April 11, 2012
The Birthday Effect
There are certain days of the year that stand out as special. Perhaps they are marked by a holiday celebrated by many, or an occasion that is shared by a small group. I grew up with the sense that these days were special, different from other days. They stood outside the realm of every day because of their celebrations and because we did things differently on those days. The days of the year that spring to mind most from my childhood are Christmas and my birthday. On these two days, the air was thicker and brighter, time moved a bit more slowly and I went through each hour with a sense of celebration and excitement, knowing that this was a day to be treasured and savored because it would be different from the following 364.
As I've gotten older, these special days have become less shiny and more closely resemble the days that precede and follow them. While I think special days should still be treasured and enjoyed, my recent birthday had me wondering why every day doesn't get the same treatment. Instead of letting a treasured birthday become just another day of the year, why not infuse each day with the sense that it is unique and special and won't happen again for a long long time?
We know in theory that each day will never be quite the same as the next and each moment that passes is lost forever, but then the alarm goes off and we get out of bed to start another day the same way as we always do. Celebrations, good wishes and that radiant sparkle should be cherished and used liberally, but they aren't just for birthdays and holidays. The days that might be mistaken for ordinary, should be celebrated, too.
A Cake for Birthdays and Everyday
Start with two 8-inch layers of your favorite vanilla or chocolate cake. I filled mine with raspberry jam and chocolate ganache and covered with with a chocolate whipped cream frosting (inspiration from the Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates cookbook). My cake was two layers but you could do three layers of cake. There should be enough ganache and frosting for three layers, but you may need more jam.
1/2 cup raspberry jam
4 ounces dark chocolate
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Remove the seeds from the raspberry jam by putting it through a strainer. Set aside. Roughly chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small bowl. Heat the 3/4 cup of heavy cream to a simmer. Pour it into the bowl of chopped chocolate and whisk to melt the chocolate and completely combine it with the cream. Once you have stirred it into a smooth thick consistency, place it in the refrigerator and stir every so often until it is thick enough to spread without being runny.
Meanwhile, make the frosting. Whip the cream, cocoa, sugar and vanilla almost until it has stiff peaks. Refrigerate until the ganache is ready.
To assemble the cake, use a serrated knife to carefully cut each later in half so you have four, thinner layers. Place the first half-layer on a cake platter or plate and spread half of the jam over the top. Place the second half of the layer on top of the jam. Spread the ganache on top of this layer of cake so that it is about 1/4 inch thick. Cover with another layer of cake. Spread the rest of the jam on top of this layer and cover with the last layer of cake. Put most of the whipped cream frosting on top of the cake and spread to cover the whole cake, using more if needed. Sprinkle the top of the cake with shaved chocolate, cocoa, confectioners sugar or any other decorations you wish. The cake will keep for a few days in the fridge, if it lasts that long.