I just celebrated my 25th birthday and have been dismayed to discover that not everyone loves birthdays as much as I do. The birthday scrooges among us gripe about the passage of another pointless year, whine about the crow’s feet and gray hairs that come with age, worry that they’re one year closer to their inevitable demise, and decry birthday parties as another symptom of our self-obsessed culture. However, if having a blast on my birthday is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
I have a long and storied history of birthday enthusiasm. Who doesn’t like to be on the receiving end of all the good tidings, balloons, and cards? But I like to celebrate other people’s annual special day, too. I adore planning birthday parties, buying or making the perfect gift, and most of all, baking cakes.
As you should remember from childhood, cake is the quintessential and most delicious birthday element. Even if you’re a flat-broke wet blanket about the holiday, do not deny yourself or your friends cake. Baking a cake yourself is far cheaper and much more heartfelt of a gesture than ordering one and ending up with a cake wreck. Here’s how:
Find a recipe you and/or your birthday-having friend will like. I mean, duh, but I thought it bore mentioning. Also, be sure to follow directions to the letter until you have more experience in the cake world. Unlike cooking, baking is a science rather than an art… until you get to the decorating phase.
You should have these in your pantry anyway. Making your own food is a real money-saver, so hit up the bulk section of your grocery store. You definitely want to have flour, sugar, baking soda, oil, milk and eggs (vegan substitutes, in my case), and vanilla extract. If you have decided such cake-making will be only a one-time thing, a) you are lazy and b) boxed cake mix will lighten your heavy load.
The icing on the cake is where best-laid plans tend to disintegrate into powdered sugar in your hair and all over your countertop. The secret ingredient to keeping your icing firm yet creamy and spreadable or pipe-able is vegetable shortening. But first-timers should stick to the icing in canisters; no one will blame you for that.
Mixing and Baking Tools
You can get everything you need (I’m assuming you already have access to an oven) for a cool fiver in Chinatown. Get a big bowl or two and a cake pan. Rectangular and round are both nice, but stick with round for the authenticity that only a layer cake can have. You can also turn any cake into cupcakes by pouring the batter into muffin tins! Look at you, being all hip!
The right candles can take the amazing cake you just made from “How did you forget the sugar?” to “This cake, albeit nasty, is such a sweet and thoughtful birthday gift!” A friend’s boyfriend put princess candles on her last birthday cake; they weren’t your skinny, 30-to-a-box, ordinary candle: Each was topped with a silver star. Unique candles aren’t expensive, and they will distract everyone both from the age of the birthday girl or guy and from your sloppy icing job.
A Good Attitude
Being a Grumpasaurus Rex and trying to celebrate a birthday = non sequitur. Call your friends, get wasted, open cash gifts from family members who you thought forgot about you, overindulge on everything. Just don’t forget the cake!