Happy birthday dad! (kick-ass carrot cake)

This is the second part of my dad’s informal little family birthday party.

Who likes carrot cake? Dad likes carrot cake.

Birthday cakes are a big deal to me. I’ve made colourful cakes, mini cakes, Fourth of July cakes, ice cream cakes and fruitcakes. I think that a cake is the pinnacle of a party. There is nothing more beautiful than a cake done properly.

Achieving this beauty is something that I have failed at previously, and strived to get better at ever since. Need an illustration of said failure? Well, you asked!

Hilary Makes Cake, circa second-year university, approximately five months before I actually learned how to cook

Point is, I don’t take cake-making lightly. Which is why I wanted my dad’s birthday cake to be perfect. He requested carrot cake and so, off I went to browse the big ol’ World Wide Web for something worthy of my time, attention, and family. I found this. Simple and impressive.

There’s something about a tiered cake that really gets me going. It’s like the epic journey of cake making. This would make Odysseus proud. Carrot cake is also just about the most low maintenance, inexpensive desserts out there. Plus there’s vegetables in it. You know how I like cake vegetables.

A good cake layer reminds me of the perfect sandcastle base.

I don’t really have much else to say about this dessert, except for that it somehow managed to be both light and fluffy while also including so many delicious different textures, like pineapple, pecans and coarsely grated carrot. The cream cheese icing was so smoothly soft and was sweetened just so.

Dad liked.

Oh yes, and this recipe also made four little cupcakes. They have been hidden in the deep freeze, only to be snuck out at the most sugar desperate of times.

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Birthday cake-in-a-jar

On a scale of one to ten, one being foods like cauliflower and lamb (sometimes I feel as though I’m the only meat-eater on the plant who doesn’t like the latter) and ten being arugula, mushrooms and cookies with a dash of lemon, cakes in jars rank in at a 12.

I hope that sentence made sense. I’m worried that it did not, so let me summarize.

Cakes baked in cute little jars are wonderful.

I was in a baking mood this past Saturday. Having made another batch of cookies for my special cookie gift bags (that post is coming up), I decided I didn’t want to leave the kitchen. The stove was making my legs feel fuzzy and warm. So, I did what any reasonable person would do, I decided to bake a cake. Luckily my baking buzz lined up perfectly with my friend Emily’s birthday.

I’m not sure what was once in this jar. I suspect it was marmalade, however, all reminders of its former life were erased when I used it to carry hummus to school when we ran out of Tupperware containers. What a multi-functional little jar.

I’m mildly concerned that the end product was too much cake and not enough icing, so I’ll have to work on tweaking my cake-in-jar logistics for next time. Oh yes, there will be a next time. I’m thinking some sort of layered trifle.

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It’s my party (and I’ll make a cake if I want to)

So I’m 22. Holy. I remember when the big 2-2 was just another number in my 11x table. A lot has changed since elementary school multiplication drills.

Toddler Hilary, circa 1993. Snake-shaped chocolate cake decorated with Smarties.

To celebrate that I’m one year closer to death, a year older and therefore 366 days more awesome, I decided to bake myself a cake. A four-tiered, rainbow cake with chocolate whipping cream frosting, that is.

To be fair, it wasn’t all for me. My friend Christine‘s birthday is a day before mine. This year we decided to have joint birthday festivities at her house. It’s practically a tradition that I bring a kick ass cake to her place. You may remember this little gem from last year’s Fourth of July in March party.

"Let's cut the cake like it's our wedding!"

Anyways, we were turning 22. And 22 means adult. And adult means CAKE KINGDOM. Right?

Right. I’m a year older and more wise, remember? This means I’m never wrong.

The layers were made using Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake recipe. It’s my all-time favourite and creates a light and fluffy base with just a hint of lemon flavouring.

Note when making a four-tiered cake: buy a real cake pan. 

Please listen to me, it will make your life so much easier. If you have an oven that bakes things evenly, buy four pans and bake all the layers at once. All the power to you! Just don’t use a springform pan and bake each layer one at a time. Otherwise, four hours later you will find yourself transformed into a kitchen zombie waiting for that final blue layer to be complete. Le sigh.

Since I didn’t want to spend $20 to make a luscious buttercream icing for this cake (because, lets face it, when you have FOUR layers, that’s a lot of butter), I opted for a light, chocolate whipped cream frosting. There is half a litre of whipped cream on this cake.

Whipping cream turned out to be the perfect choice. It meant the finished product wasn’t unbearably sweet and was far easier to spread than traditional buttercream icing. Which is ideal for someone who is god awful at icing cakes. There is a layer of whipping cream in between every layer, as well as a thin spreading of four-berry jam. Got to amp up the fruit (sugar) content, you know.

(L) Jam layer, (R) One of these things is not like the other

The finished cake was possibly the girliest thing I’ve ever made, and looked like a cross between a dessert worthy of Barbie’s wedding and an Easter egg hunt. It also would have been appropriate for a five-year-old’s birthday party. What can I say? I’m getting older age-wise, but my baking is regressing in maturity appeal alongside.

And to that I say: Happy fifth birthday, Hilary!

PS: A few of my friends made me a surprise birthday dinner! How sweet are they? Here we are… thanks to Freya for taking the picture!

Hilary, Shannon and Tara

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Martha Stewart’s outrageous chocolate cookies

I warned you that this was going to be a Martha Stewart week.

These cookies have become a bit of a tradition among my group of friends. To understand the tradition, you must first understand my friend Amanda, for whom I made these cookies. Amanda loves her birthday. Loves it. More than a small child loves puppies and more than I love cheese. She always has a week’s worth of birthday festivities, appropriately called “Amandapalooza.”

Amanda and I on one of her birthday nights

It is my job, as old roommate and friend, to bake something for her. Last year I made these white chocolate Macadamia nut cookies for the first time. This year she had another cookie request. These.

Cookies + Instagram = Love

As far as I know, Amanda’s love for these cookies started on her birthday last year, when our old roommate Brittany (SHE IS IN PARIS NOW, GO LOOK AT HER BLOG!!) made her a batch. They are actually the perfect cookie – slightly crunchy on the outside and chewy and soft on the inside (so long as you don’t over bake them which I accidentally did with a batch of these…). They’re like a tiny brownie cookie, but better. A recipe like this obviously uses up a lot of chocolate, so it’s certainly a good thing that I always have an absurd amount on hand.

Since this was the second year in a row that the cookies were made, I declare it a tradition.

A tradition which I may whip up and eat solo in my bedroom once in awhile.


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Chocolate cherry cupcakes with a Smarties cream cheese icing (Happy Birthday Ariel!)

What a flavour combination, huh?

Don’t give me that look because you think I’m crazy for combining cherries and Smarties. I know the look. It’s something like this:

Okay, let’s be real. I just wanted an excuse to post this picture. I’m sure you guys aren’t ACTUALLY making a face at me. Right? RIIIIGHT?

Well whatever. They were good. I’ll admit, I never thought the three things would ever be combined. That all changed, however, once I took a trip (well several trips, actually. About once a week for all of second and third year…) to my friendly neighbourhood Dairy Queen with my good friend Ariel.

Here’s the backstory: As one of her several high school jobs, Ariel had a stint serving ice cream at DQ. When you’re a teenager and left fairly unattended in a large, ice cream shop, what choice do you have but try different flavour combinations? Read: LETS THROW EVERYTHING INTO THE BLIZZARD MAKER, GUYS. I had a similar experience when I worked at Starbucks in grade 12 and we made a lemon poppy seed loaf frappuccino…

But anyways, this post is not about getting Ariel and I indicted for the mischievous things we did with industrial powered mixers in high school. Nope, this post is about belatedly celebrating Ariel’s birthday, which she was not in Ottawa for.

And what better way to celebrate then to transform her favourite kind of blizzard into cupcake form?

I was very wary as to how these would turn out. I’ve never used/bought/eaten cherry pie filling before, and was concerned as to how it would affect the batter. To play things safe, I strained the actual cherries into a bowl and the result underneath was a giant goop of something that looked like cough syrup mixed with zombie blood.

There was about a cup of this liquid-y goo

Though these cupcakes didn’t rise to become mountainous domes, they were moist and had scattering of cherry. My other old roommate Alex said they were good enough to be a wedding cake! The Smarties cream cheese icing reminded me of Smarties ice cream and was the perfect topping to these rich, chocolatey cupcakes. Blizzard transformation: complete.

Please pardon the lack of photos – I was in a rush to get to the actual birthday party!

Pulverization is best served by the pounding of a meat cleaver

PS: a third-year journalism student at Carleton swung by my baking session to interview me for her multimedia class. I posed awkwardly with my hand mixer which I described as the “love of my life” way too many times.

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