Before we permanently close the door on 2015, I’d like to share my personal winner for Birthday Cake of the Year. Several of our good friends have birthdays in December, and—not surprisingly—often get overlooked amid the Christmas commotion. So in our group, we try to make those milestone special—even if they end up part of the holiday festivities. We all are pretty good cooks, so birthday cakes show up everywhere.
For my New Year’s Eve party, I surprised our friends Deb and Norm with a sophisticated and decadent birthday cake fit to ring in their new years and the planet’s. I’d love to share it with you—my 2015 birthday cake winner. Inspiration from a March 1999 issue of Bon Appetite.
- Three large oranges (Be sure these are organic.)
- Two cups, plus two tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose organic flour
- One cup whole almonds (If your processor is like mine, you’ll want to chop these coarsely and then process.)
- Two teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder (Clabber Girl and Rumford are excellent choices.)
- Half teaspoon fine sea salt
- Two cups fine white organic cane sugar (We use Wholesome Sweeteners.)
- One cup unsalted organic butter at room temperature (Our favorite is Organic Valley for milk, cream and butter.)
- Four large free-range eggs (We are lucky enough to still be getting ours from The Family Garden in New Douglas, IL.)
- One cup organic whole milk
- Half teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Quarter teaspoon pure almond extract
- One cup fresh orange juice (Juice your oranges just after you peel them and you’ll have plenty of juice.)
- Two tablespoons Grande Mariner or other orange-flavored liqueur
- One and three-quarters cups whipping cream
- Three-quarters cup unsalted butter
- Six tablespoons good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder (I always use Rapunzel.)
- Four and a half tablespoons good-quality honey
- 16 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (I used Green & Black’s 82% dark)
- One and a half teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- One-half teaspoon almond extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter three nine-inch cake pans. Dust with flour; tap out excess (You can cut circles of waxed paper and place those in the bottom of the greased pans for added ease when turning the layers out; however, I did not find this necessary with this recipe.).
- Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel (orange part only) in strips from the three oranges. Coarsely chop enough peel to measure one-half cup.
- Combine flour, one cup almonds, baking powder, and sea salt in a processor. Blend until finely ground. Transfer to medium bowl. Place two cups of sugar and orange peel in processor. Blend until peel is finely minced.
- Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in a large bowl until blended. Add sugar mixture and beat until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
- Mix the milk with the vanilla and almond extracts. On low speed, beat flour mixture into the egg mixture alternately with the milk mixture in three additions. Divide the batter into the three prepared cake pans.
- Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes (I rotated the pans halfway through the baking time.).
- Cool on rack in pans five minutes. Turn cakes out and cool completely on baking racks.
- Boil the cup of orange juice with remaining tablespoon of sugar until reduced by half, about eight minutes. Remove from heat and stir in two generous tablespoons Grande Mariner or other orange-flavored liqueur. Brush or drizzle the tops of the cake layers with the warm orange juice mixture.
- Place one cake layer, syrup side up, on a serving platter or cake plate that is protected by four sheets of waxed paper, which you will remove once the cake is iced.
- Spread one cup Chocolate Icing (see below) over the top. Add the next layer and cover with another cup of icing. Place the third layer on top, and spread icing along the sides and on the top of the cake. Spread a thin crumb-coat first and then finish with a thicker layer—there’s plenty of icing in the recipe below to be extravagant. Once you’ve completed this step, carefully remove the waxed paper.
- Melt the chocolate in a double boiler until completely liquefied. Let it temper in the pot while you perform the next step.
- Whisk the cream, butter, cocoa and honey in a medium sauce pan until the butter melts and the mixture begins to simmer—takes a little while; keep whisking. Remove from heat.
- Using a rubber spatula, add the chocolate to the cream mixture along with the extracts and whisk until well incorporated and very smooth.
- Refrigerate the icing until slightly thickened and spreadable, stirring every 15 minutes or so for about 45 minutes to an hour. It will begin as ganache and end up as icing—have faith.
I like to make my cake layers a day ahead, wrap in foil and store in a cool spot at room temperature. The layers take a total prep and cook time of about an hour to an hour and a half. The next day--the day i serve the cake--I complete the next two steps-Once my icing is thickening in the frig, I make my orange syrup and spread on the cake layers. You can store the cake at room temperature if you have a tall cake dome for protection. I stored my cake in the refrigerator.
So as we move into 2016, thinking about “coming clean,” we say goodbye for a while to decadent enchantment… but not forever. Who can resist making people you love smile like this? There’s healthy for the body… and then there’s healthy for the soul.