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  • jdettmann

Play Along At Home Cake

May Blossom's Birthday Cake

May Blossom turned one and it was a marvellous day. There were blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, coffee and champagne (not for the one-year-old, obviously. Only light beer until the age of three. No exceptions.) There were presents galore, including a four-foot-high stuffed tiger and cub, a gift that was ‘for May Blossom and against her parents’, according to her uncles. There was a trip to the park and licking the beaters while I made the birthday cake. There was Skyping of a 102-year old great-grandmother and an uncle in New York, phone calls across the country to grandparents and another uncle.

Birthday pancakes made with new alphabet cookie cutters

Then there was cake eating. Oh my, the cake eating. I have been pretty permissive with what May Blossom has eaten so far in her life. I’ve tried to provide healthy, fresh food and not create an atmosphere where some foods are bad and others good. She’s eaten chips and ice-cream and some biscuits. But I did try not to give her any chocolate cake until her birthday. (She may have tasted a chocolate muffin, which we all know is just cake you are allowed to have at breakfast time.)

So her birthday cake was kind of a big deal. At 4 pm she was hungry so we fed her dinner of chicken, pasta, broccoli and zucchini to offset the full-scale choco-butterfat-sugar assault that was to follow.

We lit a single candle, sang ‘Happy Birthday’ — which made her cry, because it was clearly just a cruel delaying tactic designed to torture her while she stood in front of a massive chocolate cake — and then I cut a slice for her. We stripped her down to her nappy and sat her in the high chair. I placed the cake in front of her and then I don’t really know what happened, because she turned into a cartoon style blur of arms and legs and chunks of flying cake and icing and joy. It was one of the greatest sights of my life.

Afterwards we hosed her off and she stood at her little toy table that plays music (her ‘decks’) and danced to the three alternating 15-second snippets of ‘The Farmer in the Dell’, ‘How Much is That Doggy In the Window?’ and some other unidentifiable tune for twenty minutes without stopping. This cake is magic. They should hand slices of it to runners in marathons when they are flagging. It should be dehydrated and packed in mountaineers’ rations.

In the end, I decided to make use of the resources I had to hand when decorating the cake. Namely, my husband. H is a talented artist. He works mostly in ink, but can turn his hand to a tube of vanilla fudge icing without too much trouble. He created a scene of May Blossom as a Navajo child riding her pony while an owl perches on her arm. It might have been the best drawing ever.

You can make it at home too. Here’s how.

One-Bowl Chocolate Cake

Adapted from The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne, Harper and Row, 1961.


2 cups sifted cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup warm water

2/3 cup milk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Sift the dry ingredients together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the butter, water, milk, eggs and vanilla and blend on very low speed until the ingredients are moistened (use high speed for a dramatic flour and cocoa mushroom cloud all over the kitchen). Mix for three minutes on medium speed, scraping the bowl occasionally to make sure there are no flour pockets at the bottom. Don’t include scraping time in the three minutes.

Pour the mixture into a tin you have greased and lined with baking paper. I used a tin about 30 cm long and 20 wide, which made a cake about 5 cm high, which is plenty tall enough for a baby, and gives you a good cake-t0-icing ratio. But use whatever tin you want, but adjust cooking time accordingly.

Bake for 21 minutes for this tin, or until it rebounds when pressed gently in the middle. Or poke a skewer in and see if it comes out with crumbs or batter on it.

Ice when it is cool. I used a sour cream ganache (melted dark chocolate beaten with sour cream). Decorate with gusto.

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