Wilson May didn’t care much for birthdays. And yet he acquiesced, celebrating with family, [family he didn’t care much to see], at the request of his pushy daughter, year after year, cake after cake.
Why the hell does my daughter need to mark every goddamn birthday? He thought while his phone vibrated in his pocket. It was her. [Who else would it be?] Calling to remind him about his birthday celebration later in the day.
As if Wilson needed a reminder that yet another year had passed.
He silenced the vibrating phone in his pocket [God damn phone.] just as the nurse he dreaded seeing pushed open the door to the long, stark hallway he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to walk down.
Wilson May? Wilson May? the nurse said, her squirrel like eyes darting around the waiting room. [Did her nose wiggle too? Is she sniffing me out?]
Wilson removed his cheap, cockeyed reading glasses placing them in the 3 button placket of his pink polo shirt, adjusted his now wrinkled pants and debated leaving. In 20 minutes he could be home. Alone. A beer in hand and sitting in the sun on a large wooden deck only one rocking chair occupied, where he’d have more time to think about what was next for his tottery body, his tired soul. [If the pain dissipated? Golf everyday. Gone entirely? Travel, fucking, drinking. Wilson as he imagined himself 25 years ago.]
And yet, Wilson’s inner thoughts never matched his outer life. For the past sixty-six years he had lived and loved two very different lives. The life the outside world saw, a life well-lived [to others], consisted of obligations, dependability…sometimes love varied immensely from the impractical, reckless and solitary life Wilson imagined daily.
[At times becoming so engrossed in the romanticized version of his life, Wilson was unreachable. Lost to his castle in the air, his black coffee growing cold in his large, hairy hands, the local paper left unread. His now ex-wife called them staring spells. Wilson knew better.]
Wilson May…Wilson…? He sensed a bit of hostility in the squirrel nurse. He had aggravated her now and in turn she would likely be less gentle with him. Tit for tat, like so many relationships he once knew.
Squirrel nurse surveyed the room one last time before giving up on Wilson. The beige door gradually closed behind her, as if allowing chance to take over.
Wilson stared straight ahead, unmoving. No decisions would be made today.
Strawberry Buttermilk Birthday Cake
Cake and frosting recipe adapted from Sweetapolita
Italian pastry cream recipe adapted from An Italian in My Kitchen
makes 1, 3 layer, 8-inch round cake
Ingredients for cake:
4 eggs at room temperature
2 egg yolks at room temperature
1 + 1/4 cups buttermilk, well shaken
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
3 cups cake flour, sifted
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup or 2 sticks, unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
Ingredients for strawberry compote:
2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
1/4 cup sugar (a bit more if strawberries are not sweet)
1 tablespoon orange juice
pinch of kosher salt
Ingredients for Italian pastry cream:
1 cup + 1/2 cup whole milk
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
2 + 1/2 tablespoons flour
Ingredients for whipped vanilla frosting:
1/4 cup whole milk
3 sticks + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
good pinch of kosher salt
few drops of food coloring if desired
Directions for cake:
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Grab 3, 8 inch round cake pans and butter the bottoms and sides of each pan. Line the bottoms with parchment paper and dust with flour. Tap out an excess flour. Set aside
Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, 1/4 cup of buttermilk and vanilla in a large measuring cup or small bowl. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Reduce the speed to low and add the cold, cubed butter, one piece at a time, leaving a few second in between each addition. Continue to mix on low until butter is well blended and looks like wet sand or cornmeal.
Next add the remaining buttermilk (1 cup) and mix on medium speed for about 4-5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure everything is well incorporated. On low-speed, slowly add the egg mixture. Increase speed to medium and beat for about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and fold the batter once or twice.
Divide the batter evenly among the three pans. Bake two of the pans until the cake is golden and springs back gently when touched in the middle or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a couple of crumbs, about 25-28 minutes. Cool cakes on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing them from the pan to cool completely. Next, bake the last pan for 25-28 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and cooling completely.
Directions for strawberry compote:
Combine 1 cup of strawberries, sugar, orange juice, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until the berries start to break down, about 10 minutes.
Lower the heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. The compote is ready when it covers the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Using a handheld masher, mash the strawberries until juicy. Add remaining fresh strawberries. Store in an air-tight container and refrigerate until ready to use.
**The compote can be made up to 3 days ahead of time!**
Directions for Italian pastry cream:
Heat milk in medium sauce pan over low heat. Do not boil. Remove from heat. Using another sauce pan, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until combined. Next add the vanilla and flour. Slowly pour in warm milk and cook over low heat, whisking constantly until it thickens, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly and stir in the Grand Marnier. Pour into glass bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the pastry cream. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
**Pastry cream can be made several days in advance. Store in air-tight container with plastic wrap covering the surface of the cream and refrigerate.**
Directions for whipped vanilla frosting
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until very pale and creamy, about 8 minutes. Add sifted confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, salt and milk. Mix on low-speed for about a minute. Increase the speed to medium and whip for 5-6 minutes. Add food coloring, if desired. Frosting will be very light and creamy.
Place first cake layer on cake stand, face up. Using a pastry bag, filled with the Italian pastry cream, pipe a two-inch circle around the perimeter of the cake layer. This will keep the compote from leaking out. Add a few spoonfuls of the strawberry compote to the center of the cake layer. Spread the compote just to the pastry cream. Add your next cake layer, pressing gently in place. Again, pipe a two inch circle around the perimeter of the cake layer. Add the remaining strawberry compote to the center of the cake layer. Spread the compote just to the pastry cream. Next, add the final cake layer, pressing gently into place. Cover the entire cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Once the cake is chilled add the whipped vanilla frosting to the entire cake, decorating however you wish. Flowers, sprinkles anything goes! Serve at room temperature. Enjoy!
**Cake can be made 2 days in advance. Be sure to keep it refrigerated.**
5 Unique Birthday Cake Links
Looking for a special gluten-free cake for the chocolate lover in your life? Head to the Tartelette blog for Helene’s flourless chocolate cake with salted butter caramel sauce.
Take advantage of fresh summer berries and make Camille Styles’ summer berry ice cream cake.
My husband loves chocolate chip cookies so I may need to make him Pastry Affair’s cookie dough cake for his next birthday. Check it out!
Key lime pie in birthday cake form? Yes it exists. Head to Bakerella for the recipe.
My birthday was last week. I’m thinking I’ll take some me time and celebrate a new year alone with a fork and this angel food cake.