Friends and family misconstrue the reasons I don’t like to acknowledge my birthday. I’m not sad about getting older; I’m actually pretty proud of everything I’ve accomplished so far. I just don’t want everyone in the world looking at me for no reason at all. Being the center of attention turns me into a sullen teenager. I want to throw on a huge pair of sunglasses, hide behind my hair, do anything to turn the harsh spotlight of eyes on me in another direction. Compound that with the awkwardness of being forced to open presents in front of a crowd and I become a snappish, embarrassed mess. I would rather strip to a towel in front of a stranger and have them touch my naked back with oily hands.
Don’t get me wrong; I do love living high on the hog, and I have no problem finding excuses to spend money on myself. I just don’t feel others should reward me for the simple fact of my existence. So every year on my birthday I end up grumpy, exhausted, and disappointed after a day of forced smiles and recognition. The greatest gift anyone could give me (apart from cold, hard cash, which I can use to buy the perfect present, because I alone know what I want) is to let me sleep in, watch TV, eat junk food, and ignore the constant stream of emails and deadlines for a day. Kind of like Kevin in Home Alone, only without the need to burn Joe Pesci’s head with a blowtorch.
But this year’s birthday is kind of a big one, and I thought it was high time to come to terms with my ambivalence about the whole “it’s your special day” thing. So I did what any food-loving misanthrope would do: I made a cake for myself, by myself, in the exact flavors I wanted, and ate it myself. (This may be culinary payback for the year that a well-meaning but inept co-worker staged a birthday coup with a strawberry-chocolate ice cream cake, two great tastes that do not taste great together in my book, and a conference room full of co-workers yelling “SURPRISE!” As Grumpy Cat would say, NO.)
Though you really can’t taste the Champagne flavor in the cake below, I like knowing it’s there—and the bubbles help create a delicate, moist crumb. If you’re serving this to kids and are concerned about the teensiest, tiniest potential for them to consume alcohol, just substitute seltzer. But don’t skimp on the intensely tart lemon curd, since it cuts the sugary richness of the frosting. I’d rather have sour and tart than full-on sweet anyway, and it’s my damn cake.
I’m going to eat a cold slice of lemon cake for breakfast now. Not because it’s my birthday, but because I think it tastes better that way.
Lemon-Champagne Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 50 minutes
Total time: 4 hours, including chilling and resting time
Makes 8-12 servings
adapted from Vintage Cakes
- 3 cups (11 1/4 oz.) cake flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 oz.) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup organic canola oil
- 1 cup Prosecco or other sparkling white wine
Preheat the oven to 350˚ and spritz 2 or 3 8- or 9-inch round baking pans with nonstick baking spray.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
Beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed for about a minute until blended and frothy. Reduce the mixer speed to low and drizzle the oil into the bowl until fully incorporated.
Add a third of the flour, then half the wine, followed by another third of the flour, then the remaining wine. Finish with the final third of the flour, making sure to stop the mixer as soon as the flour is incorporated into the batter—don’t overbeat. The batter will be thin and soupy.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and bake for 30-40 minutes; timing will depend on how many pans you use (and what they’re made of), and how hot your oven runs. The cake is done when it’s domed and lightly golden, and when a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks for a half hour, then remove the cakes from the pans and place directly on the racks until completely cool.
(Cakes can be prepared a day in advance and stored at room temperature overnight.)
adapted from Classic Snacks Made from Scratch
- 1 cup (7 oz.) granulated sugar
- 4 large organic lemons, zested and juiced (you should have about 1 cup of freshly squeezed and strained juice)
- 4 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons (2 oz.; 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
Pulse the granulated sugar and lemon zest together in a food processor for about 15 seconds until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Whisk the eggs together until well beaten, then vigorously whisk in the zested sugar.
Heat the lemon juice and butter in a wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat just until the liquid starts to steam and one or two bubbles appear at the edges of the pan.
Remove from the heat and slowly drizzle 1/2 cup of the hot lemon juice into the eggs, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs and help them adjust to the heat. Whisk the tempered eggs back into the remaining hot lemon juice.
Return the pan to the burner on low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes until the liquid thickens considerably and puddles up on itself when dripped from the spatula or spoon. Watch carefully to make sure the curd doesn’t come to a boil, since that will cook and scramble the eggs.
Strain the curd through a fine mesh strainer to remove errant bits of cooked egg or zest (don’t worry, it happens every time) into a clean bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 8-oz. blocks cream cheese, at room temperature
- 8 tablespoons (4 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 20 oz. powdered sugar (that’s 1 16-oz. box plus 1 cup)
- 2 teaspoons lemon extract
Beat the cream cheese and butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed for about five minutes until well-blended and whipped.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the powdered sugar incrementally until fully incorporated, then add the lemon extract. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds more to combine.
Assemble and frost the cake:
If you have two cake rounds, cut each in half to create four layers. If you have three cake rounds, leave as they are and you’ll have three layers.
Line the edges of your serving plate or cake stand with waxed paper and place a cake round on the plate/stand to keep the waxed paper in place. Spread a thick layer of the curd on the cake evenly on the cake, leaving about a 1/4-inch border of un-curded cake around the edge. Add another cake layer and repeat with the curd, and again until you have a final layer of cake with no curd on top.
Apply a thin crumb coat layer of frosting to the cake, then refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow the cake and frosting to firm up.
Apply a thick, final layer of frosting, starting with the sides of the cake and working up to the top. Don’t be afraid to overdo it with frosting; work with large dollops and smooth them out, since you can always scrape excess off in the end. (Who ever does that, though?)
When your cake has been frosted, carefully shimmy the waxed paper out from under the edges of your cake for a clean presentation.
Store the cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days; I like my leftover cake cold for breakfast in the mornings.