Well, once again some time has passed since my last post, written on my birthday at the very beginning of this month. Thank you all for the wonderful birthday wishes…it was an awesome birthday! I feel like I’m still celebrating.
Upon request, my husband gave me a new pair of hiking boots and socks for my birthday, along with some other goodies. And additionally, keeping with the hiking theme, a friend gave me a really super day pack as a birthday present. In order to do justice to all of this new gear, we had to go someplace where the hiking was cranked “up a notch,” so to speak, and we spent a lovely weekend in Highlands and Cashiers, North Carolina.
Just down the road from Cashiers is the truly beautiful Gorges State Park in Sapphire, North Carolina. “Plunging waterfalls, rugged river gorges, sheer rock walls and one of the greatest concentrations of rare and unique species in the eastern United States are found within Gorges State Park. An elevation that rises 2,000 feet in only four miles, combined with rainfall in excess of 80 inches per year, creates a temperate rain forest and supports a collection of waterfalls.” As this description on the website indicates, there’s lots to see and a strenuous hike!
I don’t know if it was the cooler weather—which was in the low 60’s that day—or the renewed vigor resulting from a birthday, that made me feel up to the challenge of hiking an 800 foot elevation change after a night of celebrating. But it was a glorious, if strenuous, hike, and my new boots and pack performed exceptionally well. The payoff of Rainbow Falls at the end of the trail by the same name, is totally worth the effort. We’d actually run into some friends the night before at dinner in Cashiers and they joined us for the hike, which made it all the more fun. I’d love to go back here and do this hike again, as well as explore some of the other trails in the park. Do this every day and you can eat what you want! Here’s a slideshow of some scenes from my birthday adventures and our hike, along with some captions included to guide you through. I hope you’ll enjoy the tour.
Meanwhile, you might be wondering why this post has a birthday cake with SOMEONE ELSE’S name on it? Well, October is the birthday month for several of our friends and while I did not make a cake for myself, I did make one to take to a party we attended for a friend of ours last weekend. This cake was so delicious that I felt like it was truly post-worthy. Now I’m not a real baker, nor one to take too much time for fancy decorations. In fact, getting out my icing bag and tips for this caused me to break out in a sweat, momentarily, but I pushed through. This makes a great, old-fashioned birthday cake—a classic that everyone loves.
Old School Devil’s Food Layer Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Icing
(Cake adapted from Epicurious.)
For the cake:
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (such as Baker’s)
2 cups granulated cane sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher sea salt
1/2 cup hot brewed coffee
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans with unsalted butter, then lightly flour them and set aside.
Melt the chocolate over very low heat in a heavy saucepan or in a double boiler over hot, not simmering, water. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn. Remove from heat. In a large bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the hot coffee, sour cream and canola oil. Gradually whisk the eggs into the wet ingredients, then stir in the melted chocolate. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until all of the ingredients are smoothly blended. Pour the batter into the two prepared cake pans, dividing evenly.
Place in the oven and bake at 350 for approximately 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each layer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and allow to cool completely on a wire rack with the top side down, before frosting. Cooling with the exposed top side down to the rack helps level the cake.
For the icing:
*This is a double recipe which makes about 4 cups of icing, which will be a bit more than you may need. I find it better to have a little too much, than not enough when frosting and decorating a layer cake! Half the recipe for a sheet cake.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon kosher sea salt
4 teaspoons pure madagascar bourbon vanilla
6 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, plus a bit more if needed
2/3 cup whole milk
In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, salt, vanilla and two cups of sugar on low speed with a mixer and beat until fairly smooth. Add a bit of the milk, then more sugar, alternating the two and beating until smooth between each addition. Add more sugar to thicken or milk to thin the icing to your desired spreading consistency. Set aside about 1- 1 1/2 cups of icing, if decorating.
Place one tablespoon of icing in the center of your serving platter, cake stand or plate. This will help your layer to stick and not slide off the plate while you’re frosting the cake. Place one layer of cake, pan or bottom side down on top of the plate (if one layer is larger, use it on the bottom.) Put strips of parchment just under the edges of the layer (about 1/8 inch) all the way around the layer, to protect the serving dish from stray icing. These will slide out when you’re done icing and give you a nice, clean edge at the bottom of your cake.
Place about 1 cup of icing on top of the layer. Spread the icing evenly over the top of the layer, using an offset long spatula. Add a little more icing, if needed, to ensure the layer is covered. Gently place and center the second layer on top of the iced layer, pan or bottom side up. Put about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of frosting on the top, then smooth it evenly to cover the entire top. Try not to overwork the icing—just use smooth, long strokes. This will help keep the crumbs out of your icing. Once the top is covered in icing, frost the sides.
Working in quarters, add icing to the side of the cake, smoothing as you go. Be sure to give yourself enough icing for each quarter so that you aren’t digging up crumbs. When the cake is fully iced, carefully remove the parchment at the bottom.
If you want to leave as is, this is a great cake! If you want to decorate, add food safe gel colorant (Wilton makes a good version in the U.S.) to the icing you set aside earlier and mix to get the desired colors. Pipe your designs or script through an icing bag fitted with decorative tips.