I am so competitive. Sometimes, it’s an admirable quality, pushing me to try a little harder or work a little longer . But a lot of times, it’s just plain dumb.
For instance, this past weekend I was riding in the car with my boyfriend and his parents. We were on our way home from an early birthday celebration for DJ. He and I are having another small celebration to commemorate the actual day, so as we were riding along, I asked him what kind of a cake he would prefer. Because, you know, I make cakes. Professionally. And it’s his birthday, so of course I would be making him a cake. Makes sense, right? Are you with me?
Without enthusiasm or humor, he requested an ice cream cake.
AN ICE CREAM CAKE.
I won Cupcake Wars, for Christ’s sake. And he wants to squander that kind of talent on an ice cream cake? Ouch, man!
Now, I love ice cream as much as the next guy. Probably more, actually. I’ve often fantasized about opening an ice cream business. I even put together half of a business plan for an ice cream truck before I realized that here in the Chicago, I’d have only four solid months of sunshine and sales and eight long months of frigid destitution. Not my best get-rich-quick scheme, but you get the idea. I love ice cream.
But I’m great at cake. And this is the first year that we’ll celebrate his birthday together. I want to make him a damn cake! A real cake! CAKE cake. With ice cream alongside, if he wants.
DJ proceeded to say that he prefers ice cream cakes to regular cakes because regular cakes are all the same to him. They’re usually not bad, but they never “wow” him. And that’s fair, except that I’ve seen him happily horse down several pieces of cake now, some made by me.
DJ is a humor writer. His indifference to cakes is akin to me thinking that that all fart jokes are the same, and not only the same, but mediocre, to boot. (Just kidding though, baby. Your fart jokes are classic.)
So my nutty, competitive mind kicks into the spin cycle, and all I can think is, “I’ll show you! I’ll make you the best g*ddamn cake you’ve ever tasted
or will ever taste again! And then I will never make you a cake ever again for doubting me!”
Birthdays are for birthday cakes, so DJ is getting a true birthday cake this year, with simple flavors that I think he’ll enjoy. It’s not overly sweet, with a little nuttiness from ground almonds and almond extract. Fresh strawberries and whipped cream will glue it all together and keep it light and summery. It’s finished with a sprinkling of crushed almond tuile cookies for a bit of crunch. Maybe it won’t be the best cake he’s ever had, but even if it’s not, it will be a great memory of the first time we spent his birthday together.
This weekend, he gets his ice cream cake. You better believe that it will be the best damn ice cream cake to ever come out of a freezer!
Summer Birthday Cake
Almond Chiffon · Whipped Cream · Strawberries · Almond Cookie Crunch
For the cake:
4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Cut rounds of parchment paper and place in the bottom of two 6 inch round pans. Do not spray the pans.
In a large bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tarter with an electric mixer on high speed until foamy. With the mixer running, slowly add 1/4 cup of the sugar, and continue whipping until it is glossy and holds stiff peaks.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, almond flour, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, baking powder, and salt, discarding any large pieces of almond flour that won’t make it through the sifter.
In small bowl, whisk together the milk, egg yolks, vanilla, and almond extract. Stir the mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the yolk mixture to loosen. Fold in the remaining egg whites gently, until the mixture is well combined and there are no pockets of whipped egg whites left. Divide evenly into prepared pans.
Bake for 22-25 minutes or the tops of the cakes spring back to the touch. Cool the cakes for 10 minutes on cooling rack. Run a knife around the sides to loosen the edges of the cake and invert onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before filling.
For the cookie crunch:
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small chunks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sliced almonds
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl using a fork or a pastry blender, mix all of the ingredients together until the butter is in pea-sized chunks and the mixture is very crumbly. Spread into an even layer on the parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 5-7 minutes, or until the cookie looks lacy and the edges are very brown. Cool completely. Crumble into small pieces.
For the stabilized whipped cream:
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
4 teaspoons water
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 pint fresh strawberries, cut into small pieces + additional whole strawberries for garnish
In a small saucepan, stir together the gelatin and water until the gelatin is evenly moistened. Let it sit until thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Cook over very low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally, to melt the mixture and dissolve the gelatin. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
In a large mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar to soft peaks. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the cooled gelatin. Continue whipping until the cream forms stiff peaks. Remove ¼ of the whipped cream and set aside. Fold the cut strawberries into the remaining whipped cream.
To assemble the cake, cut each layer horizontally into two. Fill each layer with 1/3 of the strawberry whipped cream. Run your spatula gently around the sides of the cake to clean up any whipped cream that crept out from inside the cake, and to very lightly coat the sides. the last cake with the plain whipped cream. Sprinkle the top generously with the almond cookie crunch and garnish with additional whole strawberries and a light sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar.