Baking was always very special to me. My very first experiences are of smelling the warm, spicy aroma of my mother’s soft molasses cookies. I’d keep checking the kitchen until they were ready, and she would sit me down at the table with a glass of cold milk and a plate with two big cookies, just for me.
It was my Mom taught me how to bake. She shared all of her treasures with me and those handed down from her mother as well. There’s a tattered piece of paper in my recipe box that tears so easily at the folds, but it contains the recipes for “Monkey Face” and “Cry Baby” cookies, written in my grandmother’s hand. My mother’s worn-edged, stained, handwritten 3x5” index cards are fading, but the memories sure aren’t.
The best thing my mother is remembered for is her very special birthday cake. Beautiful texture, simple to make, and covered in buttercream frosting-- her signature was the way she decorated them, choosing the birthday person’s favorite color and accenting the white frosting with blue or yellow or green stars and wavy borders. I couldn’t wait for family birthdays to roll around so I could lick the bowl & beaters and then get a piece of that cake!
Eventually, I began to experiment on my own. I taught myself how to bake bread back in the hippie days when baking your own whole wheat bread was just the coolest thing to do. I ventured further into all kinds of breads, rolls, cookies and cakes. And baking became my favorite pastime.
But after dealing with a personal illness for the past several years, I became more and more melancholy. I lost interest in everything and came to see staying in bed preferable to doing anything. My drive and even my sense of self seemed forever lost. I was adrift, with no purpose but trying to survive, and wondering why I was fighting so hard to even do that anymore.
Through my illness I continued the birthday cake tradition because I couldn’t stand disappointing my kids, but anything else was too much struggle to get done. My family encouraged me as each birthday rolled around to get back into baking and share my recipes and knowledge. Finally I forced myself to try out little things again, like banana bread just to get rid of the overripe fruit. And now what fun I’m having—I feel renewed and a bit purposeful again. Could it be that I was meant to be a baker all along?
Let me pass on to you my Mom’s “life-saving” recipe for the famous Birthday Cake. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Sunshine Golden Yellow Cake
Pre-heat oven to 350degrees
Grease and flour 2- 9 x 1½" round cake pans
2½ C Cake Flour
1 2/3 C Sugar
3½ tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
¾ C Milk
2/3 C Shortening
½ C Milk
1 tsp Vanilla (My “two cents” for this recipe: instead of 1 tsp vanilla, I use ½ tsp of vanilla, ¼ tsp orange extract and ¼ tsp almond extract—yum)
Sift dry ingredients. Add ¾ C milk and shortening. Beat at medium speed for 2 min. Add eggs, ½ C milk, & vanilla (or vanilla, orange & almond extracts). Beat 2 min.
Pour into prepared cake pans and bake for 30 – 40 min., until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. After ten min, remove from cake pans onto racks to cool completely before frosting to your heart’s content with your favorite buttercream frosting. Voila!