Husband's birthday is today and he has always been of the opinion that the patriotic bunting at ballparks is in honor of him. And why not? A national holiday is a grand time to have a birthday. (Most) people are off work. (All) people are in the mood to celebrate. (Nearly) everyone craves a beer and a cookout. (Select few) people are even stuffing their faces with Nathan's at Coney Island (congratulations Joey Chestnut, back-to-back-to-back hot dog eating champion). The weather is gorgeous. It's a nice time to get a little older.
As diligent readers of this space know, I tend to take birthday cakes pretty seriously. So what to do for Husband's big day? Well, naturally, something to do with the flag. For not only does he share his birthday with our nation's, but he also happens to be one patriotic fellow. So while I could make a cake in the shape of a marathon runner or Howard Stern or Mr. Met -- his other loves -- a flag just felt right. And I happened to come across this brilliant idea a few days ago. The timing was perfect.
This festive flag cake is much easier to create than it looks. Really. But don't tell anyone. Pretend it was really complex; pretend you made it up yourself. People will think you are incredibly inspired. It will be our little secret. I used a white cake recipe from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, but you can, of course, use any ol' white cake recipe that you like. You can even use a cake mix from a box. Just be sure to pick up some red and blue food coloring. See? I told you it was easy.
As I write, I can hear fireworks outside my open window. A distant, festive popping -- punctuated by the occasional boom -- that is the sound of a nation at play. And a husband who's a year older.
Happy birthday, love!
AMERICAN FLAG CAKE
Adapted from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook (cake), 17 and Baking (concept) and The Joy of Cooking (frosting)
Note: It is best to bake the cakes the night before you wish to assemble and serve the cake; the overnight rest in the fridge makes the individual layers very easy to cut and frost.
Additionally, once you cut the layers, there is quite a bit of "waste" involved with this cake. But! Do not throw it away! You can save it and serve it, cut into pieces, with ice cream. Delish.
For the cake:
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 c. sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. self-rising flour
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. milk
1 t. vanilla extract
Red food coloring
Blue food coloring
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and lightly flour three 9-inch round cake pans, then line the bottom with waxed paper.
Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
In a large bowl, sift the flours together. Whisk together the milk and vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in four parts, alternating with the milk/vanilla mixture, beating well after each addition.
Divide the batter in thirds. Using the red food coloring, dye one third of the mixture red. Dye another third blue. Leave the last third as is; it is the white layer. You will have to use more food coloring that you think to achieve bright colors; don't be shy. Just make sure you stir the food coloring in well to avoid streaks.
Pour the dyed batters into the prepared pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out on a wire rack to cool completely. Once completely cool, wrap the cakes in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours, preferably overnight.
For the frosting:
16 oz. cream cheese
10 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 t. vanilla extract
4 c. powdered sugar, sifted
Place the cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer. Cream together until well-combined and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, mixing very well to combine and make a smooth frosting.
The frosting can be made a day ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Be sure to allow enough time for the frosting to come to room temperature before using.
How to put the cake together:
Remove the cakes from the refrigerator and unwrap. Place the red layer on a cutting board or lazy susan. Using a serrated knife, cut horizontally along the top of the cake to remove any "hump" that may have been created when the cake rose while baking. You want the cake to be flat on top, not curved.
Then, using a serrated knife, cut the red layer horizontally into two discs of equal thickness. I find it easiest to hold the knife relatively still and turn the cake, gently sawing through the cake as it turns. You will end up with two red layers that are approximately 1" thick.
Repeat this process with the white layer. You will end up with two white layers that are approximately 1" thick.
Set aside one of the red 1" layers and one of the white 1" layers -- you will use them later, intact.
Even out the top of the blue layer -- as you did with the red and white -- but do not cut the blue layer in half horizontally. Leave it whole. It will be approximately 2" thick.
Stack one of the white 1" layers on top of one of the red 1" layers. Then stack the blue layer on top. Place an overturned bowl with about a 7" circumference on the top of the stack to use as a guide. Again using a serrated knife, cut around the bowl, cutting a circle straight down through all of the layers. You will end up with 3 rings and 3 small cut-out circles, one each of red, white and blue. (You will only use the blue ring and the white and red small cut-out circles.)
To assemble the cake: place the uncut white layer on a platter or cake board. Cover it with a thin layer of frosting.
Place the uncut red layer on top of it, then cover with a thin layer of frosting.
Next, place the blue ring on the cake.
Cover the inside of the ring with a thin layer of frosting (this will help the pieces of cake adhere to one another).
Place the small white cut-out circle inside the blue ring, then cover it with a thin layer of frosting.
Finally, place the small cut-out red circle inside the blue ring, pressing down to make the top of the cake even.
Cover the entire cake with a thin "crumb coat" of frosting, then refrigerate for at least an hour.
When you are ready to serve, remove the cake from the refrigerator and cover with the remaining frosting (you might have a little frosting left over for a rainy day). To create the "firework" effect on the top, drag an offset spatula in concentric circles on the top of the cake.
Using a skewer or toothpick, starting from the center gently draw lines out toward the edge of the cake.
Don't tell anyone what's inside the cake. Just tell them it's a white cake. They will ooh and aah when you cut into it.
Happy 4th of July, and happy birthday Husband!