actually disliked birthday cake, or cake in general. My experience with them had simply been lacking the quality and care that comes from a homemade version. A cake to me, is a celebratory dessert, meant to be a reflection and celebration of someone you love. Regardless of if it looks like the Instagram or Pinterest post its based off of, a birthday cake is a treat to be shared; a necessary thing for a celebration.
My favourite chocolate cake recipe was the real hero of Cake-uary, I used it three times throughout the month. Starting with my own 8″ birthday cake with a vanilla buttercream icing, simple but effective, followed by an adorable 4″ chocolate ganache cake, and closing out the month with a dozen chocolate cupcakes with a classic chocolate frosting. Each iteration of this cake was delectable, it is truly a fool-proof recipe to keep in your back pocket.
Classic Chocolate Cake
Makes one three-layer 8″ cake, two 4″ cakes or 24 cupcakes.
- 1 1/4 cups Quality Cocoa Powder
- 2 1/2 cups All purpose Flour
- 2 1/2 cups Sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp Baking soda
- 1 1/4 tsp Baking powder
- 1 1/4 tsp Salt
- 2 large eggs + 1 yolk
- 1 1/4 cups Warm water
- 1 1/4 cups Buttermilk
- 1/2 cup Vegetable oil
- 1 1/4 tsp Vanilla extract
- Sift together the Cocoa Powder, Flour, Sugar Baking powder, Baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
- Gently stir together until mixed.
- Beat in the Eggs, Buttermilk, Oil, Water and Vanilla until smooth and no lumps remain.
- Grease and flour your chosen pans. Divide your batter evenly between them. Once distributed, bang each on on counter once or twice to remove any air bubbles.
- Place pans in 350 degree preheated oven. Bake about 40 minutes, rotating them halfway through, until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Let cool in the pans on wire racks before removing the cakes.