Thursday, May 10, 2012

Birthday Cake on A Pie Blog (for Panda Head)

I've been delaying writing about this because I've been conflicted. And for a few reasons. There was  the political roller coaster of the past few days along with the tug of some potential exciting opportunities versus the pull of reality... But the one that's the most relevant to this space (and perhaps the most trivial, though this is for fun, ya?) has been in regards to the age-old pie vs. cake debate. Specifcally, is it okay to write about cake, the purported natural born enemy of pie, on a pie blog??

Personally I don't see the two in opposition...they're both delicious and relevant in different situations. There's been many times when folks have suggested or given me pie for my birthday, and it's not that I wasn't appreciative or didn't enjoy it--I wholeheartedly did and always will! But for me, birthdays call for cake and nothing but, and though I like many different varieties (carrot, red velvet, pistachio, to name a few), and am normally not one for overly-sweet, nothing says "birthday" to me like white buttercream-on-white cake, with overloaded decorative frosting.

So with that justification, along with an additional "exception to the rule" logic, I'm going to do it. Post about cake.

Last month Tarts by Tarts was contacted by Morgan of Panda Head -- the DC lifestyle blog of all-things-fun-and-rad. Morgan said that she'd always considered May a birthday month, and asked if Kari and I might contribute birthday cake photos and a recipe for her up-coming May newsletter. Kari and I, with birthdays in mid-May and end-of-April, respectively (TAURUS LOVE!) were totally down, and we added in a springy gin cocktail, the Mayday, to sweeten the deal.

When I turned six, we celebrated my birthday on a friends' communal farm where I spent a lot of time as a child. My mom and her friend hid my birthday party in the woods--teddy bears' picnic style--and we had to go find it. Perhaps it is an undiscovered instinct in children to be able to sniff out a birthday party, but for some reason we hiked almost directly to it. When we finally tracked it down, there we found balloons and tables and chairs made of logs, covered with presents, party favors, and of course, a white-on-white cake.

Ever since then, I seem to hold all birthday parties to that standard, so when Morgan said "outdoor birthday" I immediately thought of a hidden cake in Rock Creek Park. That presented a few too many logistical challenges, though, so we decided on the next best thing--a backyard birthday party.

With our "style vibe" nailed down, then we had to decide on the cake--first thing's first, ya know. Kari is also of the white buttercream birthday cake school of thought, but we wanted something a little more innovative. I was quite struck by the scraps I got to try of this pistachio layer cake Kari made for her friends' wedding. But we wanted a recipe that would be somewhat new for both of us, AND something that would go with salted caramel, which we've both been pretty into lately (Who hasn't? But seriously--bourbon caramel glazed doughnuts, anyone?). We've also been in utter awe of Apt. 2 B's beautiful beautiful ombre frosting technique. So we put all these equations in our recipe hat, mixed it up a bit, and drew out a pecan layer cake with salted caramel layers and vanilla buttercream in a yellow ombre. BAM.

So on one fine spring Sunday, Morgan and her photographer pal Michelle Rigg bicycled up to our house, and we spent a few hours in our kitchen and backyard frosting and mixing and chatting and styling and snapping pics (and okay, drinking and eating). It was almost as fun as a real birthday party and it was so great to have a creative collaboration with these three rad ladies.

Enough with the faux-birthday party though, here's how to make that cake for your REAL May Day...

You can click on the recipe cards to make them bigger, if needed. And feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions.

Now you want a little sipper to add to all that sweet? Here's the recipe for our Mayday cocktail. I should note that we highly recommend using the Greenbrier gin from Smooth Ambler, a small batch distillery outside of Lewisburg, West Virginia, which we visited in the fall. Their gin is great for this drink because it has a smoooth citrus flavor without a lot of the dominant juniper taste of other dry British gins (which certainly have their place). The Mayday also works well as a punch--I made a huge batch of the stuff for my own birthday party, and with its bright purple hue, it looked so festive in the bowl. It's also strong and easy to drink a lot of. Mayday, mayday, going down...

Is it any wonder that our frosting looks like butter? For more pictures and great commentary, don't forget to check out the original post in the Panda Head May newsletter here, Kari's post on Tanglewood, and this little shout-out we got from Refinery29! Special thanks to Kari and Michelle for their beautiful pictures and sorry I got longwinded with this post--I don't get to talk about cake very much. Happy backyard birthday!

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