not quite blackout cake

Dear Jackson,

Happy belated birthday!

Your dearest mom asked me to make you a birthday cake, since I did the same for your sister when she turned two. Between you and me, I think your cake turned out way better. That’s a win for being the second child, trust me. And it’s all due to the face that I didn’t have to work with fondant – yay! Your godmother is a bit rusty working with fondant now since the cake trend moved away from that sugary dough.

When your mom showed me the image of Blaze and the Monster Machines, I was like hmmm why couldn’t you be into something simple like Pac-Man? That I can easily make. Luckily your mom came to the rescue and bought two Blaze toys and candied rocks for me. All I had to do was repay her kindness by making her favourite cake combination – chocolate and peanut butter. I then pitched the idea of making the outer later a blackout with crumbs to continue with our outdoor soil and rocks theme. She was all for it.

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So that is how I ended up baking the night before your birthday party. Three delicious chocolate cake layers cooling on the rack. The next morning, I whipped up some peanut butter buttercream (and perhaps did lots of taste tests with a spoon) and assembled your cake.

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake
Recipe from Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes
(Makes three 9-inch layers)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
1 cup sour cream
1 ½ cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Have your three cake pans ready, line the bottoms with parchment paper.
  2. This creates a lot of batter, so make sure your bowl is big enough or use an electric stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine.
  3. Pour in the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually add in the water. Then mix in the vinegar and vanilla extract. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended.
  4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Take them out and let them cool completely on a rack. These cakes are very soft, so use extra care!

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Peanut Butter Frosting
Recipe from Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes
(Makes enough to frost a two 9-inch layered cake)

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups icing sugar
⅔ cup smooth peanut butter

  1. Make sure your cream cheese and unsalted butter are at room temperature. Leaving it out for 1-2 hours will work too.
  2. Using a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until combined.
  3. Add in 2 cups of icing sugar, mix well. Add the remaining 2 cups of icing sugar and mix until combined. Add in the last cup of icing sugar and mix. Doing this in portions helps prevent the icing sugar from flying everywhere.
  4. Finally, add in the peanut butter and mix until the frosting is smooth.

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Jackson, when you’re older, you should make this for you mom. Just take the first layer of the cake and place it on a plate. Add a layer of peanut butter frosting on top, about 1-2 centimetres thick. Carefully place the second layer of cake on top to sandwich it. Again, top it off with frosting. Then add frosting on the sides of the cake and frost until the entire cake has been covered. The best part is that it doesn’t have to look perfectly smooth because it’ll be crusted with crumbs after.

To make the blackout crumb, take that third cake layer and put it in a bowl and use an electric whisk to break it apart. Stop when it looks like soil and gently pat it onto the sides and top of the cake.

Totally worth it. You were so thrilled with the toys on top of the cake. And you seemed to enjoy the cake, but I know your first love is JELL-O. Just like your godfather!

Sincerely,
Syl

festive lime cake

Dearest Diana,

Happy birthday!

I know that I didn’t make this cake specifically for your birthday – but you did get to eat it because it was for a party you threw! Thanks again for inviting us to your annual holiday party. DIRT came early this year, I remember we used to celebrate your birthday at midnight when the party was winding down (or still going).

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I decided to go with a lime cake and frosting because I figured most people would bring chocolate desserts to your potluck. And also because I had a lot of limes to use up (just like how you do now from the amount Kurt bought). As much as I love chocolate cake, the lime flavour would help cut any heaviness from the carbs, cheese, fried food, and other delicious treats we were consuming that night. The frosting was so smooth this time, I was quite pleased with it, but the clear crystal sprinkles coated on the outside of the cake gave it a crunchy texture.

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I saw this simple decorating trick from a blogger I follow, Style Sweet CA, and knew that I had to replicate it. I mean, how easy is that?!

Okay, giving the cake a smooth finish wasn’t easy (still need Santa to bring me that bench scraper) and I think my cake is a little slanted, but it’s totally going for that rustic look on purpose (shhh). Making the sprinkles stick to the sides wasn’t easy either, I really need to read up on that because I had sprinkles all over the floor after. But you know what was easy? Sticking five rosemary sprigs on top. That I can do without any problems. I gave the rosemary a wash, dried them thoroughly, and then plucked off a few leaves so that I would have a stalk. Gave the “trees” varying heights and tried to look for ones with a thicker stalks.

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I love how the rosemary look like Christmas trees – even though they go against what I was taught. In grade four, our teacher made us all draw pine trees, he then gathered them and at the front of the class look at each page and made a really large “no” pile. Because as fourth graders, we all drew the pine trees as Christmas trees, with the branches angled down. Interesting teaching method, no? It’s something I never forgot!

I mean, I guess I could have inserted the rosemary twigs the other way, but this was just too darling to be corrected.

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Lime White Cake
Makes three 6-inch cakes or 18 cupcakes (as intended from the cookbook)
Recipe from Butter Baked Goods: Nostalgic Recipes from a Little Neighborhood Bakery

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
¾ cup whole milk
¼ cup lime juice, freshly squeezed from 2 limes
Zest of 4 limes, save the 2 other limes for the frosting
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of your cake pans with parchment paper. Or line your muffin pan with cupcake wrappers.
  2. Using your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until it’s light and fluffy.
  3. Add in the eggs one at a time, scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
  4. In a bowl, whisk together the milk, lime juice, two-thirds of the lime zest and vanilla.
  5. In another bowl, lightly mix the pastry flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
  6. Back to the stand mixer, add a third of the dry ingredients in and mix on low. Pour in a third of the liquid ingredients. Do this two more times, scraping the side of the bowl as needed.
  7. Fill the cake pans about three-quarters full (same with cupcakes). Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a wooden skewers inserted into the center comes out clean. If you’re making cupcakes, you only need to bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven, transfer to wire racks and let it cool completely.

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Lime Buttercream

4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
¼ cup lime juice
⅓ lime zest

  1. Using the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until combined. Add in the lime juice and zest.
  2. It’s tricky to write an accurate recipe for buttercream, I often tweak it depending on the consistency I want. If I want it softer and smoother, I add more lime juice or water, if the buttercream becomes too runny, then I add in a little more confectioner’s sugar.

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I remember making you birthday lime cupcakes with little fondant EVEs from WALL-E. How times have changed since then! I’ve watched you grow from student to graduate to employee to wife and now mother of two. It’s been a lot of birthdays and I’m so glad we’ve had the chance to celebrate many of them together.

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Have a great birthday and festive holiday. Hope to see you in our traditional new year’s eve get together!

Sincerely,
Syl

cancer sucks

Dear Lyndsay,

“Cancer sucks” doesn’t even begin to describe it. You have been incredible, brave, and strong and so many of us have followed your journey as you posted about your difficult experience. I think so many of us can relate because no one can avoid it nowadays. I’m pretty sure that everyone has been affected by cancer in some way, so to give it the big old middle finger is just about all we can usually do to show our anger and frustration.

I personally know a handful of people dear to me who have gone through the horrible experience or have managed to exhaust all types of treatments according to the doctors. A handful is way too many!

I just want to thank you for initiating the #fuckcancercake project. It’s amazing how we have never met, yet you can create such a magnetic pull all across the country to me. I remember writing to you after your blog post back in February 2015. It’s funny how the online baking community can feel so attached to each other. I love seeing you post on instagram and reading your blog. I often think of you and Teddy whenever I see a ghost book or a new kids book he might like. Most of all, I love how you’re another cool person who’s into dessert and resides in the same country as me. Plus, you have a “y” where most people put an “i” – just like my name!

Without further ado, I hope I made you proud with my #fuckcancercake. I tried to draw as many inspirations from you as possible. Pink. Star piping. Sprinkles.

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I tend to pipe the frosting between cake layers instead of spreading it around with a spatula. I find this so much easier and faster to fill a cake. Do you have any special techniques?

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Same goes for that second level. And the small gaps don’t really matter. The cake layers help squish and fill in the frosting.

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Practicing my star tip. I’m still no where as good as you, Lyndsay!

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Really practicing my piping. Thought this would be fun even though I’m going with a smooth edge.

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And when I say smooth edge, you must really take it with a grain of salt. I think I need a bench scraper! My poor little cake is wonky. But I decided to put some chocolate ganache on the top to help the writing really pop.

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Here goes nothing. No such thing as an icing eraser.

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Got to have some sprinkles for that extra “f-ck you cancer!”

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Yeah! You take that! (Err, the more I look at it, the more my “c” looks like an “l” – sorry for anyone named Lancer out there.)

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That’s right, there’s more colours of the rainbow in the cake. You’re going down cancer.

Sincerely,
Syl

PS: This cake also goes out to those of you I love who want to give cancer the big middle finger. You know who you are.