The Birthday Cake.

This cake has evolved through the generations: My grandmother came up with the cake idea; my mother added the coffee to the whipped cream; I added the chocolate cut-outs.

My mother made this cake five times every year. She made it for each of the four kids’ birthdays, and she made one for her to share with my dad on the midpoint between their birthdays which fall two weeks apart. So when I had my first child, Max, I was very excited to make this for him. I got the recipe from my mom, spent an entire day fussing over its creation, which includes one process for the cake, another for the filling and another for the topping, and in so doing gained a significantly greater appreciation for my mother’s efforts, as I had never heard her complain about this cake’s complexity. She never mentioned that it might have been any trouble at all. She would, just very naturally, produce the cake five times every year. By my calculation (and I’m sure my oldest brother will set me straight on this), if she made the cake every year from the time my sister turned one, and continued until I went away to college, taking into account that my sister has a summer birthday and probably was home for her cake, I calculate that mom made this cake between 60 and 70 times.

This all said, this is the epitome of an elegant cake. It is light (made with 7 eggs and no oil), filled with a semi sweet chocolaty, creamy fluff of a filling, and topped with a coffee-infused whipped cream. It is a symphony of flavors, absolutely worth the fuss—but please don’t tell my kids that it’s any trouble at all.

Gordon Family Birthday Cake

For the cake:

  • 7 eggs, separated
  • 1/3 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 c. sifted cake flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • the zest of 1 lemon, grated
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • pinch salt
  1. Beat egg whites until stiff, adding cream of tartar after eggs are frothy.
  2. Fold in 1/2 c. sugar into egg whites.
  3. Beat the eggs yolks until light and thick, mix in 1/2 c. sugar, the lemon zest and vanilla.
  4. Fold in half of eggs whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the flour and salt, then fold in the rest of the eggs whites.
  5. Pour batter into an ungreased center-tubed pan.
  6. Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees.
  7. Invert the pan to cool.

For the filling:

  • 4 eggs, separated (The eggs whites don’t get cooked, so if you worry about such things then purchase pasteurized eggs.)
  • 1-1/3 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3 Tbs. water
  • 3 Tbs. sugar
  1. Melt chocolate in double boiler, then add the sugar, water and beaten egg yolks. Cook in double boiler, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and smooth.
  2. Let cool.
  3. Beat egg whites until stiff, stir into chocolate mixture.

For the topping:

  • 1 pint whipping cream
  • about 2 Tbs. confectioners sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. instant coffee granules

Beat the whipping cream along with the coffee granules. When nearly thick, add the sugar, adding just enough to slightly sweeten the whipped cream without making it too sweet.

For the chocolate shapes:

  • 2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt the chocolate and spread a thin layer on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes, or until the chocolate has solidified. Remove from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature, about 5-10 minutes. Use a favorite cookie cutter to cut out desired shapes. (Save the scraps to munch on later.)

To assemble:

Using a serrated knife, carefully slice the cake into four layers. Use 1/3 of the chocolate filling between the layers. Top with the coffee whipped cream. Arrange chocolate shapes on top of the whipped cream.

My first attempt at this cake, 14 years ago, was met with satisfactory reviews, and gave me a new appreciation for my mother.

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