Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Birthday Treats

A little someone turned 5 a few days ago. The celebration wasn't a big one but the anticipation was huge this year. It wasn't for the cake and goodies or even for birthday gifts but for the fact that she was turning **five**. I still don't know what the big deal about being 5 is, but the magnitude of relevance attached to the number is evident from one of several conversations overheard around here these past few weeks:

Daughter: "So, I'll be the mommy and you can be my two daughters"
Friend #1: "No, I'll be the mommy because I'm bigger than you : I'm 5"
Daughter: "Well, I'm going to be five next month so I can be the mommy"
Friend #1: "I'm five and-a-half"
Daughter: "You are not bigger than me. (stands next to friend so their shoulders are touching)We are the same size - see?"
Friend #2: "I'm also five! I want to be the mommy!"
Daughter & Friend #1: "No you are not. You're just three and-a-half. You're a baby. Babies can't be the mommy"
Friend #2 (beginning to have the-mother-of-all-meltdowns): "I'm not a baby! I'm not three! I'm five! I'm five!!"
Daughter & Friend #1: "You are NOT FIVE. You are JUST three-and-a-half"
Friend #2: "I AM FIVE!!!" 
Daughter & Friend #2: "Fine!! Then we are not playing with you!" (And they stomp off, leaving me to deal with a wailing, feet-stamping, miserable 3.5 year old)

Did you just get emotionally drained reading all that? Because I did, just retelling it. Imagine re-living this same conversation at least a couple of times each week. Do you think such unwarranted self-importance deserves a sweet celebration? I don't.

But I melt.

Because this is my little girl who is not a baby any more but also not quite the 'big girl' she would like to be. I am filled with amazement and pride as I watch this little person grow into who she will be one day and my heart fills up with love at the sight of her. Very much her own person from the moment she was born. I love how strong she is, how sure of what she wants. I admire that about her. There is no one quite like her: bossy, fiercely loving, thoughtful, compassionate, independent, deeply sensitive beneath her bravado, creative, silly, talented, funny ... on the move all day long. Being her parent is sometimes so challenging because we tend to lock heads: each of us as stubborn as the other. Some days I just want to throw in the towel and go hide in a cave. Parenting is just so hard. Why didn't anyone ever tell me that?

But it's so wonderful too. You know what they say about how having children makes you feel like you are watching your heart walk around outside your body - that is how I feel when I look at my kids. Literally, at times, it's a physical ache. I can't even get through a blog post about them without getting deeply emotional. So! Let's talk about tea parties and cupcakes!

The cupcakes I made for my girl are actually based on Ina Garten's highly popular Beatty's Chocolate Cake. I picked the recipe because my daughter is a big Ina Garten fan and watches The Barefoot Contessa on Food Network with an avid interest akin to which  most other kids watch cartoons. I left the recipe mostly untouched aside from omitting the egg yolk from the frosting and decreasing the amount of espresso powder in the frosting to only 1 heaped teaspoon. The cupcakes were for kids so I was uneasy about using a raw egg yolk in the frosting and I don't think it suffered from the omission. In fact, I believe it's the frosting that makes these cupcakes. It's quite delicious - especially after the reduction of the espresso powder as recommended in several of the 1589 (no, I did not read them all!) reviews on Food Network. I also consulted this comparison of chocolate frostings on the Crumbly Cookie blog while I briefly contemplated using a different kind of frosting for these cupcakes just in case I was unable to substitute/omit the egg yolk. It seems from the photos on Crumbly Cookie that the addition egg yolk must add more texture because her frosting seems to hold a better shape than mine did. But I don't mind because I did not intend to pipe shapes with it. That said, I'm intrigued to know if you have tried using an egg yolk in a frosting recipe? Does it make a difference? Is there a substitute?

Now because I subscribe to the 'less is more' school of thought, I had to make the birthday cake using an entirely different recipe. You might argue that I didn't need to make a birthday cake at all when I had 24 cupcakes on hand and only 7 guests (all family!) other than the one friend my daughter wished to spend her birthday with. But this is me we are talking about. And me at 3:30 a.m. when I'm faced with choosing between Beatty's Chocolate Cake and Dorie Greenspan's Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake. Ever indecisive and unable to risk shaking the husband awake or texting a friend at such an early hour to ask the quintessential 'what shall it be? Ina Garten or Dorie Greenspan?' question I had to just go with it and bake both. Madness, yes.

This cake - well, let me say I am not sorry I baked it. I read the P&Q on the TWD website and I saw that it (especially the buttercream) got mixed reviews but, honestly, I just love this cake. It's the perfect birthday cake. I especially love the buttercream - it's not saccharine like buttercreams tend to be and I did not find it to be either grainy or gritty. I had no problems at all whipping it up and it was fairly smooth with a very faint, but not unpleasant, crunch from the chocolate malted powder. The recipe asks for malted milk powder and I had chocolate flavored Horlicks on hand so that is what I used. I did add the optional melted and cooled chocolate in the cake batter and even though the cake was slightly on the drier side it would be just fine if made as a layered cake, with thick layers of frosting in between. I didn't do layers so each slice consisted of a whole lot of cake and not enough frosting. But, like I said, this is easily remedied. The cake improved while it sat around and was completely gone by the 3rd day so I can tell you that it keeps well, covered and placed on the counter, for 3 days. If it lasts that long. The recipe can be found on Page 256 of Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan or here.

I was completely washed out by the end of the day. But you know what, she loved it all. The cake. The cupcakes. Her 'tea-party for two' with her best friend... so the lack of sleep, tiredness and everything else seems of little consequence.

The highlight of her day, though, seems to be this little snippet I overheard:

Daughter to her friend: "I'm 5 now. You can't tell me any more what to do because I'm the same age as you"

Happy Birthday, my lovely one. May you have many more.


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