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If you want to do birthdays right, make homemade cake

by: Barb Randall, Using the theory that cake tastes best in big bites, Cole Randall enjoys a piece at a recent birthday party.

Everyday is someone's birthday and tomorrow is my son Cole's! He will be 14 years old on Jan. 19, 2007.

The celebration has already begun at the Randall household. Cole's baby and youth pictures are on special display on the dining table. For weeks, he has been weighing options of how to celebrate his birthday from sunup to sundown.

My big concern has been what kind of a birthday cake shall I bake him? He has had a birthday cake made from scratch every year of his life. Though it may look complex, preparing a scratch cake is 'as easy as pie,' as the saying goes. Either from scratch or from a boxed mix, nothing says 'you are special' more than a cake made especially for you.

I took a cake decorating class a few years ago at the Decorette Shop in Tigard. Under their tutelage my decorating skill level soared. Practice does make perfect, but your cakes can look more finished instantly if you follow a few suggestions from the pros.

Ever wonder how a store bought cake gets its height? They simply use more batter! For a taller cake use one and a half cake mixes and be sure to adjust the baking time.

Every baker has stories of cakes sliding or splitting apart. You can prevent this tragedy by making sure your cake layers are flat instead of domed. Simply cut off the domed center of each layer. The Decorette Shop sells an insulated strip that you soak in water, then secure around your cake pan. The cake is baked with this insulated strip around it, causing the cake the bake more evenly. No dome develops as the sides and center of the cake bake at the same rate.

When you have stacked your cake layers on the cake plate, give the whole cake a base coat of frosting thinned with a little milk. Professional bakers call this a 'crumb coat' and it gives you a more workable surface for decorating.

As for decorations, be creative and step way outside of the box! We've had some pretty wacky cakes at our house, looking more like Dr. Seuss made them than Wolfgang Puck. These family birthday cakes are memorable and obviously made with love.

Cole asked for a chocolate cake with white frosting for this year's cake. Snowboarding has become his new passion, so I plan to make his cake a snowboarder's dream, complete with rail and half pipe. This recipe for Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake and Mousseline Buttercream Frosting should be perfect!

Bon Appetit and Eat Locally!

Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake with Mousseline Buttercream Frosting

Serves 12

Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by greasing the bottoms, lining with parchment or waxed paper and then greasing and flouring paper.

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa

1 cup boiling water

3 large eggs

2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla

2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl whisk together the cocoa and boiling water until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

In another bowl lightly combine the eggs, 1/4 of the cocoa mixture and vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake's structure. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in three batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula. The pans will be about half full. Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cakes should start to shrink from the sides of the pans only after removal from the oven.

Let the cakes cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert onto greased wire racks. To prevent splitting, reinvert so that the tops are up and cool completely.

Mousseline Buttercream Frosting

Makes 4 1/2 cups

2 cups unsalted butter softened but cool (65 degrees)

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

5 large egg whites

1/2 plus 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

3 ounces Grand Marnier or other liqueur

In a mixing bowl beat the butter until smooth and creamy and set aside in a cool place.

Have ready a heatproof glass measure near the range.

In a small heavy saucepan heat 3/4-cup sugar and 1/4 cup water, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is bubbling. Stop stirring and reduce the heat to low. (If using an electric range remove from the heat.)

In another mixing bowl beat the egg whites until foamy, add the cream of tartar, and beat until soft peaks form when the beater is raised. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/4-cup sugar until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Increase the heat and boil the syrup until a thermometer registers 248° F to 250 ° F (the firm ball stage). Immediately transfer the syrup to the glass measure to stop the cooking.

If using a hand-held mixer beat the syrup into the whites in a steady stream. Don't allow the syrup to fall on the beaters or they will spin it onto the sides of the bowl. If using a stand mixer, pour a small amount of syrup over the whites with the mixer off. Immediately beat at high speed for five seconds. Stop the mixer and add a larger amount of syrup. Beat at high speed for five seconds. Continue with the remaining syrup. For the last addition, use a rubber scraper to remove the syrup clinging to the glass measure. Lower speed to medium and continue beating up to two minutes on lowest speed.

Beat in the butter at medium speed one-tablespoon at a time. At first the mixture will seem thinner but will thicken beautifully by the time all the butter is added. If at any time the mixture looks slightly curdled, increase the speed slightly and beat until smooth before continuing to add more butter.

Lower the speed slightly and drizzle in the liqueur.

If needing to store frosting, place in an airtight bowl. Rebeat lightly from time to time to maintain silky texture.

Adapted from The Cake Bible, Rose Levy Beranbaum, 1988

The Decorette Shop is located at 11945 S.W. Pacific Highway, No. 109, Tigard. The phone number is 503-620-5100.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..