Thursday, April 3, 2008

Birthday Bashes

With a large family, we learned very early in life that we all had to share in order to get along harmoniously. Whether it was toys and games, or bedrooms and beds, or hand-me-down clothes, it was all fair game for sharing. However, the one exception was our birthday. Each birthday was our very special day of the year. Even though most of our birthdays happened to occur in late October and November, Mom always made us our own personal cake of choice. So during that three-week period each fall, we celebrated five birthdays, each complete with cake and ice cream, candles and a family party.

Living on the farm, we had a Guernsey cow that provided milk and incredibly luscious cream. We used a machine called a DeLaval Cream Separator to separate the cream from the milk and then a gallon of the milk was Pasteurized for drinking. We kept the fresh cream in a quart jar where it soon became the consistency of warm butter. Once the cream soured, we churned our own butter, which also gave us natural buttermilk for biscuits, pancakes and other treats.

One of our favorite desserts was a huge sour cream chocolate cake made in four graduated layers. Sometimes Mom made a sour cream icing that was essentially brown sugar fudge. It was the ultimate indulgence, but it was always delicious and an impressive sight. Whenever she brought one of her cakes to a bake sale for a fundraiser or pot luck dinner at church, school or a community event, it was never likely to be available on the table for very long.

Each Saturday morning we all helped bake desserts to be enjoyed during the next week. That was a significant undertaking, considering the size of our family. Mom had to plan for dessert after supper, lots of drop-in company and also brown-bag lunches for everyone. Typically, there would be at least two layer cakes (usually one round and one heart-shaped) plus a couple of dozen cupcakes, several pies and a huge batch of cookies. If there were extra eggs to be used up, we might have custard or bread pudding, angel food cake using the egg whites and a jelly roll using the yolks to make a rich sponge cake.

Heart-shaped layer cakes exemplified the love and caring Mom put into everything she did. She didn’t just slap on some frosting then move on to the next dessert. She made the extra effort to create a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Mom put pieces of waxed paper under the edge of the cake on the cake platter while she decorated it. When she carefully pulled the papers out, the plate was left pristine and the cake most appetizing. Presentation was an important consideration, especially with cakes.

Mom taught herself (and us girls) how to decorate cakes with flair. She was a whiz with butter cream frosting and a dab of food coloring, but she excelled on layer cakes. The first step was to put a layer of icing or fruit atop each layer of cake. The next was to cover the entire cake with a thick, creamy coating of white icing. Then a decorative squiggle of pink or green icing was carefully applied around the top and bottom edges of each layer. For special occasions, the final step was to write Happy Birthday (fill in the appropriate name here), Congratulations, or whatever was appropriate for the coming celebration.

My mother cherished our entire family and every day she showed us in both big and little ways. Family was by far the most important element of her life.

This makes a large cake that is very rich and moist. It can be made in three layer pans, or four graduated layers, or in one 9 x 13 pan.

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake
4 Eggs, well beaten 2 C Sour Cream
2 ¼ C Flour 2 C Sugar
2 t Baking Soda 6 T Cocoa
¼ t Salt
• Prepare cake pans (3 layers or 9 x 13) with shortening and flour. For layer cakes, line pans with waxed paper for easy release. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Beat eggs well, then blend with sour cream. Set aside.
• Sift together the dry ingredients. Add gradually to eggs and cream, beating well after each addition.
• Bake @ 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
• Let cake cool slightly, then remove from layer pans. Let cool completely on wire rack.
• Frost with “Wallpaper Paste” Frosting, Sour Cream Fudge/Frosting, or combination, such as fudge between layers and white frosting on top and sides.

Sour Cream Fudge/Frosting
2 C White Sugar
2 C Brown Sugar
2 C Sour Cream
• Combine all ingredients in large sauce pan and bring to a boil.
• Continue to boil to soft ball stage, stirring occasionally.
• For fudge, pour into 9 x 13 buttered pan.
• For frosting, cool slightly before applying.

“Wallpaper Paste” Frosting
5 T Cake Flour (or 2 T Cornstarch and 3 T Flour)
1 C Milk
• Boil Cake Flour and Milk until thick. (It will look like wallpaper paste, hence the name) Cover and let stand until cool.
½ C Shortening
½ C Margarine
1 C Sugar
1 t Vanilla
• Add remaining ingredients to milk mixture.
• Beat until light and fluffy. Add Vanilla.

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