When I was at Lawrence, I was the go-to person for staff birthday treats. I’d figure out everyone’s birthday, then I’d secretly investigate what their favorite birthday sweet was. We’d wrap up dinner service and be done cleaning around midnight or 1am, then I’d surprise the birthday boy or girl with a big platter of warm chocolate chips cookies or a teetering Queen Elizabeth cake.
So when my friend and Marlow colleague James asked me to bake a cake for his girlfriend’s birthday, I happily obliged. Special occasion cakes are a challenging niche unto themselves, but James had only two requirements: that it be super chocolatey, and that it incorporate the visage of a cat. (!!!!) I hope I did his vision justice.
Desserts, showoffs that they are, have the sneaky tendency of becoming the focal part of any successful birthday party. For a friend’s birthday party — of which the theme was Italian pizza party — I recently made a flaky crostata, stuffed with tangy, slightly bitter blood oranges tossed with cardamom, cloves, and a bit of granulated sugar. Blood orange season is nearly finished here in Montreal, and I was pleased to have a chance to savor the syrupy fruit before putting it aside for spring’s sturdy stalks of rhubarb.
Two notes: If you plan on baking with citrus, be sure to shake off excess liquid before piling the sections into the tart. It can get quite soupy, quite fast. And secondly, I’ve internalized my basic tart dough, which is seriously easy and can withstand a liquidy filling like oranges: 1 1/2 C flour and half a teaspoon of salt, cut with 6 T of butter, is formed into a sticky ball of dough with the help of a few tablespoons of water mixed with one egg yolk. The dough rests in the fridge for 30 minutes, and is a snap to roll out into a crude, messy-looking free-form tart. Don’t expect it to look perfect. It won’t.
It was nothing, of course, compared to the expert birthday cake my friend Michelle whipped up for Anthony‘s birthday. I mean, the thing had ten layers. The cake was doused in bourbon. The frosting tasted like clouds. It was a showstopper. And with the faintest slip of vanilla ice cream and plastic cup of fizzy champagne in hand, I happily gobbled my slice up in a matter of minutes.
(When they’re for other people), I love birthday parties. Especially when there is a spectacular elk lasagna involved. I went gangbusters at the dollar store with party decorations: novelty candles, crepe paper, packets of balloons, little paper horns, the works. Just add a lasagna splattered with candle wax, one half-destroyed chocolate bundt cake, and a case of prosecco (and half a case of chianti for the elk lasagna with extra bechamel sauce + my homemade parsley and garlic bread), and you have the beginnings of the best birthday party imaginable.