My Mom’s birthday was a month ago today, so it seems appropriate that I’m sitting in a tea shop, writing this post, looking at pictures of her with the birthday cake I made for her.
My mother is a pretty damn incredible woman. I don’t know if I’ve told you about her before, but let me. When we were growing up, she was always encouraging us to play. I don’t just mean my sisters and I playing with each other, or playing with dolls, or playing with crafts, but in the larger sense too. She encouraged us to be adventurous, boisterous, and reach for the stars.
If we wanted to make cookies, she was there to help. If we wanted to go out for the basketball team (a mistake I made only once, trust me), she was there at every game. If we wanted to be in plays (which we did… a lot) she drove us to auditions, sat with us while we waited nervously, drove us to rehearsals, helped create costumes, and was always in the front row on opening night, grinning from ear to ear, and often mouthing the words to the songs along with us. She pushed my creativity, she pushed me to try really hard, to do anything I wanted to do. That’s an incredible woman.
When I went off to college and my parents split up, my mom and I had a rough time. It’s been a hard few years of rebuilding, getting to know each other again, and finding the foundation that we had built when I was younger. But it seems since her birthday, my mother’s true unbridled joy and adventure and creativity has reappeared. It has been slowly creeping back for the past couple of years, especially since she has found David, but in the past month, it seems like she’s here to stay.
This year was my mom’s 60th birthday (hopefully she doesn’t kill me for writing that…) and we went big. Rather, David went big with many many surprises, and we all helped scheme and plan. She was surprised four separate times: by the arrival of me, my older sister, and Jonah on Friday afternoon; the arrival of her mother, sister, brother-in-law, brother, and sister-in-law on Friday night; by my little sister’s arrival on Saturday morning; and by a surprise party with all of her friends and a live band on Saturday afternoon.
It was the most pure joy I’ve ever seen her exude. It was a beautifully sunny weekend, and on Sunday we all made dinner together, like families do. When I asked my mom what birthday cake she wanted, she said “That buttermilk devil’s food cake I used to make you guys for your birthdays.” Emily, my older sister, immediately remembered this cake, but it took me a while. My mom dug around in her recipe box and pulled out this magazine page from 1985. Under the title it says “Makes 10 servings at $0.88 each.”
I didn’t remember this cake until I smelled the frosting, and then it came rushing back, which seems appropriate. The cake, and that weekend, reinforced the woman that my mother is and always has been. It’s rich, deep chocolate with an unexpected but welcome twist from the buttermilk and sour cream, perfect for a birthday, but especially perfect for my mother.
Buttermilk Devil’s Food Cake
Devil’s Chocolate Cake
Unsweetened cocoa powder (for dusting the pans)
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 1/2 cups light brown sugar
3 1/2 squares (1 oz. each) unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup boiling water
2 1/4 tsp vanilla
Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting
15 squares (1 oz. each) semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
a pinch of salt
Devil’s Chocolate Cake
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Butter 3 9-inch round cake pans. Line the pans with parchment paper, and butter the paper. Dust the bottoms and sides of the pans with cocoa powder.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer (or whatever) beat the butter until it’s light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar until it’s light and fluffy too. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Blend in the melted chocolate. My aunt (the cookbook author) had a great tip for this. Anytime I mix warm ingredients (like melted chocolate) into eggs, I get nervous that the eggs are going to cook. Her tip was to start with a little bit, blend it, and then add the rest of it. It makes a big difference. To me anyway.
Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour, until it’s well combined. Stir in the boiling water and the vanilla and divide the batter equally into the 3 prepared cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool them in their pans for 5-10 minutes, then turn them out onto cooling racks and remove the parchment paper to cool the rest of the way.
Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting
To make the frosting, melt the chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water. Remove from the heat, and beat in the sour cream, vanilla, and salt. Beat until it’s creamy and holds it’s shape. Be warned though, once this frosting cools, it hardens because of the chocolate. So frost your cake while the frosting is still soft and warm.
You may want/have to trim your cakes. I didn’t and it work ok. Put a layer on whatever plate you’re using to serve, and spread evenly with some of the frosting. Repeat with the remaining layers, and then frost the sides.
Enjoy with a glass of cold milk, family, and lots of laughs.