...and to me. Yes, I share a birthday with Ellen Degeneres (and my cousin Lisa S - Happy Birthday!). Oh, and General Douglas MacArthur. An odd group, we Aquarians (or are we Capricorns now?).
Anyway, a lot of people feel sorry for me because I "have to" bake my own birthday cake. My close friends know that I look forward to it each year. It allows me an opportunity to splurge on ingredients make exactly what I want.
This year my henna tattoo inspired the design and ingredients in my pantry inspired the flavors. I wanted to use some hazelnuts that were languishing in the freezer, and I also had a hankerin' for orange cake. I don't know why; I just did. Finally, chocolate must be involved. That's a given. Oh, and booze, too.
So I took my favorite cake recipe, added orange zest and subtracted a bit of sugar. Why would I, of all people, remove sugar? So I could add liquor and sugar! I brushed Grand Marnier syrup on the layers.
The filling was a hazelnut praline buttercream. I remember now why I hadn't used all those hazelnuts earlier: they are a pain to skin. First you have to blanch the nuts in boiling water. Then you (allegedly) get the skins off by rubbing the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel. This never works for me and I end up rubbing each hazelnut individually to remove the skin. It took me well over an hour to do 12 ounces. I think fraternities would be well served to replace their potentially dangerous and litigation-inducing hazing rituals with hazelnut skinning. Having to skin pounds of hazelnuts would prove beyond a doubt who was dedicated enough to join their ranks. (And if the pledges are buff, by all means let them do it shirtless, at my house - and I'll take the hazelnuts, please.)
Aaannyway, once I was done skinning the hazelnuts I toasted them, chopped them and poured boiling hot caramel over them (I must really hate hazelnuts to do all of those awful things to them). When the hazelnut praline was cool, I broke it into pieces and pulverized it in the food processor until it resembled coarse flour. It seems like a lot of work to get sweet hazelnut dust, but hey, my birthday is only once a year, right?
I stirred this hazelnut praline powder into a batch of buttercream icing. That's *real* buttercream for those who are keeping score: eggs and sugar heated to 160 degrees, whipped into a frenzy, then drowned in butter. Boo yah! And, yes, I remembered the booze - I threw in a few tablespoons of Frangelico.
After that I moved on to the chocolate frosting. It is from Cook's Illustrated, their foolproof chocolate frosting. Normally I really like this frosting but there was no joy in Mudville with this batch. I can't blame it on the recipe, though. I like to chill my cake before icing it because it is easier to frost (i.e., sturdier). However, this frosting set up very fast on the cold cake and it changed color due to the temperature difference. When I went over it for the second layer to even it all out, parts of it remained darker. My coworkers kindly thought I was going for a marbled effect but I wasn't.
This cake taught me a couple of lessons. First, I should quit trying to make square cakes. They are too difficult to frost when you don't make them very often. I did a decent job on the bottom, round layer. It looked pretty good! Then I added the misshapen square top and it wasn't so good anymore.
The second lesson is that I should never, ever, try to draw cake decoartions freehand. I'm just not adept at illustrating. I'm decent at copying and tracing, though, so I should have made a pattern for the design.
Even though it didn't look as great as I wanted, it did taste good. The texture was just what I wanted and the flavors complemented each other. Now on to planning next year's cake...