A few weeks ago, Little Man turned three. The night before his birthday, he proceeded to flip his bedtime story routine and instead of the Hubster reading Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site to the Little Man, he proceeded to "read" the entire book to the Hubster. Turns out, he'd memorized the darn thing right down to turning the pages at the appropriate times. Then, the Hubster said, "Good night" and Little Man proudly replied, "Good night, Baba." I stood outside his door, beaming because this fairy tale bedtime routine was such a departure from a few months ago where we had to rock him to sleep and/or, sleep next to him until he fell asleep. If you've ever tried sharing a toddler bed, well you know it's not exactly the stuff dreams are made of.
Standing outside Little Man's room, I remembered reading an article about how the Terrible Twos were a lie and it was actually the Terrible Threes that you needed to be ready for. I smirked because it was obvious the article had it all wrong. We had survived the Terrible Twos and were about to embark on the Awesome Threes. I patted myself on the back, patted the Hubster on the back, and we headed to bed. And then we woke up 2 a.m. when Little Man woke up, refused to go back to his bed, climbed into our bed and proceeded to have a tantrum that put all other tantrums to shame.
The next morning, we all woke up a bit more tired than usual and also, a bit more realistic. Luckily, we had cake! This was my third year baking Little Man a cake and I'm proud to say, I'm getting better every year (which admittedly, is not saying much when the bar is sooooooper low). Year 1, I envisioned baking him a giant cupcake but didn't realize you need a LOT of batter to make a giant cupcake. So, we settled for a not-so-cupcake looking cake. Year 2, I got the proportions right but ended up with a lopsided cake that had clearly gotten in a fight with gravity and lost. So really, I had pretty low expectations for this year's cake.
The thing is, I can make a meal without a recipe pretty easily. Show me a relatively well-stocked pantry and fridge and I'm good to go. Heck, I can even make a meal when the fridge has two eggs, a sad knob of ginger, and tupperware container of three-day old rice (Ginger Fried Rice anyone?). But cakes freak me out because once you put that darn thing in the oven, you're pretty much at the mercy of the oven gods. And by the time that cake comes out (raw in the center or burned to a crisp), it's already midnight and so the next morning, you find yourself at the bakery counter at Whole Foods, pleading for a cake. Or so I'm told.
When picking this year's cake, I went with a classic yellow cake with a chocolate cream cheese frosting. It's the combination I grew up eating and it remains my favorite. Don't get me wrong, I love me some fancy hazelnut cake, will devour a lemon olive oil cake, and polish off a mango mousse cake, but for birthdays, you really can't go wrong with yellow cake and chocolate frosting. Oh, and "pinkles" because when you're three, nothing beats sprinkles.
For the yellow cake, I followed I Am Baker's recipe for Homemade Yellow Cake Mix down to the letter. You know how sometimes, you follow someone else's cake recipe but your cake turns drier than theirs? Or it's not fully cooked in the middle? Or or or? I had those exact fears when using this recipe but this recipe resulted in a perfectly moist, homemade yellow cake that was slightly reminiscent of boxed yellow cake but SO much better. The recipe says to pour the batter into prepared pans and for those of you who bake a lot of cakes, this may be obvious but I confess to Googling and watching this video from Real Simple on how to prepare cake pans more than once.
And the chocolate cream cheese frosting? Um, best frosting ever especially because I'm not a huge fan of buttercream frosting. The cream cheese prevents it from being too sweet (wait, is there such a thing?) but still gives you the spreadability you're looking for. Yup, look at me talking about spreadability having baked a grand total of one layer cake. *brushes imaginary dust off of shoulder*
And so, we celebrated our three year old with a giant bunch of balloons, a giant cake, and quiet (but giant) prayer that we've seen the last of the 2 a.m. tantrums.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1 stick butter, softened
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
Place softened butter into stand mixer and mix on medium for 1-2 minutes. Place dry ingredients into stand mixer and combine with butter for 30 seconds. Add milk, oil, vanilla and eggs and mix on medium-high for one minute. Pour batter into prepare pans. Bake at 350. For 9-inch pans its 20-25 minutes. For cupcakes start checking around 15 minutes. Cool before frosting.
Recipe from I Am Baker.
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
Mix cream cheese and butter until smooth and creamy. Then mix in powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time. Finally, mix in cocoa powder until frosting is smooth and does not have streaks.