Last Saturday morning started out like many others. I was going to try a morning yoga class at the YMCA with my friends, Jessa + Traci. Knowing that my mom's birthday party was that evening at 6:30, I thought I'd better go ahead and make the cake, giving it enough time to cool off before icing it. As is often the case, I underestimate how much time it is going to take to make the cake. It's five minutes until I need to leave for yoga when I finally put the cake in the oven and set the timer for sixty minutes. I call outside to Jason and ask/tell him that he'll need to take the cake out when the timer goes off. He agrees and off I go to yoga.
When I walk in from yoga, I immediately see that I'd made a mistake. I should have told Jason to take the cakes out of the pans after about five minutes, but there they were...still in the pan...completely cool. I sigh, cross my fingers, use the butter knife to scrape around the edges, place the cooling rack over the cake pan, and flip both the rack and the pan upside down. Nothing. I bang on the bottom of the pan with the heel of the knife to see if that will loosen things up. Still nothing. After more banging and some pretty forceful shaking, the top half of the cake falls from the pan, the bottom half still firmly glued to the bottom. Well dammit. I futilely repeat with the remaining pans. Okay, I think. I have the rest of the day. Don't get mad...go ahead and start #2.
So I do, this time lining the pans with parchment paper just to be extra safe. The timer goes off. The toothpick comes out clean. The cakes fall out of their pans. I am delighted. I leave them on the cooling rack and tell Jason that I am heading to the store for milk and eggs. He kisses me goodbye.
When I pull back into the driveway, I notice that Jason is on his cell phone, looking through the recycling bin. Hmmmm...that's weird. I try to listen in on the conversation - to no avail - when Jason mouthes the dog ate the cake. Suffice it to say I was pissed. Apparently, our little angel got up on her hind legs, placed her front legs on the edge of the counter, and began chomping away at my precious cake. By the time Jason sees this going on, she's ingested about a third of one of the layers. He immediately pulls her away and proceeds to try to shove his fingers down her throat so that she vomits (remember, this is a chocolate cake and Jason's not too keen on the dog dying from her gluttony). Of course this doesn't work. So he's on the phone with the vet, trying to determine whether to go get her stomach pumped. I conclude that she's probably had a little under an ounce of chocolate and at thirty-five pounds, she'll probably be alright; I am also still trying to channel my anger and frustration about another ruined cake, so I leave Jason and Sydney and head out for a run.
[Apparently, by the way, Jason had not come to the same conclusion about Sydney's welfare, and so he continues researching novel ways to get a dog to vomit. Just as he is getting ready to force-feed her hydrogen peroxide - the favorite internet solution - he remembers that she gets stupidly car sick. So he spreads out the tarp over his backseat, puts Sydney in, and proceeds to drive to the elementary school parking lot where he drives in circle after circle after circle until Sydney finally parts with my mom's chocolate birthday cake. Hooray!]
When I return from my run, I briefly consider starting on cake #3. But I just can't do it. So instead I shower and drive to Dewey's Bakery, where I buy a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and have the nice girl write "Happy Birthday Kathy" in green icing. Not ideal but better than nothing.
On Tuesday I was still thinking about those ruined cakes and what they'd come to symbolize. Remember when you were a kid and you counted down the days until your birthday? And you felt somewhat, well really a lot, entitled to a day all about you, complete with presents, party, and cake? But then you grew up and realized that your birthday is often just another day - a day where there are still late afternoon meetings at work; a day where there are still sick family members to care for and worry about; a day where the dog eats your stinking birthday cake. Those cakes represented the everydayness of a birthday, where things can go wrong and sometimes disappointment prevails.
So I decided to rage against this everydayness. By God, my wonderful mother whose actual birthday was not until Wednesday, deserved a real birthday cake! Really, she deserved more than just a silly cake. But since that was out of my control, I focused on the things I did have control over, like pushing cake #3 as far back on the counter as possible where Miss Sydney's paws could not reach.
Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.
German Chocolate Cake
Makes two 6" rounds.
Preheat oven 350º
In a small bowl, combine:
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/4 cup water
Microwave for 30 seconds. Remove and stir vigorously for 30 seconds. If unmelted chocolate still remains, microwave a bit longer, being careful not to overcook the chocolate. Set aside.
In a small bowl, lightly beat together:
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup + 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
dash of salt
Mix for 30 seconds to incorporate the dry ingredients.
Add to the dry ingredients:
1/2 cup buttermilk*
plus the melted chocolate. Beat at a low speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Beat at a medium speed for one minute.
Pour into greased, floured, and lined cake pans. Bake 35-40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely before icing.
*If you are out of buttermilk (which I was), substitute by combining 1/2 cup yogurt + 1 tablespoon vinegar in a small bowl. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before adding to the flour.
In a small saucepan, combine:
2/3 cup sugar
8 ounces evaporated milk
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring to a simmer, constantly whisking.
Once thick, add:
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
2/3 cups pecans, coarsely chopped