A few years ago I decided to bake a cake for each of my friends’ and family’s birthdays. I made everything from the basic white cake to red velvet to strawberry shortcake. For those who lived outside of New York, I mailed tins filled with brownies, snickerdoodles, and linzer cookies. I like giving baked goods as presents because it’s personal and different from a store bought gift. I have always greatly appreciated receiving homemade gifts because of the extra effort and thought that goes into it. It also showcases each person’s talent and unique relationship with you that makes it even more special and meaningful.
I used to think that it was cheap to bring cake as a present, but now I totally disagree! I think it’s such a sweet (no pun intended) gift, and one that can be enjoyed with so many other people too. Some of my most memorable birthdays came with homemade cakes. For my 7th birthday, my mom and my sister cut a yellow sheet cake in the silhouette of a little girl in a dress. They used candy to make a face and create the dress. My friends and I got to choose pieces with our favorite type of candy on it. On my 16th birthday a friend baked a rainbow cake for me which was so striking and festive. It was so reflective of that time and stage in my life. But don’t be intimidated! Not all birthday cakes have to be spectacular or memorable. Even though I’ve had a lot of mediocre slices of frosting slathered cardboard, I still only ask for cake on my birthday.
Today is actually my dearest friend’s birthday and we surprised her with cake and balloons yesterday. She asked me to bake her a red velvet cake come September 28th, but I defied her wishes and made her a pumpkin cake instead. I was torn between the red food coloring and can of pumpkin at the grocery store, but I decided that since she’s already had my red velvet cake, owns the recipe, and has made it herself before, it would be ok to do something slightly (or very) different. After all, she loves anything pumpkin.
At the store I meant to grab the can of pumpkin puree but accidentally bought the can of pumpkin pie mix. Don’t you hate it when that happens? I panicked for a couple of minutes but looked at the ingredients and thought it wouldn’t be so bad. It’s made with pumpkin puree, evaporated cane juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice. I made a few changes to the recipe and in the end it turned out fantastic. I think it’s the best pumpkin cake I’ve ever eaten. It was very soft and light like a chiffon cake, but moist and intensely flavorful at the same time. It was literally pumpkin pie in the form of cake. I wonder if I can replicate the taste if I tried to make it from scratch. In the future I’d like to try making it, truly, all from scratch, but in the meantime this is good enough. I mean, I would call this homemade, almost, like 95% from scratch. That rounds up to 100.
Pumpkin Pie Cake
Adapted from AllRecipes.com
Makes one 2-layer 4 1/2 inch cake, or one 1-layer 9 inch cake
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup pumpkin pie mix
2 eggs, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. In another bowl, combine the sugar and oil. Add the vanilla and pumpkin. Mix until combined. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Next, add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Pour into a greased pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla
Cocoa powder, optional
Beat the butter and cream cheese together until fluffy. Add the sugar and vanilla. Beat until combined. After spreading a layer of frosting, sprinkle a little bit of cocoa powder to create a light gradation in the frosting.