Let Them Eat: Strawberry Buttercream Birthday Cake


It's my party. [Photograph: María del Mar Sacasa]

I like to make a big fuss about my birthday. Every year, as June dwindles, I will, throughout the day, randomly proclaim, "IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!!!" The husband will roll his eyes and remind me that my birthday isn't actually until the end of July. But I persist on making the announcements. Clearly, I have no choice but to trumpet and toss confetti to the oncoming acknowledgment of one more year lived.

Truthfully, I have filed birthdays under Undesirable Holidays, like Valentine's Day and We've-Been-Dating-1-Month Anniversaries. These are nothing but cheap displays of either the inevitable (the passing of time) or the obvious (we're together, so clearly you must find something about me appealing). That being said, I love parties and all their trappings, and I like to fetishize my birthday so I have a proper excuse to "celebrate" at a bar midweek at 2:00pm.

One of the props for my birthday is, quite naturally, a birthday cake. A few weeks ago I made a six-layer coconut cake, lavishly spread with espresso whipped cream—the excuse being that a decadent affair was absolutely necessary to herald the month of my birth. This cake is shorter and less of a to-do, but rich, buttery, and a special treat nonetheless.

Growing up, cakes came from El Condor, a bakery and restaurant in Granada, Nicaragua owned by my father's aunts. The classic birthday cake was dense and yellow, cut through with a slick of guava jelly or a spread of sweetened condensed milk. The icing was white and slightly crunchy with sugar crystals, and festooned with pastel-colored roses. Friends and cousins in matching pastel dresses, angelic white knee-high socks, and shiny black patent leather Mary Janes would crowd around the birthday girl as she leaned into the sweet bower of roses and candle flames, singing Feliz Cumpleaños and Las Mañanitas, all the while gazing hawk-like at the flowers. As soon as silent wishes were made and candles blown out, fingers would quickly reach to pluck the blossoms that were, rather than greedily consumed, carefully wrapped in paper napkins and taken to their mothers for safe-keeping.

Even though I loved these flowers, I never ate them, and meticulously, methodically used my fork to pry off the icing, eating only the cake, particularly the center where the sweetened condensed milk or guava jelly melded the cake layers together. When it came time to bake my birthday cake this year—no, there is no rest for the weary—I wanted to have those slices of my little-girlhood, minus the crusty exterior.


...and eat it, too. [Photograph: María del Mar Sacasa]

This cake is a basic yellow cake, buttery and tender of crumb, sliced into four layers and spread with the condensed milk that has sweetened my palate for as long as I can remember. Whenever making cake, be sure to bring your ingredients to room temperature to allow for the proper beating and blending of them; I can always spot a cake that was mixed with too-warm butter or eggs that weren't properly incorporated. For airier results, this cake calls for egg whites whipped to soft peaks: use the whisk attachment and test them every so often to make sure they don't become overly stiff and dried out.

Basic but perfect for any number of fillings from berry jams to Nutella spreads, this cake is a must for your repertoire.

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Strawberry Buttercream Birthday Cake »