“…yeah, dad, the car’s been making this awful, sputtering noise for the last few hundred yards. But we made it up to the orchard and into a parking spot, at least. I’m about to call the guy and I guess we’ll have the car towed back to grounds. What a birthday.”
And so then we waited. Hot apple cider in hand, a bag or two of peanut brittle tucked away, and a container of apple cider donuts sitting on the hood of Matt’s poor old car. The poor old car who endured her – debatably – untimely demise on a breezy, October afternoon.
Then again, in retrospect, perhaps it wasn’t the greatest idea we’ve ever had to drive a near-18 year old stick-shift up a mountain.
It was somewhat of a stressful time, to be sure. Particularly for dear old Matt, who I’m quite certain did not plan to spend his 22nd birthday afternoon on the phone with AAA.
But we all persevered. Dignity a bit bruised perhaps, but happy enough full of donuts and each other’s company, and the assurance of a story that wouldn’t look quite as devastating after a few drinks.
The evening, in any case, was wonderfully spent. Chels, Liz, and Eileen hosted us (along with a handful of our closest friends) at their apartment for dinner, drinks, and birthday cake. Chels and Matt spent a considerable part of the evening getting dinner together, and when Noosh and I arrived with cake in hand, we were met with an apartment smelling wonderfully of olive oil and spiced chickpeas, and a living room adorably decorated with faux-foliage and dinosaurs galore. (Liz and Chels have always been enthusiasts – and professionals – for theme dinners, which I’ve always greatly enjoyed.)
A few days prior, I’d asked Matt what kind of cake he’d like for his birthday as, you know, I am typically wont to do. Most of the time (read: every single time), the birthday-goer in question will tell me either, (a) a particular flavor combination or ingredient they’d prefer, or (b) tell me to be creative. The problem with both of those responses is that I am quite possibly the least creative human being in existence, and having any possible cake at my disposal is cause for a considerable amount of stress. Matt, though, very graciously told me exactly what he wanted.
And that just happened to be, the exact cake I made him last year. I’m pretty sure the enormous sigh of relief I gave upon hearing his response was enough to blow some of the leaves off nearby trees.
Lemon, Blackberry, Ginger Cake
Adapted from Epicurus
Ingredients for the ginger cake:
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 sticks [12 tbsp] butter, at room temperature
- 4 eggs
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 3 cups cake flour
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Ingredients for the lemon cream-cheese frosting:
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 stick [8 tbsp] butter, at room temperature
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp lemon zest
- 2 1/2 – 3 cups powdered sugar
Ingredients for the layers:
- lemon curd, about one cup
- blackberry preserves, about one cup (can be substituted for fruit preserves of choice)
Method to prepare the cake:
Preheat oven to 350F and grease and flour 3 9-inch cake pans. Beat sugar and butter on medium speed until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, followed by lemon juice, zest, and vanilla. Scrape down sides of the bowl as necessary.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Reduce mixer speed to low and alternate adding flour and buttermilk into the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide batter evenly among the three pans and bake for 30-35 mins, until set. Turn cakes onto cooling racks and allow them to cool completely.
Method to prepare the frosting:
Beat cream cheese and butter on medium speed until fluffy, 4-5 mins. Add in lemon juice and zest. Lower mixer speed and gradually add in powdered sugar. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, at least 3 mins.
Refrigerate frosting until using. Note that frosting can be prepared up to a day in advance.
Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese frosting over the top as a crumb coating. Spread about 3 tbsp of the lemon curd over the crumb coating, up to 1/2 inch from the edges of the cake. Spread about 3 tbsp of the fruit preserves over the lemon curd, again up to 1/2 inch from the edges of the cake. Repeat with the second and third layers.
Once the layers have been stacked, stick the cake in the freezer for about 10 mins. Remove chilled cake and quickly frost the top and sides with a thin layer of frosting as a crumb coating. Return the cake to the freezer for another 20 mins. Remove chilled cake and finish frosting the top and the sides. Use a piping tip to ice a border around the bottom and top of the cake. Refrigerate cake until serving, but allow it to thaw 10-15 mins before slicing.
- When working with cream cheese frosting, be careful not to over-beat the frosting, or it will become too runny. In the even that it is too runny, do not add more powdered sugar. Instead, add about a tablespoon of heavy cream to the frosting and mix for 30 seconds. Refrigerate, give the frosting a stir every thirty mins, and after an hour it should have thickened up appropriately.
We’d arrived a bit early, so Chels and I made some room in the fridge for the cake, and I spent the next hour or so catching up with some good friends whilst eating hummus and tzatziki straight out of a bowl with a spoon (the others had pita, rest assured). Some other friends arrived soon after, and before we knew it we were all piled together in the living room, shakshuka, Greek salad, and a few drinks in hand, and hours of conversation to pass the time away.
Broken-down car all but a hilarious memory to regale.
And you know, for a birthday that started off in one of the strangest ways imaginable, it ended on a pretty damn high falsetto. A lovely dinner party with some wonderful friends, incredible food, and what I’ve been told is a pretty dece cake. There is little else one needs for a good night. Save for, I guess, some dancing or a marathon of The Walking Dead after the fact, but the sentiment still holds.
Now I’m pretty sure Matt would love for me to say something profoundly sentimental about our friendship, as I am also wont to do with birthday posts, but I truly and honestly am at a loss for words. A 12-year friendship (and a close to 5-year best friendship) does leave one rather speechless. You’d think it was because I’ve already said all the things I’d have to say, but it’s not so much an exhaustion of words as it is… a lack of anything that could come the tiniest bit close to all the things I’d want to put into words. We can speak about 4 different languages between us, and I still don’t think I’d find the right ones.
So, I guess all I have to say to you, my darling Matthew, is: despite our looming graduation and potential temporary parting of ways, if I’m not present for your 23rd birthday, there will be hell to pay. You’ve got exactly one year to ensure that it does not happen; a year that I expect to be full of dinner parties and Arrested Development, of long walks and terribly half-assed conversations in (my) broken German, of coffee dates and exploring.
And perhaps this is a bit superfluous, but thank you, truly and honestly my friend, for still being a part of my life after all these years. You’ve changed me in countless ways that I cannot fathom to enumerate through the dingy keyboard of my MacBook Pro, but I am, quite sincerely, a better human being for having known you.
And I like those authors best whose scenes describe my own situation in life — and the friends who are about me whose stories touch me with interest, from resembling my own homely existence.
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe