a birthday cake for colin


Birthdays are a big deal around here. I know, everyone has one and there are the so-called milestone years, your golden birthday (missed that one before I even knew I had it), but every year is worth a big celebration which, of course, entails a big cake. To me, it doesn't matter how you bake it, top it, frost it, if it's frozen ice cream or decadent, buttery, sugary, if it's in cup form or sheet. Just let there be cake. What a motto to live by.

For Colin's 29th birthday (!), rather than pick up a flawlessly executed concoction from one of our local bakeries (or as I'd done in the past, a you-can't-tell vegan version from Whole Foods), I decided I was going to be the executor this year. WHAT, you may say/ask/gasp, you never baked his BIRTHDAY CAKE before? Well? I get it. I'm definitely head over heels for the baking process and have posted, let's face it, way more baking recipes than dinner recipes (oops) so far this year. Hey, they still fall under vegetarian, so sue me. But a birthday is a different level of occasion altogether. I often enjoyed the expectation that you could call up, request a flavor, a size and even a pick-up time, and the cake would appear before you in less than a week's time, just as you imagined it. I've never made a cake for a birthday for the same reason I've never made one for a wedding, another cake-crucial occasion: if the cake is bad, people are out of there. (To all my friends who have graciously invited me to their wedding celebrations: love you.)

Twenty-nine is a big year. It's the closing of such a huge part of your life, so many big stepping stones to adulthood, so many defining scenarios that have shaped and molded so much of what will become the rest of your life. A lot of big changes, adjustments, pitfalls, disastrous haircuts. I think everyone has immortalized the big 3-0 as the year you have to buck up and face your future, but I would like to counter that 29 is bigger in grandeur, if not numerical value. Am I putting too much weight on the situation? Perhaps. Either way, I knew this occasion called for a cake like no other: a peanut butter and jelly (one of cute Colin's favorite combinations) with a layer of fudge frosting in between.


To begin, for the cake you will need:

1/2 cup of creamy peanut butter (Most people who incorporate nut butter into baking will often advise that, though less nutritious, often times the varieties laden with added oil and sugar make for a better baking experience. Since I have never given a damn what people advise, to my own success and detriment, I went ahead with a natural option that contained only peanuts and salt. It worked great. Pish-posh and carry on.)
1/4 cup butter, softened 
3/4 cup of sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups cake or fine flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk (The higher the fat content, the better the results will be!)

For the frosting:

1/3 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky, depending on your preference here)
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


1/2 cup (ish) of seeded raspberry jam
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
6-8 large chocolate peanut butter cups or other chocolate candies

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. You can prepare either a 9-inch square pan or 2 8-inch round pans by lightly greasing and setting aside. In a large bowl, cream together your peanut butter, butter and sugar. (Danger! Danger!) Add your eggs and milk, which you should do quickly so you don't eat the entire mixture in front of you. I'm more serious than not. Whisk well to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine your flour, baking soda and salt. Incorporate your dry ingredients slowly with your wet, mixing well with each addition. And simple as that, your cake batter is done. Yes, I'm serious, it's that easy. Pour into the pan of I choosing and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

While you're waiting, and since waiting is so hard to do in this type of situation, especially considering that when the cake emerges from the oven you STILL MAY NOT EAT IT YET, you might consider whipping up your frosting. I love frosting. I know a handful of unnamed folks who despise it, and though I call these people friends, I admit that will always drive a wedge between our possible closeness. Facts are facts. But while I love to eat frosting, I do admit that the preparation process tends to feel a bit tedious. There is always a moment while mixing when you can't fathom that all this powdered sugar is going to blend in and disappear, but carry on and you will find that, yes, eventually, it will.

In a medium bowl, cream together your butter and peanut butter. Add your sugar (I did one cup at a time), milk and vanilla and beat until everything comes together in a silky, slightly nutty, slightly salty glory. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of said mixture into a smaller bowl, and mix in your 1/2 cup dark cocoa powder: ta-da, chocolate-peanut butter frosting!

Once your cakes have cooled (the edges should have pulled away slightly from the pan, so it's a cinch to flip these guys out onto a wire rack), it's time for the fun part: icing your cake! It's truly one of my favorite things to do. If there was a life meant for a professional cake froster, you could count me in. As far as my skills go ... well, you can see they aren't quite professional level or even close. I'll work on it. Who's birthday is next?

The rules here are pretty flex. It is cake, after all. If you want to make more chocolate frosting, you can coat the outer layer in fudge and reserve the peanut butter frosting for the middle. I went the other way, putting chocolate-peanut butter icing on one half, raspberry jam on the other, sandwiched them together and proceeded to cover the top (and sides!) with the remaining peanut butter icing. I also sliced up some peanut butter cups to decorate the top, though any candy bar or peanut butter candy will do. No judgement.

I have to say, for my first big-birthday attempt, I was pretty pleased with how this turned out. The peanut butter lends a drier, coarser crumb to the cake, so my only big adjustment might be to bake for a little less time, maybe closer to 25-28 minutes. But other than that I'd have to humbly call this one a success, and I think cute 29-year old Colin would agree.