if only each day could be,
a day of birth for just me,
a day that none other could take,
a day filled with chocolate and yummy cake.
Unlike conventionally celebrating simply the 24 mere hours of a birth day, I enjoy to party on for the entire week. Birth week, as I call it, sometimes extends into a month long fest of gluttony that May pays for by casting a spell of excruciating fitness regimes to recuperate. But, the birth month continues. After all, being Aries, I am fun loving – if not slightly air headed, party centric – if not slightly overboard with the combination of evasive and promiscuous, and flamboyantly outgoing – if not coyly engaging in surprisingly small groups too. Its called a pack-48-hours-into-a-24-hour-day mantra.
I am a strong believer of birthdays; ask those who incessantly despise the existence of the day, and find yours truly irritating at the birthday calender and Facebook wishes that pour in so timely-ly. Birthdays involve one staple element that dazzles the digestive tract and sends doctors and gym trainers in mommy-like concern mode – eating. From scrumptious textures to eccentric flavors to tempting cuisines to homemade tokens of delicious love, this is the era of consumption, where mortals turn to savages and mouths into dark unending abysses.
To think, that a few years ago, all we had was a birthday cake. The simple birthday cake, with candles for the number of years, several cheery smiles and jumping eyeballs, staring at the obvious rose icing, and salivating mouths waiting for a bite of the spongy domestic goodness. Things have changed, as we look for other options, from 21 shots on a 21st birthday to ice cream cakes that really are not a substitute for neither ice cream nor cake, or from birthday dinners and feasts to yank-and-devour cupcakes united only by lava of fugly icing. But yet, where has the classic birthday cake gone?
The cake craved crevices of my mind hereby hope to explore what I miss the most about the classics, and what it takes to create my perfect birthday cake. (Yes. Another list, add it to the lists of many).
Icing and Frosting
There is a reason why “icing on the cake” became a popular idiom to symbolize the additional sheen in a conversation, which often becomes the eye catching selling point of any idea. Coming back to the metaphorical roots, the icing, or frosting, depending on ones tolerance for rigidity, is what we first see, first taste, and relentlessly dwell over to distinguish one cake from another. Just so you know, as I did not until fairly recently, the creamy buttery layers on cake are frosting, while the more solid, sugar constructed pieces are icing. Makes sense when the words sound like what they symbolize, akin to an onomatopoeia, isn’t it?
Having grown up seeing enough roses formed from perfectly iced petals on cakes for birthdays on end, sometimes often mistaking the sweet platter for a green garden glory (quite a sensible substitution though, considering my birthday occurs in spring time when grasses are greener and rabbits are, well, springier), I thought nothing else could exist! Little did I know that come the new millennium, everything from soda to pork will be a fancy cake ingredient!
My preference is for less creamy frosting, and smaller specks of icing. In both cases, I like the types that deliver a silent crunch, where I can conveniently forget that this adored crunch is in fact finely granulated sugar. And come to think of it, rose petals never hurt, do they?
Texture of the cake that is, not the frosting and icing! And texture always trickles down to chew-ability. How much of a mouth workout are we getting, and how much are our tongues being pleasured in the process? (Hopefully this line isn’t screened out as something that belongs on an adulterous website!). Between brownies and sponge cakes, there is an intense variety of teeth challengers. While the meltable prowess of a fudgy brownie-like finishing can make my taste buds swoon in gooey joy, the aerated fluffiness of a classic birthday cake can also elevate expectations to a light, satisfying finale. Where in the range does perfection sit?
My preference for a layered and richly iced cake lies in the antonym; fluffy, crumbly and airy. Conversely, for a cake with limited frosting and zilch in layers, I prefer it to challenge my teeth by cloaking them in a gooey blanket. After all, its all about finding good company for your toothset.
As Shrek’s witty Donkey epitomized, cakes have layers (as do onions). Who could have asked for a better celebrity endorser to proclaim the fact that layers are so critical to a good birthday cake?
Layers add vertical variety to a cake, a rarity in many other foods. When else do you scoop something and find a mix of textures and flavors vertically, instead of in a horizontal scrape? Think about it, and the uniqueness of the scenario will be evident. My childhood reminds me of single or double layer chocolate cakes with butter cream, which has now been replaced by cheesecake, ice cream, or more chocolate, fudge and ganache, sometimes with strawberries or nuts playing peekaboo in the heightening brick wall structures of the cake slices. Either way, the juxtaposition with the spongy (or chewy) texture is where the appeal of a well crafted layer lies.
Just like my foray into exploratory ice cream flavors, cakes too have undergone a major change. From classic favorites of vanilla and chocolate, I have now tried the likes of pear cake, the quintessential carrot cake with awe inducing hints of cinnamon, raisin and cream cheese, and even fruit cakes. Some are soaked in alcohol too! Yet, as one may recall from my disdain towards outrageous flavors, I have a few select favorites in the world of non-chocolate baked desserts (baklava aside, of course!); chocolate, and (shockingly) vanilla remain loyal to my cake savvy buds. With the glorious cake family, I prefer experimenting with layers and icing, or even with texture, instead of tarnishing the flavor itself. (And yet, even I am occasionally surprised, like when trying the pistachio mini cake recently).
Birthday confetti comes with its hosts of admirers and adversaries, the former loving its vivid character and colorful ambiance, the latter hating the mess to clean up off the floors, hair and dark crevices of titillating clothing. But edible confetti, also unoriginally called things like sprinkles and garnishing and decoration, add a dainty final touch. Colorful sugary sprinkles are a childhood staple, sometimes replaced with chocolate ones. And depending on the theme, these can be star shaped, circular, or heart embossed! I don’t mind the non-overly-sugary-and-crumbly bits, sometimes even more so that the varieties of nutty confections, despite my love for all things nutty and crunchy! Over time, the ‘edible confetti’ has grown to large solid sugar insertions of flowers or shapes that add a rigidity to the structure of the cake, causing linguists to debate between the likelihood that this is in fact icing, again.
Can these be given a miss? Only if the frosting+icing+cake story make up for it!
Why does design require its own pedestal? Because off late, the cake itself has grown from being a cuboid, sphere, rhombus, and other simple trigonometric shapes to something that relays more of a story. The story obviously falls on varying levels of obscurity, as evidenced by a hilarious website I was referred to about cake wrecks. Nothing really too wrong with that, after all, a favorite animal headpiece, or a sport fan’s paraphernalia, or an eternally loved Disney cake can evoke joys of all sorts. But it also takes away from the cake, literally masking it in a macabre of media thrusted finery, which is almost always so perfect that it is unfathomable to deconstruct. Imagine chopping Cinderalla’s castle, Mickey Mouse’s ear, breaking a tennis racket, or even tarnishing a perfect bouquet.
While I envy the time it takes to create the unbelievable designs, the guilt of cutting and consuming them overwhelms me. Which is why a math lesson in trigonometry sometimes makes things easier to swallow. Literally.
Remember the days when candles spelled out the age? When the more we had, the merrier it was, and the more the eyes gleamed in the twitching firelight? When the more we had, the happier we got, and even marginally embarrassed since the ones we were unable to blow out symbolized the number of opposite sexed mates we would have? (To think the tables turn completely now; we dislike candles for their numbers, but would love the fact that a breath of air can foreshadow a sex life).
Now we have days when the candles are given a total miss, partially thanks to waxy meltdowns and health concerns, secondly due to the dislike for spelling out an age so obviously, and finally since the shapes and icings and shapes of icings have become so erratic that t is difficult to place the teetering candles on them!
Yet, if only for the flickering firelights, or the glee in blowing them out with full force, or the successive romantic wisps of smoke that kiss the air – I would bring back the ritual of candles, even for adults.
Substitutes and Complements
Taking us back to the days of economics and the impact of substitutes and complements on demand, it seems only natural that these concepts apply to a birthday cake and its surrounding party. Creative infiltrators have concocted the likes of cookie cakes, ice cream cakes, cupcakes, and alcohol (in cakes too!), amongst others, all of which position themselves as substitutes to the birthday cake. Soft baked cookie cakes, coyly called magnanimously sized seduction, are an extension of a doughy, chocolate chip, decadent cookie, and are sometimes outlined with colorful icing. Ice cream cakes, catapulted into a category of their own, are brick like versions of their soft serve counterparts, and are often intolerable to slice, melting at the exterior and tough at the center. Alcohol, now prevalent in everything from soap to gum, makes its presence felt in either liquid or cake form, from whiskey infused chocolate to rum centered dough.
Yet, can these substitute the epitomized birthday cake? I proclaim to differ, since these are in fact complements that are consumed in addition to the classic, candle filled, clap cheered and geometrically sliced centerpiece. For surely nobody minds a cookie, a glass of wine and a scoop of ice cream at a birthday party. Complements can be praised galore, but nothing can form a compelling substitute.
And thus ends the grocery like list of my ideal cake. It is one of the few things that I prefer classic and untarnished, soaked in nostalgia and preferably homebaked. A classic birthday cake. Not my favorite busy bee chocolate cake, nor an intriguing flavor of ice cream, but a classic birthday cake, all to remember the day that is most important. The day of birth.
to all those who enjoy the day of birth,
may it be the most fulfilling one on earth,
because cake and confetti is where its at,
on the day to feel like a spoiled baby brat.
Happy birthday! (And birth-week, birth-month, and obviously, birth-year)
Peekaboo, a blast from the past! Yup, Baby Sss.