Food column: Galactic birthday cake is an out-of-world experience
Another trip around the sun, and I find myself a year older. On April 17, 1984 — sometime in the afternoon — I made my world debut. I was healthy and already had a full head of hair. I also had a bright red, triangular birthmark between my eyebrows. When I was a little older, my mom told me that I landed in a strawberry field and some strawberry smudged on my face. It must have been a crash landing. To this day, when I get mad, the birthmark angrily glows on my forehead.
Over the years, I have noticed that so many people were born during the month of April. My mom, aunt and cousin have birthdays within days of each other. It kind of makes me wonder what’s going on nine months earlier in August!
Anyway, I have always enjoyed having a spring birthday. The weather is usually beautiful, while new flowers push their way through the soil. Even if it snows, at least I can take the day off to go skiing. There are so many possibilities in April. Some years, I have even celebrated my birthday on Easter, and the Easter Bunny became my springtime Santa.
No matter when you celebrate your birthday, it should be a special day where things go your way. We all have our own rituals, but the idea of a birthday celebration itself goes back to ancient Egypt. The earliest mention of a birthday party was in the Bible and referred to a Pharaoh’s coronation. When a pharaoh was coronated on his birthday, he was considered a god, so birthday celebrations became very important to the Egyptians. Later, the Greeks revised the tradition to celebrate the lunar goddess, Artemis. They offered her a moon-shaped cake with candles to reflect the moon’s radiant glow and beauty.
Initially, early Christians rejected birthday celebrations, since they were rooted in pagan traditions. But over time, Christians saw the wisdom in celebrating birthdays, and Jesus Christ would go on to have the most famous birthday of all.
Modern birthday cakes emerged several hundred years ago in Germany, where the Germans would celebrate Kinderfest — a celebration meant for young children. They placed a lit candle on the cake to symbolize the light of life, and a modern tradition was born. Since then, baking supplies became cheaper and more standardized, so people around the world started to celebrate birthdays with cake, candles and of course, presents.
There are so many different kinds of birthday cakes to indulge in, including chocolate, red velvet, vanilla, lemon, buttercream sprinkle and even carrot cake.
For this column, I had the difficult task of choosing one kind of cake to make. I love them all, and I can’t say I have a favorite. I have always been partial to carrot cake, but I wanted to try something different this year. When I did some research, I found so many creative options from geode cakes to cakes with realistic flower blooms sprouting from them. Then I found something that would make Artemis proud: a galaxy cake.
Galaxy, or mirror, cakes are coated in a colorful glossy glaze made from chocolate and gelatin. Different colors are mixed into the glaze, so they appear marbled and psychedelic. Various colors can create different effects. Mix in some edible glitter and sanding sugar, and you can create a starry galaxy across the cake.
If you look up galaxy cakes online, you can see how they are works of art. Admittedly, I am not an experienced baker, so I’m nervous about the results. The cakes I bake usually require minimal preparation and are dumped together in a baking pan.
The galaxy cakes I have seen require perfection. The frosting needs to be evenly spread, and the glaze has to be exactly 90 degrees to properly coat the cake. There are many steps in the process, so I’ve greatly simplified the recipes I’ve found. I’ve also included some tips and tricks that I learned to make this even easier. Check out my simplified galaxy cake recipe below.
Serves four to six people
2 packages white cake powdered mix
2 containers butter cream frosting
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons corn syrup
8 teaspoon gelatin powder, unflavored
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup water, room temperature
1 cup white chocolate, high cocoa butter
1 cup chocolate, cacao baking
1 tablespoon butter
Pinch of flour
1 teaspoon colored sanding sugar
1 teaspoon edible glitter
1. Bake cake mix per package instructions. Before pouring batter, make sure to rub butter and sprinkle flour in the backing pan. When finished backing, set cakes on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes. Be careful when removing cakes from pans.
2. While the cakes are baking, place containers of frosting on the stovetop to slightly warm them. When the cake is cooling, remove frosting from containers into medium bowl. Beat gently with a fork to fluff.
3. Place the bottom layer of the cake on a floured surface such as a wood cutting board or cake plate.
4. Pile a large amount of frosting on top of the bottom layer of the cake, and gently spread with a spatula or large butter knife. This frosting layer won’t be visible when cake is finished, so don’t worry about making it perfect.
5. Gently place the top layer on top of the frosted layer, and make sure both layers are vertically aligned. Add frosting to the top the same way as before. Then frost the sides of the cake and smooth with spatula or knife. It helps to rotate the cake, while gently pressing the edge of the spatula or knife on the frosting. Try to spread evenly, but don’t worry if some crumbs are mixed in. This is the “crumb layer” and will be covered later.
6. Place cake in freezer for 15 minutes. After the time has elapsed, add the second layer of frosting to the top and sides. Try to spread as evenly as possible. Once second layer is added, gently place a paper towel, with smoother layer facing down, on top of the cake. Use your fingers on top of the towel to gently smooth the top and sides of the cake.
7. Place cake in freezer for one hour. While the cake is freezing, combine sugar, corn syrup, condensed milk and water in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat while stirring.
8. Pour the lukewarm water over gelatin powder in medium bowl. Stir gently with a spoon until mixed, and let sit for a few minutes.
9. When the contents of the saucepan begin to simmer, remove from heat and stir in the wet gelatin until it is dissolved.
10. Place white and dark chocolate in separate medium bowls, and pour hot liquid over them equally. Leave for about five minutes. Stir with whisk until completely melted.
11. Pour mixture through a fine strainer into equally divided bowls. The number of bowls depend upon how many colors you wish to use. Keep white and dark color mixture separate and mix with appropriate colors.
12. Add colors to each bowl and slightly stir. Once the glaze has cooled to 90 degrees, pour each bowl over the frozen cake to create color swirls. Consider elevating the cake, so the droppings have a place to go. Once finished pouring, wait about 5 minutes, and use a warm knife to remove any excess drippings. Serve right way, and most importantly, enjoy your birthday or whatever it is that you are celebrating!
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Christina Cappelli described playwright Steven Dietz’s “The Nina Variations” as providing a couple with a reset button, the ability to repeat conversations and say something differently and see where things will end up this time.