Joan's Second Birthday
Joan turned two last weekend. To be honest, I feel like she's been two for some time. I find myself treating her older than her years, as her comprehension and communication astound me. This morning, as I searched for a tampon, she said, "Joanie have tampon one day." "Yes, you will", I replied. And then she said, "Buy tampon Op Shop", to which I suggested we visit a different shop for such a purchase. "Joanie buy tampon other shop", she agreed. She's my little companion, making everyday moments slow, significant and, increasingly, hilarious.
At Joan's party, I reflected with a girlfriend on how easy parenting suddenly seems. Her son is nine days younger than Joan, and while every age has its challenges, we're both relishing this stage where they are content and secure, and able to converse. My friend is currently pregnant with her second baby (we would have been three weeks apart, had I not miscarried), and though it's bittersweet to see her growing belly, on Sunday I didn't find myself doing the math of "how many weeks would I have been?". That was a nice surprise. Time heals, and I'm suddenly feeling thankful for this extra one-on-one time with Joan. Right now, as we wait for our second blessing, that feels like a pretty big blessing, too.
Let's talk about cake.
I spent some time pondering Joan's birthday cake. Last year I made a yellow layer cake with chocolate frosting, and it went down a treat. For her second birthday, I considered a different cake, however I couldn't get past the layered beauty. It's wonderfully arresting to see a glorious, tall cake with candles presented, and I wanted her to feel so very special on her birthday, so we decided on the same version, though with a different frosting. Also, layer cakes are much simpler to make, in my opinion, than those in the shape of numbers, animals or trucks (and the frosting can be slapped on without much fuss or finesse). On multiple occasions, Joan and I discussed her birthday party menu. I suggested toast and frittatas (for both crowd pleasing + cost factors), and she suggested mandarins and her favourite biscuits. And our beautiful friend, Rosa, offered to bring one of Joan's favourite dishes, a layered eggplant wonder that was truly the star of the show. When it came to the cake, I gave Joan a few frosting options - chocolate, pink or white. We viewed pictures of each and I was almost certain she'd request a pink cake (because lately, EVERYTHING IS PINK), with chocolate a strong possibility also (she's turning out to be a verified chocaholic like her Mother. And Grandfather. And Great Grandmother!). But, lo and behold, she insisted on white frosting. Well, thanks, babe, easy done! Vanilla bean frosting is the simplest kind of all.
For the yellow cake, I used this classic recipe, with a bag of organic, unbleached, stoneground cake flour that I found at Terra Madre (their prices and produce are fantastic). We made the frittatas (recipe link) and cake the day before her party, and stored them in the fridge. For the frosting, I took note of this whipped vanilla buttercream recipe and altered it significantly by adding loads of creme fraiche to cut the sweetness. This move absolutely compromises the texture, creating a softer, looser frosting, but I adjusted the proportions to get a mix that held up and yet was not insanely sweet (just very, very sweet). Next time I might use cream cheese instead of creme craiche, as it's thicker. I'll also be sure to not over-beat the mixture and ruin a big batch of frosting the morning of the party. Ugh. It was beyond recovery, so I sent my dad out for more creme fraiche and started again. Next time, I'll also ensure my buttermilk isn't too cold, so I don't split the cake batter. No, it wasn't a smooth baking experience this year, but we got there in the end. And I truly enjoy making layer cakes with buttercream. We rarely use sugar in our home, it's simply not something I find myself reaching for, however I quite like the idea of birthday cakes being made uncompromisingly with flour, butter and sugar. As it turns out, Joan's favourite part of the cake was the frosting. When I was cutting slices for our guests, she took a spoon directly to the cake, scooping off peaks and spooning them right into her mouth.
After Joan woke up from her nap, when all our guests had gone home, the three of us sat on the floor and ate more cake while opening presents. I remember doing the same thing last year, and I am fond of this new tradition. Here are some photographs from the day.