Here’s the truth. I suffered from severe nervous anxiety when making this cake for the boyfriend’s surprise party one Saturday. Initially, a nine-inch, two-layer cake was made. Then fears of running out of cake during the party increased, thus cupcakes were made that reduced those concerns. Worries still persisted, because the cakes had to be made when the birthday boy left the house for long periods of time. I was consumed with the coming up with logical excuses of why there’s a cake baking, in case he walked in the house unexpectedly. Plans were developed strategically, for cakes were hidden in neighbors’ houses. They were baked in the morning, so faint vanilla smells would dissipate by the evening. Cake dishes were washed, dried and put away to avoid suspicion.
Here’s a bit of advice when making food for a party: Always go with the most familiar recipe that has been proven error-free. For two years, this cake was made with chocolate icing. As a special surprise for this year, I wanted to change the icing to a cream cheese flavor. Adding to the audacity of the decision, the icing was made on the day of the event. Early in the morning, the cream cheese and butter was taken out of the refrigerator to soften to room temperature. Of course, they were hidden in pots and pans in the cabinets. A quick breakfast was made for the boyfriend as I patiently waited for him to leave the apartment for the day. We parted ways with a kiss, “See you tonight, hon.” I smiled sinisterly and wondered if he knew.
There were visions of a white cake being presented with elaborate swirls of icing. Then there’s reality. The clear vision started to blur when a decision was made to add more than a quarter cup of mango puree. More was added, because the guest of honor loves mangoes. That decision based on love was what made the icing too soft to pipe a swirl. That’s when the nervousness started. No matter how much powdered sugar was added, the icing stayed soft. A neighbor suggested adding another eight-ounce cream cheese, because sugar is a liquid. Ah, a lesson learned too late, but the extra cheese made the icing too delicious. Stepping back from kitchen, I reassessed the time and the possibilities. “Breathe. Softly. Slowly. It’s going to be okay,” I thought, “Accept that the icing is soft and decorate the cakes, anyway.” Taking a butter knife, the top of a cupcake was smeared into a soft swirl. To my relief, it looked beautiful. A few toasted pistachios that were earlier placed in a food processor were used as a garnish that resembled a crumb topping. When the cupcakes were complete, they looked inviting. How the nine-inch layer was going to be iced was another issue. Luckily, a friend stopped by to see how the cakes were doing. Her suggestions saved the day. We decided to cover the whole cake with crumbled pistachios. The solution was a logical choice of dealing with soft icing: Hide it well.
The next step was hiding the cakes. They were placed in another friend’s refrigerator who just happened to be in town. The nerves became calmer as evidence of the cakes were cleared from the kitchen. By the time the boyfriend walked through the door, all evidence had disappeared. My excuse of “leaving for the movies with a friend, but I’ll meet you later at the wine bar” as he was walking through the door was planned accurately. Oh, the lies we tell.
It was a good lie. After a few minutes of walking in the wine bar, he still didn’t know the party was in his honor. We had led him to believe he was coming to the wine bar for his best friend’s surprise party. The whole day was a lie to him. As the sun was setting, the restaurant staff presented the cake with candles and champagne. The guests asked if it was homemade. A nervous laugh was stifled, “Of, course!” It was made with persistent love.
White Birthday Cake
1-1/2 sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 lg. egg whites (3/4 cup)
3/4 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1. Place racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter two 9-inch cake pans and the line the bottom with unbleached parchment paper.
2. In a mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
3. As the butter is creaming, shift flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
4. Whisk the egg whites, milk and vanilla together. Set aside.
5. Add a third of the flour mixture to the butter then add half the milk mixture. Alternate beginning and ending with the flour mixture (Add first third of the flour, first half of egg, second third of the flour, last half of the egg, and the last third of the flour). Depending on the brand of the mixer, periodically scrape the bowl and the beater.
6. Evenly distribute batter to both cake pans. Make sure they weigh equally. Smooth the top with a spatula.
7. Place cake pans in the oven, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes (different ovens causes timing to vary), or when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
8. Cool for five minutes before removing cakes from the pans, discard parchment paper. Cool completely before frosting.
» To make a basic yellow cake, substitute three large eggs and one egg yolk for the six egg whites.
» Recipe can be used for one 13 x 9 x 2 inch sheet cake or cupcakes. The latter has less cooking time.
» Recipe is enough for only a 2-layer cake; a sheet cake; or 20 to 25, 2.5 inch cupcakes.
* Organic whole milk is preferred, but skim or low-fat milk is fine.
Mango Cream Cheese Frosting
1-8 oz. package of cream cheese, room temperature
1-1/2 (6 oz.) butter, room temperature
1/8 to 1/4 cup mango puree**
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar
1. Using an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese, butter, mango puree and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Beat until fully incorporated.
2. Add powdered sugar until desired consistency and taste is achieved.
3. Use as frosting for cakes or cupcakes.
1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into chunks
1-1/2 tbps. white sugar or 2 to 3 tbsp. honey
The juice of one lime
1. Pureed ingredients in a blender or a food processor. Set aside a quarter cup. Freeze the rest to make a smoothie.
Mango Cream Cheese Frosting reproduced from Rita of A Pookie Pantry at http://pookiepantry.blogspot.com/2010/04/yellow-cake-with-mango-cream-cheese.html.
3 to 5 cups pistachios; toasted
2 tbsp. sugar
1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and process to a crumbly texture.
2. Use as garnish for frozen/baked desserts or in salads.
Assembling the Cakes
Cake or Cupcakes
Mango Cream Cheese Frosting
1. Cupcakes or Sheet Cake: Using a butter knife, swirl icing over the top. Sprinkle pistachio crumb on top. Repeat with the other cupcakes.
2. Nine-Inch Layer Cake: Place first layer on a plate. Frost the top with the Mango Cream Cheese Frosting. If the icing is soft, use a little icing. Sprinkle a few pistachios on top. Place the second layer on top. Frost the top and sides with icing. Cover the top with Pistachio Crumbs. Taking a small handful of crumbs, lightly press the crumbs into the side of the cake. When done, use a spoon to scoop out the excess crumbs around the bottom. Use a knife to clean the bottom.