Birthday Cakes

Martha Stewart's 1-2-3-4 Lemon Cake

The first year we were married, I made this cake for my husband’s birthday.  Yes, that’s homemade lemon curd and it was divine.

And here’s another cake I have toyed with making just because it looks so impressive:

Another Martha Stewart dessert

I’m not sure what it says about me that I want to make this cake in spite of my serious aversion to coconut. But I digress…

This year when I asked our almost-four-year-old what kind of birthday cake he wanted, he seemed confused by my question. I clarified, “Well, you can have chocolate or vanilla cake or we can do one of those ice cream cakes or you could even have a great big cookie cake…you know, for your birthday party…what kind of cake do you think you’d like?”

He was still a little confused when he answered, “I want a birthday cake.”

“I know sweetie, but what kind?”

“The birthday kind, mom. You know, the red one.” He seemed irritated to have to explain this to me.

I had to chuckle just a little.

For the last couple of years my husband has requested a red velvet cake for his birthday and now, apparently, birthday cake = red velvet cake.

There are worse things.

The crimson cake now deemed a birthday must-have.
The crimson cake now deemed a birthday must-have.

Perhaps another birthday tradition has begun.

Two years ago, it was a train.  And yes, that’s on the back of a large cutting board. I really need a large platter.

This year’s birthday theme was monster trucks. So we had a red velvet cake with tire tracks across the top, of course.

I can't bring myself to use a frosting other than cream cheese on red velvet cake...even though it is horrible for decorating...and sitting at room temperature.

And this year I bought a cafeteria tray to use for the cake. Again, the platter issue. I know, I know, I could cover a big piece of cardboard…but, I have just a little bit of a thing for cake stands, so it’s really hard for me to slap a cake down on part of an old box. If I had an absurd amount of kitchen space, I would own this:

and this

and also these:

OK, so maybe I think about cake stands too much. But, I was happy with my red, plastic, cafeteria tray because, aside from the fact the cake wouldn’t fit, monster trucks don’t really belong on these fancy things, anyway.  Oh and also this one:

There are more things about birthdays to post…like cupcakes that get sent to classroom parties and also my theory about a birthday breakfast celebration. But, for now, I give you red cake.

The key to this recipe is the cocoa powder and the amount of red coloring. Do not skimp on the red coloring. And yes, it is TWO of those little bottles. That’s what it takes to get a deep red color. Anything less and you’ll wind up with a wimpy, pink-looking cake.

Here's the red/cocoa mixture being mixed into the batter.

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

from Cook’s Country

For the cake:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

pinch salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 TB white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 TB natural cocoa powder

2 TB red food coloring

12 TB unsalted butter, softened (that’s 1 1/2 sticks)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

For the frosting:

16 TB unsalted butter, softened (that’s 2 sticks…I know, I know.)

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

16 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces, softened

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

pinch salt

1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and eggs in large measuring cup. Mix cocoa with food coloring in small bowl until a smooth paste forms.

2. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as necessary. Add one-third of flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add half of buttermilk mixture and beat on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl as necessary and repeat with half of remaining flour mixture, remaining buttermilk mixture, and finally remaining flour mixture. Scrape down bowl, add cocoa mixture, and beat on medium speed until completely incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using rubber spatula, give batter final stir. Scrape into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes then turn out onto rack to cool completely, at least 30 minutes.

3. For the frosting: With electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Beat in vanilla and salt. Refrigerate until ready to use.

4. When cakes are cooled, spread about 2 cups frosting on one cake layer. Top with second cake layer and spread top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 3 days.

And for some fun, try these Steel-Magnolia-inspired variations:

Red Velvet Armadillo Cake from
Roadkill Cake from

OK, OK just one more.


5 thoughts on “Birthday Cakes

  1. Jennifer Rieck

    Isn’t the armadillo cute?

    Your cake looks yummy!

    You don’t like coconut??? I LOVE coconut (and peppermint and chocolate) anything!

    1. gatheraroundthetable

      I thought that armadillo cake was kind of cute, too!
      It’s a texture thing with coconut…I like the flavor, but not the texture of that shredded stuff.

  2. Sharon Johnson

    My step-mother spoiled my family with Red Velvet cakes. She would bring them to Colorado Springs and Omaha from Kansas City. Her icing was not the cream cheese kind tho. It was a cooked icing that had flour in it. I have searched every where for the recipe for that icing and cannot find it. I’ve checked Food Network, the Internet, cook books, etc. Do you know anything about this icing?

    1. gatheraroundthetable

      Hi Sharon…I have actually tried a cooked icing recipe before…let me see if I can find it! I remember thinking it had real potential, but needed a little tweaking…thanks for the reminder – I had forgotten about that.

    2. gatheraroundthetable

      I found it!

      3 tablespoons flour
      1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
      1 cup milk
      2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
      1 cup granulated sugar
      2 teaspoons vanilla extract
      In a heavy saucepan, whisk together 3 tablespoons of flour and 1/4 cup of the milk until smooth. Whisk in salt and remaining milk. Turn heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick and creamy. Let it cool completely.

      Using your electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the thoroughly cooled flour mixture. Beat and beat until the icing is fluffy and no longer grainy (this may take a while, depending on how good your mixer is). For this recipe, I recommend using a stand mixer. Cover the cake(s) with frosting.

      I believe this is reputed to be the “original” red velvet cake recipe from The Waldorf Astoria…if memory serves me. Let me know if it’s close to the one you were thinking about….

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