Birthdays and cake.

I love birthdays.  Correction: I love other people’s birthdays.  It’s an excuse to have fun, go out for dinner, throw a party and of course, bake a cake.  (Not that I need any more excuses to bake, if I’m totally honest…)

So one of my new housemates celebrated her birthday the other week.  She is one of two new housemates this year and I don’t know her very well yet, so I decided that rather than buying her a present, I would bake her a cake instead.  To me, cake says “Happy birthday, I put my effort into making you a cake which I hope you’ll enjoy, rather than buying you a bath set from The Body Shop which you’ll probably never use.”  It’s a personal gesture, to make a cake for somebody else, because you are pouring time and energy into it.  You are doing it not for yourself, but for another and it’s almost like giving part of yourself.  Now, I am one of these people who thinks that gifts should be particular to the person –  I cannot just buy someone a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine, because it seems so indifferent, as if you don’t know what they would actually like.  (Of course, there are times when a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine are appropriate – at dinner parties as host/hostess gifts, for example.  Just not birthdays.)  I like spending time deciding what to give someone, knowing that I have chosen something unique and individual which is appropriate to them.  That’s why I find baking cakes for people so satisfying.  It has all the personality of a specially-chosen gift, just in a different way, because you are essentially giving them something of yourself, your hours and effort. There is also another kind of satisfaction in baking for others, knowing that something you have made can bring joy – that’s another reason why I love cooking and baking so much. I like making people happy.

Anyway, that’s enough of that – let’s talk about the cake!

The birthday cake – 01/10/2011

This was a two-layer vanilla sponge cake, flavoured with orange zest and (after baking and cooling) painted with orange syrup.  It was filled and covered with whipped milk chocolate buttercream and decorated with sugar stars and piping. Here, I used water icing, which I found more difficult to work with than royal icing. It just felt too unstable to pipe cleanly with, but adding more icing sugar would have stiffened it to the point of being unworkable. (A writing nozzle might have helped, but I don’t have any in my university stash of baking equipment, unfortunately.) Despite that, it turned out alright in the end, which is the important thing.  I also carved the tops of the cakes to make them level and easier for stacking – my carving and stacking skills are coming along nicely, I think!  (Next stop, three-layer cakes!) All in all, I didn’t find it to be an overly complex cake; the sponge base is from a recipe I’ve been using for years, the buttercream was simple to make and use (although I hate working with icing sugar – no matter how careful I am, it always goes everywhere) and the decoration was fairly straightforward.

However, I have to say that I’m very pleased with the finish of this cake.  I executed it to the best of my ability and I hope that shows through in the end product.  I was going for a simple, elegant feel and I think that I achieved that.  All I know is that she loved the cake so much, she didn’t want to cut it!

(In case you were wondering, we did eat it in the end and everyone loved it.  Also, I must admit that I felt a selfish glow of pride when she said that it looked professionally done – as a would-be baker and cake-decorator, it was somewhat gratifying to receive such a compliment.  I know it sounds horribly boastful, but it also helped to further strengthen my ambition and made me believe that just maybe, I can really do this…and there’s no harm in having a little hope, is there?)

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