Thursday, August 19, 2010
Let's talk about birthday cakes. When I was growing up, birthday cakes were always Angel Food cakes.... with frosting.....and candles, and were always accompanied by a rousing chorus of the Happy Birthday song sung by everyone in the room, whether they could carry a tune or not (and most of us could). As time went by a few chocolate cakes began appearing on birthdays; sometimes a random carrot cake or Italian Cream, and one time we carefully placed the candles into an apricot pie. When Mom was watching her waistline (or ours) we had the cake without frosting, just the candles. The final and completely over the edge event was the year we celebrated my mother's birthday (August 7) with a huge Black Diamond watermelon instead of the cake. Yes, it did indeed wear a shining crown of lit candles. She loved it and so did we all. After I was married I tried to continue the tradition of the Angel Food cakes but my in-laws seemed to think that the only good cake was one that you bought at a bakery, garishly decorated with bright blue or dragon red frosting that stained your lips and had no taste at all. Oh, I made the Angel Food but it always had to play second fiddle to the monstrosity from town. Can you tell that it irritated me to no end? T'is true, t'is true; t'is pity, but t'is true ( to borrow a line from Willie S.). My new philosophy about things that threaten to drive me to the end of my niceness is to say this: To hell with it. There, I said it. My daughter, Abbey, grew up to be a fantastic cook, took a cake decorating class, and can turn out a cake which is not only delicious but beautiful at the same time. She has all the correct utensils AND rubber spatulas in several colors. Audra, my other daughter, through no desire of her own, has become that woman who always bakes a bundt cake, in surprising shapes that delight the eyes and the taste buds. It is not a bad thing to be known for, believe me. Not me; with me it is still good old fashioned Angel Food with powered sugar frosting complete with bits of crumb showing through for character. Now I will let you in on a little secret, or rather a couple of them. 1. Until a child leaves home for good you put candles on their birthday cake in the number that corresponds to their age. This is not to be cute, really, it is so that years later in the pictures you can tell what year it was; because you and I both know you aren't going to remember to write the date on the back of the pic. Heck, now they don't even print them out; they simply upload them to the net and that's the end of it (probably still without a date however). My Mom taught me that secret and I have a picture of myself at one year of age (I know by the cake) in a puffy white dress and my finger in the frosting. 2. She also taught me this one. The best part of an Angel Food cake is what is left inside the pan after you remove the cake, and it always belongs to whomever made the cake. Do you see those brown crumbs there? You scrape that indescribably delicious stuff off the pan with a knife, pop it in your mouth and you are in heaven. It is just like the tenderest piece of the steak on the grill or the choicest piece of chicken when you are boning it off. The cook gets the best and gets it first, when no one is looking. Some of my fondest birthday memories are Mom and I, leaning on the portable dishwasher side by side, gently, ever so gently, peeling off the pieces of brown, cracked top (or bottom, actually) of an Angel Food cake and sharing them with a grin. Good times. A bakery cake comes out of a plastic box; a real live Angel Food birthday cake comes straight from the heart.