I made my mother a birthday cake on Friday night while Gerrit and I were keeping an eye on the news about the Paris attacks. I wish I had more to say about all of that, but I can’t seem to find my thoughts on it. I’m not sure why I can’t: sometimes I think it’s because my mind is a jumble of so many things these days, sometimes I think it’s because I feel like I’ve lost a lot of hope about the world, sometimes I think it’s because everyone else has said everything else. So I’ll just say this: baking a cake seemed like a perfectly appropriate thing to do while saying silent prayers for the people of Paris.
We don’t have a lot of family recipes in my family, and most of those that we do have are recipes that my mom has made through the years. We don’t have a classic cookie recipe that is just our family’s or a tomato sauce that has been made for generations. But we do have this cake.
The first time I had this cake was at my grandmother’s funeral. My great-aunt, who I had no recollection of meeting up to that point, brought it and eating that cake is really the only food I remember from that whole time. It was a masterpiece, a cake she had perfected over years, and, if I’m not mistaken, won awards for.
My mom asked her for the recipe a few years later when we saw her, and she wrote it down for us from memory. However, the instructions weren’t exactly clear. “Make thin layers” was the only instruction it had on baking the cake. My mom tried it once, but it didn’t turn out how it should have. So I thought it would be a fun challenge to try to tackle the recipe, one of the only family recipes from my mom’s side of the family, for my mom’s birthday.
I’m so happy with how it turned out; and to be honest it was a lot of fun to make, partially because I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing and had to figure it out.
I hope my mom liked it (I think she did). I felt a little unsure about making a cake for her birthday that we often associate with her mother’s funeral. But I guess it seemed like an appropriate cake to make at the same time–because I want my mom to know that I think about our family and our traditions and our memories all the time.
Fourteen layers sounds intimidating, and it does take quite a bit of time (from start to finish, it took me about 2 hours to bake and put the cake together), but I really think it can be a fun challenge (maybe just because I'm crazy). The only note I have for you about the recipe is the crisco in the cake--I very much think that regular butter can be used here. I just used the crisco because I was trying to stick to the original recipe as close as possible. Next time I make it, I plan on trying it with butter though (I think it will taste even better).
- For the icing:
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 2 cups cocoa powder
- 1 cup milk
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
- For the cake:
- 1 cup solid butter crisco
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 5 large eggs
- 3 cups self rising flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Cut out 14 circles of parchment paper for the bottoms of your cake pans (9 inch round pans). Butter (or spray with cooking spray) 3 cake pans (or however many you have that you can fit into your oven at one time), line with parchment paper, and then butter (or spray with cooking spray) the parchment paper. You'll have to repeat the buttering/lining with each batch of cake layers that you bake.
- For the icing combine the granulated sugar, cocoa powder, milk, and butter in a large heat proof bowl or double boiler set over simmering water. Heat over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until melted. This can cook while you are making the cake batter.
- In a large bowl combine the crisco, sugar, and oil and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy, 1-2 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, crack 5 eggs. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated.
- Then add the flour and the milk, alternating between the two, beginning and ending with the flour (so 3 batches of flour and 2 batches of milk). Mix just until combined, and then stir in the vanilla.
- Pour 1/2 cup batter into each cake pan, using a spatuala to gently spread the batter our evenly (it will be very thin!). Bake for 7 minutes, until the cake is spongy to the touch.
- Let the cake layers cool in the pans for just a minute (or even just 30 seconds), then remove them, take the parchment paper off the bottom, and begin icing the cake while they are still hot. Spread a thin layer of icing on top of a base layer of cake (your layers of icing will be about the same thickness of your cake), and then add a cake layer, and so on. Then put your next batch of cake layers in the oven (having allowed the pans to cool for just a minute before putting in fresh batter).
- Once all of the cake layers have been stacked, frost the outside of the cake. Serve room temperature or cold.