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The birthday cake standards are pretty high in the extended Dan family. A little too high for my limited abilities in the kitchen, I have to admit. But when Ya'ir looked up to me trustingly before his third birthday party and requested a fish-shape cake, I knew I couldn't let him down.
The bar was set last year when his American grandmother (and mother of four) fashioned a striking bunny cake that was the hit of the party. Since then my Israeli sisters-in-law have followed suit - but seeing as how one is a Bezalel-trained designer and the other is the daughter of a painter and herself artistically talented, their children's cakes are somehow effortlessly ingenious.
I was raised cooking with a microwave. For me, using the oven was something you did on Thanksgiving or when you talked the folks into letting you make cookies. We did everything in the microwave: chicken, spaghetti sauce, cornâ€¦ My dad could even make sponge cake in the device.
One of the highlights of our birthday celebrations was going to the supermarket and choosing which box cake we would assemble that year. (My mother's culinary efforts did not, at that time, extend to the cake batter.)
Unfortunately, cake mixes are deemed declasse by my Israeli family. Not only that, even the daycare pronounced my first attempt at following my American family's cake traditions a failure.
But fear not: for all the non-Betty Crocker moms out there, I have - through trial and error - stumbled upon a most idiot-proof and delicious chocolate cake and frosting.
Adapted from the recipe thrust upon me by Ya'ir's daycare last year
2 C whole wheat cake flour
1 container leben
1â„2 C oil
1 tsp. baking soda
1â„2 C white sugar
1â„2 C brown sugar
3 heaping Tbs. cocoa
Mix all the ingredients together.
Add 1 C boiling water and mix.
Bake at medium heat (approx. 200 C) for 20 minutes. Makes one 30 cm. round cake.
WHOLE WHEAT, brown sugar? What, am I a hippy freak, you may ask? Perhaps in a former life, but in this case the original recipe called for regular self-rising cake flour, and I - not one prone to read labels too carefully - picked up whole wheat instead. And the brown sugar? Well, I ran out of white sugar, of course.
The result? An amazingly moist and rich "healthy" cake.
Adapted from Faye Levy's much more high-class recipe
4 mini Mekupelet chocolate bars
1 container whipping cream (approx. 1 C)
2 T butter
One small packet powdered sugar (100 gr.)
Put Mekupelet minis and butter in microwavable bowl and cover with whipped cream. (At least 100 gr. milk chocolate could substitute.) Place in microwave on high for 1 minute, take out and stir; repeat until melted. Stir. Put in refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Add powdered sugar. Beat with a mixer at high speed for about 8 minutes or until the frosting sets. Serve at room temperature.
THE ORIGINAL recipe calls for melting the chocolate in the cream in a bowl over nearly simmering water. I didn't have the apparatus for that, so I asked Faye Levy (adding, "please don't cringe") if I could melt the chocolate in a microwave. She very graciously answered affirmatively and said the whipped cream would keep the chocolate from scorching.
And the Mekupelet substitution?
Like most Israeli youngsters, Ya'ir celebrated his birthday multiple times. We had a party for the family at our home, plus a party at his preschool. Which merely meant that after an exhausting 48 hours of cleaning, baking, cooking and creative cake decorating, we had to start all over again a couple of days later after a long day's work and make another masterpiece chocolate cake (this time a car) for the preschool. (It was a memorable party where I found myself wearing a homemade Chinese hat and playing my violin while my husband sang an esoteric Hebrew song about two chatting Chinese and a big violin to a dozen preschoolers who stared at us as one would at raving lunatics.)
It was verging on 11 p.m. the night before the second party that I finally got around to making the frosting for the cake Ya'ir and I had made together earlier that evening. Being the amazingly organized grocery shopper I am, I had forgotten to replenish my supply of semi-sweet baking chocolate.
However, I still had leftovers from the traditional birthday party goody bags and in a fit of inspiration (and unwillingness to find a grocery open at that hour), I decided that the four remaining mini Mekupelets would do.
Not a crumb remained when I came to pick up Ya'ir from preschool that afternoon. And, unlike the fish cake that honest cousins guessed was in the shape of a teddy bear, everyone knew that this one was a car.
Ah, sweet success.
The writer is a mother of three-in-diapers.