Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ben's 30th Birthday

Yesterday was Ben’s 30th birthday!

This past new year’s eve, I had realized that this September, Ben would turn 30. We had only been dating 2 months at that point, but I knew we would still be together in September.

Sometimes, you just know.

I told him that day that I was looking forward to throwing him a 30th birthday party and celebrating that milestone with him. And, admittedly, at the time, September felt a long way off. Between January and September, I knew the tulips would push their way through the ground, the inevitable summer sunshine would present itself predictably each day, berries would come and go from the famer’s market, and the days would once again begin to shorten.

September came much sooner than I thought. In the time between new year’s eve and now, he and I have shared so much, done so much, and marveled at the ease of our relationship. Even as he supported me emotionally through some of the most difficult periods of my illness and the eventual diagnosis, our relationship felt easy. I feel as if I have known him forever, yet the time we have been together has passed by like the blink of an eye.

As planned, I scheduled a party for him, invited friends, and planned appetizers. And all week I had been trying to come up with a special cake to bake for him, one which would satisfy his love of fruit desserts, but that wasn’t a tart, pie, or crisp. At work, my mind swirled with fruit and cake and frosting combinations, mentally blending flavors.

Since he had been so excited about the baked apple dessert I made this week and September is the harbinger of the glorious apple season (though here in Portland, September hardly feels like fall yet), I created the cake pictured above, a vanilla-based cake with apple butter and vanilla buttercream frosting. I based the recipe on Claudia Pillow and Analise Roberts’ recipe for a maple walnut cake, which calls for apricot butter or preserves. I wasn’t sure if the apple butter would be thick enough to hold the layers together, but thought I’d give it a shot. And it turned out to be a raving success.

Ben and I had a nice dinner together and then shared the rest of the evening with several friends. We all had a great time grazing over fresh strawberries and black berries from the farmer’s market, mixed olive bruschette on gluten-free baguette slices, and other delicious treats, as we talked and joked and caught up with some we hadn’t seen in a while. Several of his friends and his parents had sent me (which I had solicited ahead of time) pictures and stories of him growing up, which I displayed on one of the living room walls.

We went to bed exhausted but happy. Happy to have shared this milestone together, with friends. (and happy to have leftover cake!)

Ben’s vanilla apple spice cake:

1 ¾ cups Brown rice flour
½ cup potato starch
¼ cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup butter, melted until mostly liquid
1 cup hazelnut milk (or favorite milk)
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons apple pie spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Prepare two 9-inch round cake pans with butter and rice flour (or use non-stick) and preheat oven to 350F. In a medium-sized bowl, combine flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt and mix well. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer until slightly frothy, add sugar and butter and blend at medium speed until well blended. Add the flour mixture and beat at medium speed for about 1 minute, until smooth.

To marble the cake: remove about 1/3 of the batter into a small bowl. Add the apple pie spice and cinnamon and mix well with a spoon.

Pour the non-spiced batter into the two prepared cake pans. Carefully spoon the spiced batter, dropping random spoonfuls into the cake pans. Swirl the batter by dragging the butter knife through the batter in a swirling motion a few times.

Bake on the center rack for 35 minutes. To check doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake; if it comes out clean, it is done.

Remove cake from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

To frost cakes:

Approximately 8-10oz apple butter (I used Oregon Hill country apple butter), refrigerated ahead of time
1 cup coarsely chopped or crushed sugared pecans (these can be store-bought or home-made and taste best when they are basic butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar)
1 cup butter, slightly soft
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat butter with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and 1 cup of the powdered sugar and blend. Add the remaining sugar 1 cup at a time and blend until smooth.

Remove the apple butter from refrigerator and spread over one of the cake layers (about ¼ inch thick). Sprinkle half of the sugared pecans over the apple butter and lightly press the nuts in with your hands, careful to not disturb the apple butter. Place the second cake layer on top and frost with the vanilla frosting on top and along sides. Sprinkle remaining pecans on top of cake. Lightly press the pecans into the frosting just enough so they stick into the frosting.


Note: Keep this cake in the refrigerator.

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