Party Time

Birthday Cake

by Laura Silber

Birthday Cake

Elizabeth Cecil

Prior to moving with my dad to the culinary hinterlands of upstate New York, my mother had spent most of her life in Brooklyn and Queens. There, small neighborhood bakeries abounded and freshly made cakes could be purchased at a moment’s notice, but the suburbs of 1970s Albany offered nothing of the sort. In addition to the tragic absence of a decent bagel shop anywhere for a hundred miles, the only cakes to be had locally were in the refrigerator section of the supermarket, and purchasing them was just unthinkable. Who knew how old they were? And who could even pronounce the list of artificial ingredients? To my mother, the experience just wasn’t “worth the calories.”
And so she taught herself how to bake, and for every birthday or special occasion we were treated to a homemade cake. Always simple, always from scratch, they were soft, sweet and delicious, just as birthday cakes should be. I have dozens of photos from my childhood of my siblings and I, our faces smeared with frosting and cake batter, licking the mixing bowls and spoons clean. The cakes elevated the day to something magical.
Here on Martha’s Vineyard we have some fantastic bakeries, but, as of this writing, the readily available gluten-free cake options are still very limited. (And, although I’ve done it in a pinch, buying a box mix just feels like cheating.)
So when our household went gluten-free, it became a priority for me to come up with a few simple and reliable birthday cake recipes to make our family celebrations just as special as those of my childhood.
This year, for his ninth birthday, my son Isaac requested a chocolate cake with fluffy white frosting. I did some experimenting and came up with the chocolate layer-cake recipe included here. For the frosting, we went with a version of a traditional seven minute frosting and it tastes delightfully like homemade marshmallow. Isaac pronounced it one of his favorite cakes ever.
The coconut sheet cake recipe is also a personal favorite, and was a big hit at a recent family party. Enjoy.