Birthday parties and celebrations can be elaborate affairs. When my brother turned a certain age, his wife surprised him with a trip to New York City. One day, I called a friend and she told me she couldn’t chat because she was taking her 6-year-old daughter to a birthday party at the Museum of Fine Arts. At The Big Corporation, we often honor the birthdays of our co-workers with a special snack, based on their snack preferences. One person likes whoopie pies, another likes chocolate, and a third likes mixed fruit and yogurt.
Try putting “birthday party ideas” into a search engine and see what happens.
The birthday cake is part of any respectable birthday celebration; here is the history.
Making a cake is easy; it’s practically all science. My favorite old cookbook, Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook, copyrighted in 1950, has a tab called “Your Cakes” and it says:
“Every homemaker hopes to make the perfect cake. This is entirely possible with our present knowledge and equipment. ‘Lady Luck’ of our grandmothers’ day no longer plays a role in cakemaking. If standard measuring equipment and quality ingredients are used and the directions for mixing and baking are followed carefully a perfect cake is the result.”
My mother makes beautiful birthday cakes. Lady Luck plays no role in Helen’s cake making, either. She measures her quality ingredients using standard equipment; she follows the directions carefully. Dare I say she does these things perfectly?
She is not a “one cake fits all” kind of baker, either. She’s always reading magazines and cookbooks to find new cakes to try.
If a cake is a flop, she throws the recipe out. Pronto! If the recipe was in a cookbook, the words “not very good” or “never make again” will be inscribed in the margins. If it was a perfectly horrible recipe, she will simply make a large “X” over it.
Since my divorce and being “alone” and all, my mother has taken it upon herself to spoil me with special birthday cake creations. In 2004, she made a cake that had caramel drizzled over the top. In 2008, it was a yellow cake with raspberry filling and lemon frosting.
Here’s a conversation we had about birthday cakes on Sunday:
JAB: Mom, do you remember that square birthday cake you made me with the Necco wafers on top?
MOM: It wasn’t that good, was it?
JAB: It was ok, I think, but I only remember the Necco wafers. It looked good, though.
Of course, there was one year she was not in the cake-making mood. I’m sure there was a perfectly good explanation as to why she bought a cake at the grocery store. Let’s just say it didn’t go over too well with me; I don’t have a “poker face.” I’m no Lady Luck and I don’t play cards, either.
It hasn’t happened again since then.
This year’s cake was a rich chocolate cake with a mocha frosting that included 2 sticks of butter and a whole jar of Fluff. It was perfect and even though we were celebrating a little bit early, I got birthday candles, “Happy Birthday” sung to me, hugs, and presents.
Given how hot and muggy it was this past week, I feel a little bit guilty that my mother was toiling away in the kitchen for me. I’m going to write her a “thank you” note on Crane stationery right now and tell her how much I appreciate everything she’s done for me since the day I was born, including making elaborately perfect birthday cakes.
It’s the least I can do.