Happy Birthday To Me...

When you want something done right, you just have to do it yourself. That was the tack I took when it came to celebrating my birthday this year after an attempt at throwing myself a birthday party resulted in a shamefully low guest-count. Somehow, my birthday fell on the weekend of several weddings, concerts, family visits and other long-standing commitments that had the vast majority of my friends otherwise engaged. I cancelled my party, but I remained determined to celebrate the passing of another year on Earth with a cake that would have been worthy of the first party to be thrown in my new home.

Justin offered to bake a cake for me, but I put the kibosh on that idea right away, even though it was sweet of him to offer. If I couldn't satisfy my urge to play hostess, I would at least get to try out another one of the cake recipes languishing on my Pinterest board. In fact, I had so many delicious-looking options to pick from, I could hardly choose which direction to go. I eventually narrowed it down to a maple cake with maple cream cheese frosting (I had a package of cream cheese in the fridge already) and a snickerdoodle-inspired cake with a brown-sugar buttercream frosting. I vacillated back and forth for quite some time, but it was ultimately my recent oven troubles that caused me to select the snickerdoodle cake -- the maple cake called for a full hour-long bake time, and I was worried that the oven might not hold out that long after last week's incident with the Brussels sprouts.

I still need a cake comb to decorate the sides better, but I really like the swirl pattern I created on top with an offset spatula. (I totally stole this idea from the blog where I saw the cake, but I'm going to keep it in mind for the future.)

I do love snickerdoodles, and anything cinnamon-flavored in general, so it wasn't much of an imposition to be pushed into this choice. This cake wasn't quite as easy to put together as the mint chocolate chip cake I baked for Cake Day last month, since it required splitting cake layers, and the frosting wasn't quite as straight-forward, but after the cake project I undertook for Justin's birthday last year, everything has seemed relatively simple in comparison. I did discover that the cheap knives Justin brought with him when we moved in together actually work better for the purpose of splitting cakes than my more expensive ones -- the blades are thinner, and the fine serrations, which destroy my cutting boards otherwise, cut through the cakes with less tearing. 

Thankfully, I seem to be making a small amount of progress when it comes to my cake assembly and decorating skills. This cake had the straightest sides and flattest top of any cake I've put together in the past couple years, though my ability to smooth the sides of the cake is still regrettably lacking. I was able to put a nice swirly pattern on the top of the cake, which I think looks better than trying to smooth it off. If it's going to be lumpy anyway, why not embrace it?

The cake turned out incredibly moist and delicious, though the crumb was a bit coarse and it was not immune to the slight denseness that characterizes homemade cakes. However, I'm not a fan of frosting in general, and I didn't particularly care for this one. The flavor of it was fine; I used the fancy genuine cinnamon (not cassia) that I received as a gift from Katherine a while back, which I had been saving for too long for a special occasion. Such is the problem with truly special ingredients -- you save them for a special occasion and then there never seems to be a sufficiently special time to use it. I figured my birthday would have to suffice.

Sadly, the frosting had a somewhat unpleasant granular texture, which I attribute to the brown sugar, since I've never had a frosting made with powdered sugar turn out like that. It didn't ruin the cake, but it kept the recipe from being an unqualified success.

Still, it worked just fine as a receptacle for birthday candles, and Justin gamely sang "Happy Birthday" to me before I blew them out. Twenty-six was very good to me, and I can only hope that twenty-seven goes just as well. I could do a lot worse than celebrating in my own home with the man I love over a piece of delicious homemade cake, and I hope I get the chance to do the same thing again next year.

Snickerdoodle Cake with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Frosting
adapted from Foodie with Family

For the cake:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 c. superfine sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. whole milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 325, and butter and flour two 8 or 9-inch cake pans.
1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy and pale in color.
3.Beat the eggs in one at a time, fully incorporating each egg and scraping down the bowl between each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
4. Add about 1/3 of the milk, beat to incorporate, then 1/3 of the flour, again beating to incorporate. Repeat this process, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until all of the milk and flour are added and mixed in evenly.
5. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake, rotating midway through, for about 35 minutes or until the cake tests done.
6. Let the cakes cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes before turning out onto the racks to finish cooling.  

For frosting:
2 1/4 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons cinnamon
8-9 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 c. half-and-half

1. Beat together the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon until fluffy and pale in color.
2. Add 6 cups of the confectioner's sugar and the vanilla extract and beat, starting on low and moving up to high, until it is fully incorporated.
3. Scrape down the bowl and add the half and half. Beat to incorporate again.
4. Add another 2 cups of the confectioner's sugar and beat, starting on low and moving up to high, until fully incorporated. Check the consistency of the buttercream. If it needs to be thicker, add the remaining confectioner's sugar. If it is too thick, add more half and half a teaspoon at a time, beating after each addition, until it reaches the desired consistency.

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