Birthday Cake

Today we had a birthday party for baby G.  She’ll be one on Wednesday but we celebrated today.  The celebration involved a lot of cake.  I made cupcakes, cake and more cake.  Why so much cake?  I needed a backup cake in case the REAL cake I was making didn’t work.  Also, my husband has often said he doesn’t like yellow cake.  So, before I give you the recipe and the story that goes with it, I give you what a first birthday should look like:


What cake do you associate with birthdays?  The Hippo talks about hers here. I always want store- or bakery- bought cake.  Perhaps because I bake, I want someone else to do it for me.  I’ve been thinking about G’s first birthday cake for – no lie- a year (I started thinking about it while I was still pregnant.  What can I say?  I’ll frame it as I’m a planner rather than I’m obsessed with food).  I decided early on that I wanted to make her the Chocolate Initiation Cake from Lora Brody’s Growing Up On The Chocolate Diet.  Lora Brody was a friend of my grandmother’s and I adore this cookbook.  It’s a lot like this blog, actually- recipes along with many, many stories from her life.  I can’t recommend it highly enough- buy it, you won’t regret it.

My copy is a bit battered- it has traveled to Israel and back with me.

This is the birthday cake that she made for her first son.  It is now the birthday cake I have made for my first daughter. I feel it is a nice tradition that I will attempt to continue.  It is, however,  a rather complicated cake.  I was afraid it wouldn’t come out well so I made a boxed chocolate cake.  And some cupcakes.

But back to Lora Brody.  I have read and re-read this cookbook several times.  A few years ago, I emailed Ms. Brody to tell her how much I enjoyed it and to let her know that I was living in my grandmother’s house, cooking in her kitchen.  I told her this because she knew my grandmother and because the inscription on the copy of her cookbook that I own (which was my grandmother’s) reads, “To my wonderful friend, G., with much love and tremendous admiration”.  I thought she might want to know how much I loved it.  She responded and told me how pleased she was that I was in the house and that she drives by often and thinks of my grandmother when she does.

So it somehow seemed fitting for G’s first cake to be the chocolate initiation cake.  And since my daughter is named for my grandmother, it may be time to email Ms. Brody again to let her know how the traditions are being passed down.  I’ll let you know if she responds.  Meanwhile, make this cake.  It’s complicated but so worth it. *I have mixed feelings about including this recipe since it’s from a published book and I didn’t really tweak it at all.  But I googled it and it came up as having been printed in the Chicago Tribune so I feel like it’s already out there.  Regardless, buy the book.  It’s fantastic.*

Chocolate Initiation Cake

For the layers:

2 1/4 cups flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks (6 oz.) sweet, unsalted butter

1 1/3 cups sugar

4 extra-large eggs, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1 cup milk

12 ounces milk chocolate chips, mini if possible

For the filling/frosting:

2 cups heavy cream

12 ounces (2 cups) milk chocolate, chopped (you can use chips)

2 tablespoons sweet unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and parchment paper three 9 inch round cake pans.  This means cutting out a circle of parchment paper that fits into the bottom of the cake pan (put the pan on top of the paper and trace it, then cut it out).  Grease the pan, put the parchment into the pan and grease the parchment.  You can go the extra mile and flour the pan but I didn’t.  Set aside.

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.  Set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and 1 cup of the sugar.  Add the egg yolks one by one, making sure to fully incorporate in between.  Add the vanilla, milk and sour cream.  It will be a sort of curdled looking liquid.  This is ok.  Keep going.  Add the flour mixture and mix just until it’s all mixed in- no more or the cake will be rough. Add the chocolate chips.

In a clean bowl with clean beaters, whip the egg whites and the rest of the sugar (1/3 cup).  Beat until stiff but not dry.  This means the peaks will hold but they’re still shiny and loose-ish.  Fold the egg whites into the batter.

Ready to go into the pans

Divide the batter evenly into the three pans.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, switching pans halfway through (front to back or rack to rack, depending on your oven).  The cakes are done when they are golden brown and start to pull away from the sides. 

Let them cool for a few minutes before removing them from the pans.

Bottom of cake as it came out of the pan.

Make the frosting/filling.

I warn you that mine did not come out correctly so it was more of a glaze than a filling or frosting.  I therefore do not have photos.  However, you’re basically making a ganache with a little bit of butter.  Heat the cream over low heat.  Don’t let it boil over but bring it to a simmer and let it reduce by half.  Add the chocolate and stir until it’s melted and smooth.  Add the butter off of the heat and stir until all is incorporated.  Put it in the fridge and let it cool.  If you’ve done it correctly, you’ll have a very thick but not solid sauce.  Whip it with beaters until it is fluffy.  Or, if you end up with more of a sauce, as I did, whip it and then feel very frustrated.

To put the cake together, place one layer on a platter.  Spread some of the filling (not too much!) over the cake.  Add the next layer and repeat.  Put on the final layer and frost the top, bottom and sides.  Try to restrain yourself from eating the entire cake with just a fork. 

Full disclosure:  here’s my cake from the side.  Note the pool of not-quite- correctly made frosting along the sides.  Yummy but very messy.

So I served the rest of the not-quite-frosting on the side and called it fudge sauce.  Problem solved!

Oh and P.S., the husband decided that he likes THIS yellow cake.

5 thoughts on “Birthday Cake

  1. That is so sweet! She is a cutie 🙂 My son is turning 1 on Thursday – and yeah, I have been planning his cake almost as long in my mind. You did a wonderful job!

  2. Wonderful recipe, and not all that complicated, it seems like standard scratch cake baking to me – just a few extra cake-making-steps involved in beating the egg whites! No big deal, and I will try this particular recipe some day. I have made a chocolate ganache cake before, but the cake was all chocolate as well. I’ll try and uncover the recipe – it was also wonderful, and the ganache turned out perfectly – almost like fudge, just not as thick!

    I’ll hunt the book down – perhaps I can find it on Kindle?!?

  3. Sarah, congrats! G’s real birthday is Wednesday so I feel that we are with you in spirit! The vegan cupcakes you have one your blog are ones I make often and love.

    Paula, it’s true, not that complicated, just a few extra steps. And however you seek out the book, it’s a great one.

  4. I think the frosting/glaze looks great. Really, is there anything better than cake that’s been soaking in chocolate? I think not!

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