Saturday, May 16, 2009
Sam's First Birthday Cake
To say this gorgeous creation was not my first choice for Sam's first birthday cake is a wild understatement.
My original ideas ran along the lines of sugarless concoctions featuring bananas and/or applesauce. Sam was slow to warm up to solid foods despite several months of experimentation on my part. By his eleventh month, he had only shown serious interest in bananas, applesauce, and pureed roasted sweet potatoes.
I couldn't bring myself to taint his perfect system with refined sugar just yet and was wary of introducing dairy in the form of butter too soon. For these reasons, my early attempts at "healthy" test cakes sucked. Punishment Cake is what I dubbed the whole wheat, sugar-free, butter-less banana "cake" I made. When I decided that a little butter wouldn't kill him, the lack of sweetness in my second experiment prompted my mother, who was nice enough to taste it, to ask, "You don't want to put a little sugar in it?"
I was stuck. I considered making Punishment Cake for Sam and something beautiful and indulgent for the grownup party guests but feared the damage this might do to his palate and psyche. I have hazy memories going back to my first year of life and imagined Sam might, too. It just wouldn't do to feed him something brown and tasteless on his first birthday while the rest of us got high on real pastry.
Then I realized something. Even if I put the sweetest, creamiest, most decadent dessert in front of him, he wouldn't be interested. If my research was correct, the most he was likely to do was squish it through his tiny little fingers before flinging it everywhere. I finally decided to chance it and make something everyone would like.
An Icebox Cake was perfect for the occasion. Ridiculously quick and easy to put together, it beats baking, cooling, and frosting a real cake any day. Layer a bunch of chocolate wafers with whipped cream, give it a couple of hours in the fridge to get nice and cool and smooshy, shave some chocolate over the top, and you have an impressive looking, delicious creation on your hands. (Believe me. I dreamed of slaving over Sam's first cake - really looked forward to it - then real life stepped in and quickly quashed my fluffy fantasy of spending an afternoon in the kitchen.)
Since the "cake" is really nothing more than a whipped cream delivery device, I knew it would be a hit. Its kitschy, nostalgic nature also went with the rest of the menu, which included pimento cheese sandwiches (which I'll post about later) and iced tea with mint from the garden. But what really clinched my decision was the fact that I could make Sam his own personal "cake," which looked like this:
In the end, the big cake wowed the big people and the little cake also did its job. Sam squished the top two layers between his tiny fingers, tasted a bit of the whipped cream, then flung little bits all over the porch. I was so proud.
I followed the Magnolia Bakery recipe to the letter for Sam's big day, but have had good luck in the past replacing the Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafers with Anna's Ginger Thins and the chocolate shavings with candied ginger and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Anna's makes seven different cookie flavors. Which ones would you slather with whipped cream and make into cake?
from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook
3 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 (9-ounce) packages chocolate wafer cookies (I used Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafers)
Unsweetened cocoa (or chocolate shavings)
In a large bowl, beat cream, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form.
On a flat serving plate, arrange 7 cookies side by side in a circle, keeping 1 cookie in the center.
Spread with 1/2 cup whipped cream, making a 7-inch circle. Repeat with remaining cookies and cream, making 11 layers of cookies and ending with a layer of cream (there will be a few cookies left over). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
To serve, dust top lightly with cocoa powder or chocolate shavings.