Yesterday was my birthday! Contrary to what most people think, growing up with a birthday so close to Christmas was terrific. My mom made sure that I always had presents for both my birthday and Christmas. And if she combined them, they were big enough to justify the combination. The world was always decorated for my birthday (in the form of Christmas decorations) and festive music was always playing (Christmas carols). And there is an advent calendar window to open for my birthday. You can’t get much better than that. For quite some time, I even thought I had my own “Day of Christmas”–the third one, Three French Hens, until someone explained to me that the days of Christmas start on Christmas, not end on it.
I will admit that, as a young adult, my birthday was a little more challenging due to its calendar location. In college and in grad school I had finals or huge papers due on my birthday. My friends were always busy with holiday parties and other commitments, or they were flying home for the holidays, so it was hard to get folks to come over and celebrate. People wanted to mark my birthday in some way, but were so busy that they often brought me Christmas ornaments as birthday presents. I have to say, in case you get any ideas, I have more ornaments than will ever fit on one Christmas tree, thanks. Years ago, these types of things used to drive me a bit nutty. It all felt unfair. No one gave an August birthday person Christmas ornaments for their birthday, did they? I would stomp around and complain to myself and get a little bitter.
Then I grew up a bit and got more Zen about the whole thing. I now use it as an excuse to relax during the holidays. More than anything, I like to hang out. I bake, I knit, I shop in pretty stores. I gather with friends and family. I make and eat meals with loved ones. Girlfriend and dAhub get the Christmas tree, put it up, and decorate it (with all of the ornaments I’ve received over the years), while I putter in the kitchen. I get a few presents, but they aren’t what this time is about for me. It’s about going a little bit underground and being more quiet and less crazy.
And sometimes we have a birthday party. Sometimes not. Regardless, I make my own birthday cake. It’s something I love to do. Ever since Girlfriend was about 2, I’ve made the same birthday cake. In fact, it’s the same birthday cake I make for all of our birthdays. It’s an adaptation of a recipe from my most favorite cake baking cookbook ever, The Whimsical Bakehouse, by Kaye Hansen and Liv Hansen. This book comes from a mother-daughter team whose cake philosophy is the same as mine: to make cakes that taste as good as they look. My whole life I have never understood the appeal of cakes that look beautiful but taste horrible. Isn’t the whole point of a cake that it taste good? During my brief stint as a wedding cake baker, I was always leafing through cake books that were all about making beautiful cakes out of fondant–which tastes awful to me. What’s the point? I want a yummy cake with a delicious frosting.
Anyway, The Whimsical Bakehouse is an amazing cookbook. I recommend it to anyone who wants a cake cookbook that is as fun and educational to read as it is to bake from. It contains so much good cake information–it’s like a cake class. It explains how to make excellent buttercream. It has charts on how many people different-sized cakes will feed. It has a chart on what food coloring one uses for buttercream or for melted wafer chocolate to get the right effect on your cakes. It explains, with pictures, how to pipe out cute designs. And the recipes are delicious. Every one is a winner.
They have also written several other cookbooks which are awesome, including Christmas Cookies From the Whimsical Bakehouse, which includes a gingerbread mantel hung with stockings rather than a gingerbread house. So dang cute.
Anyway, the recipe I always use for my birthday cake is an adaptation for the Chocolate Chip Pound Cake from the cake book. This recipe is incredible versatile. It bakes up into two cake pans for a traditional layer cake. Or in a 9 cup Bundt pan for more of a coffee cake presentation. And it can be doubled to bake up in two large (10 inch) square pans for a square layer cake for a party. This cake is perfect. I highly recommend it.
Up until recently, I frosted it with a traditional chocolate buttercream frosting, which, if you know frosting, contains a lot of eggs. Now that I need to avoid too much egg in my diet, I’ve switched over to a sour cream chocolate frosting that I’ve adapted from Smitten Kitchen. But this also goes nicely with a lovely chocolate ganache. The frosting possibilities are endless.
So, for my birthday gift to you, I offer the perfect birthday cake. Enjoy!
Chocolate Chip Pound Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting, Gluten-Free (edited to add where to use eggs)
Yield: 1 two layer (8 or 9 inch) layer cake
For the cake
2 1/4 cups (315 g) Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose flour mix
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks; 230 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 package (8 oz; 230 g) cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons gluten-free sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 extra-large eggs, room temperature
1 cup (6 oz; 170 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
For the frosting
2 1/2 cups (15 oz; 425 g) semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped or in chips
1 teaspoon instant coffee (I use decaf Starbuck’s Via) (optional)
2 1/4 cups (16 oz; 455 g) gluten-free sour cream, room temperature
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4. Line the bottom of two 8 in or 9 in round cake pans with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium high for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the cream cheese and beat on medium high for 2 more minutes. Scrape down sides. Add the sugar, and beat on medium high for 1 minute. Add the sour cream and vanilla extract and beat until combined. Scrape down sides. Add eggs, one at a time, and beating after each addition. Scrape sides. Add the flour mixture and beat until combined. Remove bowl from mixer and mix in chocolate chips by hand.
Scrape batter into prepared cake pans. The batter is quite stiff–so you will need to push it around it to fill out the edges and to smooth the top.
Bake at 350 degrees until a cake tester comes out clean–about 30 minutes for 9 inch pans and 40 minutes for 8 inch pans. Let cake cool in pans for 5 minutes. Release onto wire racks, remove parchment paper, and let cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting
While the cake is cooling, make your frosting. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan set over low heat, heat chocolate until just barely melted. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn. Once melted, remove from heat and whisk to smooth. Add instant coffee powder, if using, a whisk to combine. Let sit for a few minutes until the chocolate has cooled to room temperature. Add sour cream and whisk until well-combined. This will take a bit of whisking. Add honey and vanilla extract and whisk until combined and frosting is smooth.
Set aside frosting at room temperature until cake is completely cool. The frosting should firm up a bit and become a thick, spreadable consistency. If you want to speed up this process, stick it in the fridge for awhile, about 30 minutes. My kitchen tends to be on the cool side, so I just let it firm up on the counter. This makes more than enough frosting for a typical 2 layer cake.
To frost the cake
Place the bottom layer on a serving plate, top side down (so the side that the parchment paper was on is up). I like to add a dab of frosting on the middle of the plate and place the cake layer down on top of it–this will help the cake stay in place. Frost the top of this layer. Place the top layer on top of the frosting, top side down. Frost the top layer and then frost the sides. Smooth all. You will find that you have more than enough frosting. Store the leftover frosting in a jar in the fridge and use as a midnight treat :).