Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Belated Birthday

Birthday Cake!
Last week, one of my friends neglected to tell anyone that it was his birthday until it had all but passed and so spent it at home alone. We remedied this later in the week by taking him out to Karyn's on Green, where he could eat his vegan heart out. And though I will never be so virtuous a person as to be able to give up such things as sauteing my mushrooms in butter or topping my greens with a poached egg, I ate with relish that night. The "chicken legs," especially, were a work of genius. Most vegetarian meat substitutes lack something texturally--they're...spongy at best. But these legs were something to really sink one's teeth into and, even two days later as leftovers, were great--they even had the sort of satisfying fattiness to them that you'd expect from a good chicken leg. All of us left the restaurant overstuffed and content.
And if that were not enough, having just fantasized about baking towering birthday cakes draped in snowy frosting earlier that week--and because, of course, I hold my friends dear--I baked a (belated) birthday cake the next day to coincide with our weekly listening party. And so we spent Saturday evening digging into (not quite vegan) maple birthday cake with the strange and lovely croonings of Joanna Newsom's Ys flooding the room.
This cake, kind of like Joanna Newsom, is not for the faint of heart. It's not the buttercream-frosted vanilla cake from your childhood birthday parties, anyway. It has such grown-up things in it as maple syrup (a cup's worth!) and whole-wheat pastry flour, which make the cake's sweetness warm, dark, and deep. And to offset the maple intensity is a crown of meyer-lemon frosting, adding just enough brightness to make it all come together. This is exactly the sort of cake you want on a cold, dark January night, whether or not it's your birthday. (Apologies for the absence of shots of the cake's insides--we polished it off too quickly.)

(Vegan) Maple Birthday Cake with Meyer-Lemon Frosting
Cake base adapted (barely) from Peter Berley's Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

Note: This cake can be made vegan, just follow the substitutions below. For some reason or another, this cake tends to fall a little in the centre--I will have to do so more testing in the kitchen to get this worked out. However, this is an easy fix: just level off the top of the cake with a serrated knife (it doesn't have to be perfect) and cover it all up with the frosting. One last thing--the recipe for frosting below doesn't quite make enough to fully cover the cake (as you can see), so you'll have to scale up, probably by 1.5, if you don't want a bit of cake peeking out from underneath. Personally, I think it looks just fine this way.

For the cake:
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup pure maple syrup
2/3 cup water or 2 eggs + 3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup pure olive oil or melted butter
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a nine-inch springform pan and dust with all-purpose flour.
In a mixing bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, eggs (if using), water, olive oil/butter, vinegar, and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir until just combined, taking care not to overmix.
Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Set the cake pan on a rack to cool.

For the frosting:
1 stick of butter or 8 tablespoons of a vegan substitute like Earth Balance (4 oz), cut into one-inch pieces if using butter
1 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar (4.5 oz)
1/2 teaspoon Meyer lemon juice
zest of one Meyer lemon

Cream butter and sugar together until smooth. Add zest and juice to combine.

Heap frosting on top of the cooled cake and spread into an even layer with an off-set spatula. Add candles, light them, and get ready to bellow out 'Happy Birthday'.

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