Sunday, November 2, 2008

November Birthdays

November is a busy month for fetes in my family. My Dad's birthday is this week, my Mom's is the week after, and mine is the week after that. Plus with Thanksgiving, it means we have a lot of celebrations and big dinners in November.

The only problem with all these November birthdays is coming up with enough gift ideas for November and December. We don't exchange Hannukah gifts anymore, but between birthdays and Christmas I still need several good ideas.

One of my favorite birthday gifts, is to bake a special homemade birthday cake. I bake only from scratch. I like knowing everything that goes into the food I make for my family, and I can easily avoid transfats and HFCS this way. We may have fewer baked goods in our lives, but they are much tastier and better for us. I've found it only takes about 5-10 more minutes to bake most things from scratch and the extra time is worth it.

My long time favorite birthday cake is the Chocolate Buttercream Cake from Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. If you own the book, this cake is the one pictured on the back cover. It's a delicious chocolate layer cake with chocolate buttercream icing. Once you make a really good buttercream like this one, all other icings fall flat (even buttercream using powdered sugar). Ina's chocolate buttercream calls for raw egg whites, which I have used in the past, but now I like to use powdered egg whites, especially if young children are eating the cake. Powdered egg whites are also a lot easier, neater, and cheaper to use.

The cake can be a little time consuming, but it's easy to make the cake one day and the icing the next. You can even make the cake several weeks in advance, and freeze the two layers in the freezer. The cake also doesn't have to be a cake. I turned them into cupcakes for Ely's 3rd Birthday party this year. To make them fun for children (and adults), I added sprinkles and a plastic dinosaur on top:
There was not a single one left over.