Milestone birthdays are one that should be celebrated with vigor and delight. My sweet sixteen pool party or finally turning twenty-one come to mind. I spent several fabulously days in London making my mark on thirty. First birthdays, though we may not remember them, require a large party of adults with alcohol and children running around on mad sugar highs.
My twin niece and nephew, Rosie and Davis, just turned one, and although I'm sure we could have bought them each a cupcake to wipe across their faces, I made them each a buttermilk cake with lots of pale pink and blue butter cream icing smeared on top.
It's straight from my baking bible, Nigella's How to Be A Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking. I am forever grateful that my sister had two adorable children or it would have been a few years before I found this cake. It was hiding smack in the middle of the Children's section. It's a perfectly simple vanilla cake, just how I like all of my birthday cakes, so it boggles my mind that this should reserved just for kiddies.
There is something in each of us that I believe divides us into the chocolate birthday cake or the vanilla birthday cake camp. Maybe there are those that could go either way, but I'm firmly in the vanilla camp. I can't recall a birthday that I have celebrated over chocolate, and I don't plan on ever changing. I also don't particularly adore icing, but let me just say that this butter icing will convert anyone who says they find it too sickly or sweet. I had to tear the spatula away from my Dad after we had finished icing the cakes before the party.
To my delight, both Rose and Davis ate the cake and I know that they appreciated how I stayed up until 1 am covered in flour and staining my hands with food color.
Davis approached the cake as he does all other food and shoveled an entire handful into his mouth.
Rose, who obviously has a more discerning palate, tasted the sweet icing and wasn't sure at first, but then decided to indulge herself in her birthday treat.
Needless to say, Aunt Lisa ripped the cakes away from the high chairs before their little grubby hands could ruin the entire thing.
Buttermilk Birthday Cake
Adapted from How to Be A Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking, by Nigella Lawson
For the cake:
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp buttermilk (or 1/3 cup plain yogurt mixed with 1/2 cup low-fat milk)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
Keep in mind that the quantities above makes enough for one 9-inch square pan, 2 inches deep. You could quite easily make two 8 or 9 inch round cakes and sandwich them together to make an impressive birthday presentation.
For the icing:
1 1/3 cups softened unsalted butter
4 1/2 cups icing sugar or confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
Prepare your pans by greasing them with butter and lining them with parchment or wax paper. Preheat the oven to 350F. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a bowl and set aside. Pour the buttermilk into a measuring cup and stir in the vanilla.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed or by hand until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed and add the eggs one at a time, beating for 30 seconds between additions.
Add alternating increments of the flour mix and the buttermilk mix, blending well in between. This should take about 5 minutes.
Pour into your prepared pan or pans and bake for 40 minutes until it's beginning to shrink away from the edges and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then un-mold and let it cool completely.
While the cake is cooling, mix the butter and icing sugar together in an electric mixer, by hand or with a hand-held electric mixer. Add the vanilla and the milk and continue mixing until the icing comes together in soft peaks.
Add food coloring to make the desired color. Make sure your cake is completely cooled before icing your cake.