The Perfect Birthday Cake: From gods to mortals….

by: Riyam Kafri AbuLaban

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Vanilla Cake with Chocolate Icing

I love cake…As a child I would sneak into the kitchen to get an extra piece of left over cake that my mother baked for one of our birthdays.  I could never get enough of  the spongy, airy, sweet creation that was light enough to melt on my tougue, dense enough to leave a taste mark. My mother’s chocolate cake in particular was just that, and I could swear the air bubbles trapped in the cake itself tasted like chocoalte.   Of  course now I know that that the air trapped in cakes or even bread travels to the back of our mouths carrying aromatic compounds into our sinus cavities, enhancing our tasting experience and amplifying flavors.  This is probably why spongy, airfilled cakes are an obsession for those of us who love to bake. My mother’s chocolate cake was all that and a bit more with a homemmade chocolate cream frosting that I do not have a recipe for, just a memory of a taste explosion in my mouth.  Since then I have been in search of the perfect birthday cake. Along the road, I fell in love with spongy, white vanilla cakes and below I am sharing with you a recipe I developed after trying out so many.  I cannot say it has been perfected, but I think it is worth a try..

Ingredients

375 g unsalted butter (room temperature)

375 g Confectionary Sugar

5 tsp vanilla

8 large eggs  at room temp.

150 g Palestinian Yogurt (sour and delicious)

503 g all purpose flour.

51/4 tsp baking powder

5 tbsp water

For the frosting: Pick your favorite Buttercream frosting and go to town! I haven’t found the perfect recipe and I am still experimenting with the different ones I have.

In my search for the perfect cake, a quest that took a more serious commitment about  four years ago, I discovered the origins of birthday cakes and celebrations.  There isn’t one conclusive story on where birthday cake came from. It is thought that its orgin dates back to Ancient Egyptian celebrations of Pharoh coronations.   They believed that when a new Pharoh was crowned they became a god, and they celebrated their “birth” by making a sweet bread like cake. This celebration was exculsive to pharoh’s coronations and not their actual birth, and meer mortals did not have  birthdays at the time.  The Egyptians were also the first to introduce the concept of Ka’ak El Eid (Kaak El Eid: A coming of Age Story ) so the fact that the tradition of celebrating birth with something sweet comes at no surprise. Considering that they were the first to invent bread, it is not surprising that they were the first to make birthday cakes, even if to celebrate the transcedence to immortality.

Preheat oven to 180 C. Pull out the eggs and butter from the fridge, and be patient with your self.  Having eggs, and butter at room temperature is important and makes mixing the ingredients together easier and smoother.

 

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Putting together wheat, water, fat, and sugar  is truly fascinating… The discovery or the invention of bread, was certainly a turning point for us as a species.  The ability to mix water, with flour and then bake it may have been the reason we survived.  It is such a simple recipe, and with the addition of sugar, fat (butter or oil), chocolate, eggs, bread became more interesting, and cake was born.

Cream the butter, and the sugar together in a stand mixer at medium speed. Add the vanilla and eggs alternating egg, vanila.  Sift your flour and whisk the baking powder in it.  

The Ancient Greeks borrowed the clebration of pharohs “births” from the Egyptians to celebrate their goddess of the moon,Artemis, by offering her a round cake decorated with candles.  The candles were lit to emmulate the glow of the moon and the goddess’s beauty.   In both ancient Egypt and ancient Greece “birthday celebrations” were exculsive to religious figures. No comoner’s birthday was celebrated at the time.

Alternate the addition of flour and yogurt. Mix well until you have a homogeneous batter.  Add the water one tbsp at a time and mix a little longer on medium speed. 

Comoner’s brithdays were first celebrated during the Roman empire.  Roman citizens held birthday parties for family and friends, while more famous citizens were celebrated by the government publically.  Perhaps the most special birthday for Roman citizens was the fiftieth when a special cake made with wheat flour, honey and cheese was baked, and the half century old citizen was celebrated by their family and friends.  I cannot help but wonder if the origins of the big five-O, or the big four-O birthday parties comes from this particular Roman empire tradition.

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Smooth as butter batter, the smell of vanilla was incredible.

Interestingly enough, the birthday cakes mentioned above did not look anything like today’s versions.  If anything they were cultural expressions of the places they orginated from.  Wheat flour, cheese, honey were all abundant ingredients and it makes sense that they made an appearance in sweets.

Allow the cake to cool down, then cut into three layers.  Decorate with your favorite chocolate butter cream icing.  I use a recipe from the Better Homes Cookbook, but there are plenty of version online like the one from the Stay At Home Chef. The truth is, don’t be afraid to experiment with this until you find the perfect version for you. 

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Birthday cakes as we know them today are the creation of German bakers in the 18th century.  Germany has a rich tradtion of baking, just take a look at their amazing cheese cakes, chocolate cakes, strudles and more. It is the home of the haute coutour version of chocolate cake, black forest cake.  That the birthday cake came form German bakers is not surprising. Cakes, however, remained exclusive to the wealthy, because ingredients were considered a luxury.  It wasn’t until the indsutrial revolution and mass production taking over the world, that they became readily available, and birthday cakes became a popular tradtion.

With that,  the transformation of birthdays was complete. What started as the celebration of the immortal gods, became the celebration of the mortal human birth.

Birthday cakes take different shapes and forms, frosted, filled with fruits, filled with jelly, covered with sugar frosting, covered with nuts and drenched with katar (sugar syrup), but the purpose is the same; it is a an opportunity to be thankful and share in the joy of having completed another year on this earth.  It is an opportunity to appreciate the belssings of sharing life with those we love. Life is a delicate gift that is never guaranteed and easily terminated.  So go ahead take a bite of your birthday cake and thank God for another chance at life, so many  may not have this opportunity.

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Note: I would love to hear back from you after you tried the cake. You can email me at riyam.kafri@gmail.com or simply leave a comment. Advice, hints, recipes for butter cream frosting are all welcome!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Hello there. Came across your blog today and wrote down your recipe for future birthdays. Look forward to reading more of your posts as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Let me know how the cake turns out if you try it and feel free to send me comments and any hints!

      Liked by 1 person

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