Well, my birthday came and went and it was not earth shattering. ie. I didn’t suddenly become much wiser or more grown-up, which I didn’t figure was going to happen, so at least I have the satisfaction of being right. I did get a nice new purse, which I feel is a totally grown up thing to have, so that’s something.
I may have cried a little, but that’s because I always cry at some point on my birthday. Not because I’m unhappy, just because I cry at almost any strong emotion, be it joy, sadness, anger, frustration, tiredness (that’s not actually an emotion, but it does make me cry), and birthdays always give me strong emotions because people do this whole thing of being particularly nice to you on your birthday, and I get overwhelmed, in a nice sort of way, when people are nice to me.
We had a delicious pre-birthday dinner with my parents on the day they came back from Norway. And we had a lovely dinner with Joel’s parents on my actual birthday because we were out visiting them at their little cabin in North Idaho, from whence we are just now returned.
And that is well nice and good, but when it comes down to it, and what I’m sure you’re thinking is, the important thing about birthdays is cake. Right?
Over the past set of years, I’ve taken to making the cake myself for my birthday. A lot of people seem to think it’s a tragedy to have to make your own cake. I can see where they’re coming from, and why it feels sort of wrong. But at the same time, when you are someone who always likes an excuse to make a cake, wouldn’t it, in a way, be more of a tragedy not to be allowed to make your own cake?
And for my birthday it has always been and shall always be Norwegian birthday cake, or Norwegian celebration cake if you will, or bløtkake if you speak the language. I’ve actually been meaning to share my recipe for Norwegian birthday cake with you for several years now, but I’ve kept postponing it, partly because I kept forgetting to take pictures and partly because I’ve been fiddling with the foundational cake recipe and wanted to wait until I’d found one that felt like a true favorite.
Theoretically I shouldn’t be fiddling with the recipe, I suppose. After all, it’s a traditional old recipe, it should be preserved in as true a form to the original as possible, right? (That being about a cup each of eggs, flour, and sugar, whipped into oblivion and baked into a light spongey cake.) But, the cake base has never been sacred in my family. Perhaps because my mother isn’t much of a cake baker, we felt the important elements were really the cream, jam, and berries, and the cake could vary from year to year. Some years it was made from a Duncan Hines box (sorry to tell on you mom!); some years we would buy the prebaked cake layers in plastic packaging from the grocery store in Norway and sprinkle them with milk to re-moisten them; some years we made the cake using the sukkerbrød (basic cake layer) recipe from the back of the sugar box.
I’ve taken that ethos and run with it, trying all sorts of recipes for yellow cakes and chiffon cakes and sponge cakes trying to find one that strikes a balance between the toothy moistness I love in yellow cakes and the almost-too-easy-to-eat lightness of a sponge or chiffon. I found it in this wonderful cake recipe from the fantastically talented Suzanne (hi S!).
All I had to do was adjust it slightly to bake it in a single, larger, springform pan – I don’t know why, but this is just how we do it for birthday cakes in our family, and I swear it makes them taste better than layer cakes baked in multiple pans – and then add in the whipped cream, jam, and berries.
Bløtkake is, in its essence, extremely simple, all about the cream and fruit. This also makes it a wonderful summer cake. With its creamy, jammy layers, it’s not dissimilar from a Victoria Sponge or the way some people make strawberry shortcake. But – and perhaps this is just my sentimentality talking – it’s different, somehow, and better (in my opinion!).
The very best is the slice the birthday boy or girl gets to eat the next morning for breakfast. The jam and cream have soaked into the cake at this point making it even more moist and marrying the flavors together. Plus, it’s a great way to extend your birthday celebration.
Let’s eat cake.
- For the cake:
- 3 large eggs separated and at room temperature
- 1½ cup sugar
- 2¼ cups cake flour
- 3 tsp. Baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- ⅓ cup + 1 Tbs vegetable oil (I use peanut oil)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
- For the filling and assembly:
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 2 Tbs. sugar
- about ¾ cup good quality strawberry or raspberry (my fave) jam
- a couple cups of fresh strawberries, hulled and halved, or any other type of berries (in winter we tend to use bananas or kiwis)
- Heat your oven to 350.
- Grease a 10-inch round springform pan and cover the outside of it with a layer of aluminum foil (this will help keep the cake from browning too much before it cooks through).
- In a large metal bowl, use a handheld beater (or kitchen aid) to beat the egg whites until they are foamy, then continue to beat on high speed while adding ½ cup of the sugar 1 Tbs. at a time. Beat until the whites are stiff and glossy. Set aside.
- In another bowl, stir together the flour, remaining cup of sugar, baking powder, and salt, then on medium speed beat in the oil and vanilla and ½ cup of milk (you don't even have to wash the mixer before doing this!) for one minute.
- Add the remaining milk plus the egg yolks and continue to beat for another minute, until well combined. Then, fold in the egg whites and spread the batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake the cake in the oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 15-20 minutes, then remove it from the springform pan and allow to cool completely.
- When the cake is fully cooled and ready for decorating, slice it into three horizontal layers using a very long serrated knife. Whip the heavy cream with the sugar until it holds stiff (but not super stiff) peaks. Spread the bottom layer with a thick layer of jam, then cover this with a layer of whipped cream. Add the second layer and repeat, spreading it with jam, then whipped cream. Top with the final layer of cake.
- Spread the entire outside of the cake with the rest of the whipped cream, then decorate the tops and sides with the berries. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve (I like to make mine a bit ahead of time so the filling has a little time to soak into the cake because I like it best that way).
- To serve the cake the way I learned growing up, first cut a round piece in the middle (so that if you were to remove the round piece the cake would be shaped like a donut), then cut slices radiating out from the round piece. The round piece is to be saved for the birthday boy or girl to eat for breakfast the next morning.