Ice Cream Cake that Gets the Job Done

March 1st, 2012 · 25 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

When I was in first grade, I remember my teacher handing me a notebook. Its cover was made of brown craft paper, and a piece of black fabric wrapped around the stitched spine. She distributed one to every student in class saying something about how we could use it as a journal or a workbook — whatever we wanted! This was about as exciting as it got for me, and almost instantly I had a creative vision. I am going to draw a sabre tooth tiger on the first page of this beautiful blank notebook. I don’t know why it called to me like that — why do any of these ideas ever call to us? — but I could picture it exactly, right down to the green eyes and sinister curly fangs. I grabbed some black and orange markers and began outlining my creation with the confidence of Henri Matisse. By the time I had finished, it resembled a forest fire way more than a mammal. It looked nothing like what I had pictured in my head.

This wasn’t the last time I’d be disappointed by the poor execution of what I felt was clearly a brilliant idea. As an editor often responsible for both conceptualizing a story idea and then figuring out the best way to tell that story, it took me a long time to learn how to prevent the inevitable letdown. But as a baker, I have yet to figure out how to reconcile the two processes. This past weekend, when my newly turned ten-year-old begged and begged me to make a homemade ice cream cake for her birthday, I pictured this in my head. And at some point I think I called up this beauty, too. But there were so many steps and instructions! And they both seemed so complicated and intimidating! They involved baking cakes the night before. Freezing. Thawing ice cream to an exact spreadable consistency. Freezing again. Thawing before serving. I knew I wouldn’t have the patience to follow their recipes by the letter, so after a feeble attempt at convincing her to order something from Carvel, I decided to just wing it and follow Phoebe’s vision. She would like five layers: one layer mint chip ice cream, one layer chocolate ice cream, a layer of crushed Oreos, and two layers of frozen chocolate cake in there somewhere. I followed her orders to the best of my abilities, but the cake broke into a million pieces before I could even start layering. And I didn’t have enough ice cream. And then the five layers of cake and ice cream sorta ended up mushing together to make one. That is why you are only looking at only the top — which, I thought came out kinda nice. Is it going to cause a pinning frenzy on Pinterest or garner a tweet from Joy the Baker? (Whose book is out, btw.) No chance. But after the celebration, Phoebe said her birthday cake was exactly what she had pictured in her head…and that it was the best cake she’d ever had. (more…)

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Whose Party is it Anyway?

February 17th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

I didn’t make this cake for my nine-year-old’s Secret Agent Party. I had the local bakery write the birthday message in “code” (see if you can crack it!) but that’s where my confectionary contribution ended. I opted to buy the cake instead of bake one from scratch because by the time I was thinking about this last piece of the party puzzle, Reasonable Mom (Secret Code Name: Make-it-Easy-on-Yourself Mom) was losing to Unreasonable Mom (Secret Code Name: Who-Exactly-Are-You-Trying-To-Impress Mom). In fact, for this particular party  – with its three-floor, ten-clue scavenger hunt, hand-stenciled tablecloth, and late-night phone consultations with my friend Marcie, who threw her own spy party a few years ago — Unreasonable Mom was crushing Reasonable Mom. For this party, Unreasonable Mom was leaving it all on the field.

It was Unreasonable Mom who, two weeks earlier, forced me spend an hour designing the invitation for the party on my computer, even though the 9-year-old honoree herself was downstairs playing Angry Birds on the iPad. (A major violation in our house! Reasonable Mom always makes sure the birthday girls are as involved in the process whenever possible. Reasonable Mom does everything in her power to protect me from being on the other end of the silent accusation: Who’s this party for anyway? The mom or the kid? ) (more…)

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Guaranteed Crowdpleaser (For the Under-10 Set)

October 21st, 2010 · 17 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

It’s a miracle if I bake something from scratch even once during the course of my child’s birthweek. And if I’m going to do it, it’s going to be Rosa’s Mud Cake for the actual birthday party. But for the classroom party? No chance. A few years ago I debuted this Dunkin Donut Cake at school and was actually embarrassed by how slap-it-together it was. But the kids went bonkers when I removed the foil and pretty soon I started getting emails from parents. Sean wants some donut cake for his birthday and told me to ask you? What’s this I hear about a donut cake? My friend Sue told me that your daughter had some cool cake in class? Erin told me to ask you about the munchkin cake. Do you know what she’s talking about? If so, can you pass along instructions?

Here they are — make sure you are paying close attention because it’s kinda complicated: Cover a concave platter with tissue paper. Stack three Dunkin donuts in the middle and shove your candles in the top one. (The top one should be festive with sprinkles.) Dump 75 assorted munchkins around the stack.

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Rosa’s Mud Cake

March 1st, 2010 · 22 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

It’s hard to even count how many different shapes and sizes Rosa’s Mud Cake has taken over the past three decades. That’s it up there, in a heart shape underneath frosting and an army of m&ms for Phoebe’s Valentine-themed birthday party a few years back. It was also the cake I used for Phoebe’s birthday “beach cake” and the dessert I made for my parents anniversary (one round pan, sprinkled with powdered sugar, surrounded by raspberries) and, of course, the cake I ate at my best friend’s birthday parties all through childhood. Her mother is the famous Rosa and she cooked the most amazing meals for her family from a collection of recipes she had jammed into in little wooden box on her kitchen counter. (How I dream of that box!) Even before I had kids, I knew enough to dig around for the mud cake card so I could copy down the instructions and continue her tradition. The secret to its moist muddiness is a cup of strong black coffee. (Don’t be scared by that, you’ll hardly taste any mocha action.) Is there any wonder the recipe has been enshrined on my recipe door?

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