Let Them Eat Birthday Cake
November 15, 2007

All photos by Jen Maiser

Mathra is twelve days and twelve hours old than I am, so we usually celebrate together at some sort of halfway point. In past years, it's just been the two of us going out to dinner. I think we used to throw parties in Boston but we lived in much bigger apartments back then.

This birthday year was the year we bowled for birthdays. Mathra loves to bowl, I love to bowl, we have friends who love to bowl, and I gave us bowling shirts for Christmas last year. We rented a few lanes at Presidio Bowl, and since cake -- specifically birthday cake -- is the only food allowed in from the outside, I started asking around for the best cake in the Bay Area.

Instead of suggestions, I got the following email from Jeanne: "For days I wrestled with this whole concept...birthday girl providing own birthday cake. (purses lips, raises eyebrow). No there must be some old proverb or wives tale that prevents this from happening! Could I make that birthday cake for you?"

Could she? Damn! I haven't had a birthday cake made for me since I was old enough to know that it's not exactly cool to stick your hands in it and pull out two fists of cake and frosting. (For the record, when I saw Jeanne's cake, I nearly reverted to my old ways.)

My mom had a tradition of making a birthday pie, a chocolate pie. It's an old family recipe so beloved that the birthday girl got two pies made for her day: one for her and one for the rest of the family. I've made that chocolate pie over and over again and on one occasion, it healed a broken heart.

For birthday parties, I requested cakes from Wuollet's on West 50th in Minneapolis. Wuollet's doesn't make birthday cakes with your typical cooked icings -- guaranteed to sugar-rile a five-year-old up into a Barbie-chomping frenzy in two seconds flat -- no. Wuollet's makes their signature soufflé cakes out of moist cake sandwiching layers of Bavarian cream and frosted with extremely thick whipped cream. You kept these cakes refrigerated, so the Bavarian cream ended up seeming more like ice cream.

But I never had buttercream growing up, and Jeanne was making buttercream. This was the chosen cake's description: "Snow white, quad-layer cake with a hint of lemon, a tight crumb layered with raspberry jam and filled with and frosted with a lemony buttercream -- quite elegant." What she didn't tell us -- but what ended up being a genius addition on top of an already sublime cake -- was that she was adding shredded coconut to the lemon buttercream frosting. I don't know if I have adequately explained how much we love coconut in this house.

The thing about this cake was that it wasn't the butter or the cream or the coconut or the raspberry that made this cake the perfect birthday cake. It wasn't the perfectly adorable birthday candles, the awesome cake saver, or the drools from the potheads in the lane next to us. What made this birthday cake the Perfect Birthday Cake is that Jeanne made it for us.

Jacques says you can taste when food has been cooked with love, and there was love in every sticky, fine-crumbed layer of that birthday cake.

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