Making a special birthday cake

By Elizabeth Gage
Have you given a birthday party for a friend or family member
lately? A lot of people let a restaurant do the cooking and let the
waiters and waitresses provide a chorus of

happy birthday

to the honoree.
So why have the party at home?
By Elizabeth Gage

Have you given a birthday party for a friend or family member lately? A lot of people let a restaurant do the cooking and let the waiters and waitresses provide a chorus of “happy birthday” to the honoree.

So why have the party at home?

I you’re like me, you find it more relaxing to do more of the work, in exchange for privacy, a menu tailored to your exact wishes, and the ability to sing “happy birthday” as loud as you want, and turn out the lights while the cake, glowing with candles, is brought in.

For décor, I suggest piling the presents in the middle of the table and adding a few more ribbons and streamers to the pile.

The meal itself doesn’t need to be complicated either, because everybody is really there for the birthday cake anyway. So that’s what I’m focusing on today.

When my brother and I were little, we could choose any “cake” we wanted for our birthdays. One year I chose the bakery cake with the ballerina, and the next year

the one with the cowboy.

But our choices went beyond traditional cakes. One year (at least), my brother chose donuts, and I chose strawberry shortcake. October in Illinois meant frozen strawberries, but in our area we are fortunate to have fresh strawberries available almost all year ’round.

Here is my favorite recipe for strawberry shortcake, plus a couple of other ideas that are definitely worth the bother in terms of both festiveness and flavor.

Strawberry Shortcake

(adapted from

Serves 6 big people or at least 8 kids

For the berries:

2 pints strawberries, washed and hulled (save the same number of whole strawberries as you want candles for the cake.)

juice of one small orange or about 2 T. orange juice

6 T. sugar

Step 1: Slice the berries into a medium size bowl.

Step 2: Sprinkle with the orange juice and sugar and mash lightly with a fork or potato masher. Leave it chunky to preserve the character of the berries.

Step 3: Refrigerate a couple of hours or overnight.

For the shortcake:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 T. baking powder

2 T. sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter

1 egg

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 T. milk if necessary

Step 1: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly butter an 8″ round cake pan.

Step 2: Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl.

Step 3: Cut in the butter with two knives, a pastry blender, or your fingers. The resulting mixture should look like coarse crumbs.

Step 4: In a small bowl beat the egg slightly and mix in the cream.

Step 5: Pour the egg and cream over the flour mixture and stir lightly with a fork until just combined. Gather into a loose clump. If it seems too dry, stir in the 1 T. milk

Step 6: Bake the shortcake in the preheated oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until the top is light golden brown.

Step 7: Remove from oven and cool on a rack for at least 5 minutes.

For the cream:

1 pint whipping cream

2 T. sugar

1 T. vanilla extract

Step 1: Whip the cream in a large chilled bowl with an electric mixer or whisk until soft peaks form.

Step 2: Add the sugar and vanilla and keep beating until peaks are stiff.


Step 1: Using a clean dish towel to support it, gently turn the shortcake out onto a cutting board.

Step 2: Using a long-bladed, preferably serrated knife, slice through the cake horizontally to make two layers.

Step 3: Place one layer on a large serving plate and spoon 2/3 of the sweetened berries and 1/3 of the whipped cream on this layer.

Step 4: Top with the other layer and cover with the remaining cream, putting on as many separate dollops as you have reserved strawberries and birthday candles.

Step 5: Push a birthday candle into one side of each whole strawberry, and nestle each berry in its own little cloud of cream.

Step 6: Spread the remaining berries over the top of the cake.

Step 7: Light the candles, turn out the dining room lights, and ceremoniously present the cake to the birthday boy or girl.

The following dessert has the highest deliciousness-to-fuss ratio of anything I have ever eaten.

Famous Wafer Chocolate Dessert

(from the Kraft Foods Web site or the cookie package)

1 pint whipping cream

1 tsp. vanilla

1 package Famous chocolate wafers (these are often not in the cookie aisle but hidden near the ice cream).

Step 1: Whip the cream and add the vanilla. The cream should be in stiff peaks.

Step 2: Frost each cookie all the way to the edge with a couple of spoonfuls of cream – the cream layer should be about as thick as the cookie.

Step 3: Put the cookies together in stacks of four or five.

Step 4: Assemble the stacks together into one long log.

Step 5: Frost the outside of the log with the remaining whipped cream.

Step 6: Refrigerate at least four hours or overnight. This is what softens the cookies and gives the dessert its cookies ‘n cream flavor.

Step 7: Stick candles in it and serve.

Meltingly Good Chocolate Cake

(adapted from

1 3/4 sticks butter

7 oz. bittersweet chocolate

1 1/3 cups sugar

5 eggs

1 heaping T. flour

powdered sugar

Step 1: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Step 2: Line an 8″ round cake pan with wax paper (the original recipe specified parchment but wax paper is what I had) and lightly butter the sides of the paper.

Step 3: Cut or break the butter and chocolate into about 1-oz. chunks and place in a glass bowl. Microwave on high to melt. A minute or two should be plenty. Give it a stir about halfway through.

Step 4: Let cool slightly and add the sugar. Stir well to combine.

Step 5: Break each egg in and stir well after each addition.

Step 6: Add the tablespoon of flour and stir well.

Step 7: Pour into the prepared pan and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes depending on your oven accuracy. The cake will puff up while baking. When done, a skewer inserted into the middle will show slight moist crumbs.

Step 8: Allow to cool in the pan on a rack until the pan is cool enough to touch. (The cake will sink back as it cools.)

Step 9: Invert onto a plate, dust with powdered sugar, add candles and serve.

Elizabeth Gage is a writer who lives in Hollister. She can be reached at [email protected]

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