ence and her ability to absorb
A classic memory demonstrating both Emma's sassy personality and her innate intelligence is when we were trying to teach Matthew how to read using the little Reader Rabbit books. Matthew was reading a book called "The Hat Fell on the Mat" and Emma, who always adores being read to, settled in next to him to enjoy the tale. She very quickly became frustrated as Matthew struggled to sound out each and every word. The story read like this:
"This is Ann, Sis.
See the hat. Sit in it, Sis.
Sis is in the hat. See Sis sit in the hat.
The hat fell.
The hat fell on Mat...."
Now, just imagine poor Matthew, newly reading, struggling through this epic tale at a rate that would test the nerves of even the most patient of people. Emma became increasingly agitated at how long it was taking Matthew to spit out each and every word. When he got hung up on the following word for the umpteenth time, Emma had had enough: "See the ha-ha-ha-h-h-h-ha...."
She cried out in frustration: "HAT, Matthew! HAT! It says HAT!"
Even though Matthew is a pretty fantastic reader now (two years later), Emma is still wary whenever Matthew volunteers to read her a book.
While her sassiness and smarts cause many, many problems for us from time to time, Emma wouldn't be Emma without those facets of her personality. I wouldn't change a thing about her. She certainly keeps me on my toes and challenges my patience at every moment, but parenting her also has had so many rewarding moments. I live for the times where she cuddles in close to me on the couch and whispers passionately, "I love you, Mommy!"
I was excited that Emma's birthday fell on a Saturday this year. Paul had to be at a conference all day, but my dear friend Jen (who is also Lucy's godmother) was coming up from Pittsburgh to spend the day with us. We were going to take the kids to see the new Beauty and the Beast movie then out to eat at Chick-fil-a (Emma's favorite restaurant). Cake, presents, and a much-requested game of hide-and-seek were also on the agenda. It was sure to be a fun day!
However, the morning of Emma's birthday, I woke up with a super-high fever, chills, body aches, and extreme nausea. I hadn't felt that sick in months. I tried to get up and move about but just going up and down the stairs was enough to thoroughly exhaust me. When I took fever reducers, I threw them right back up. Paul came home from the conference to be with the kids and I headed to bed where I stayed for the next three days. Luckily for Emma, Jen and Pat still spent the day with them and took them to the movie so the day was still special for her. I don't think she even noticed I wasn't there. While the birthday girl was perfectly content with this sudden wrench in my plans, my Mother's heart was full of guilt and self-loathing. How could I not muster enough the strength to be with my daughter on her birthday? I stumbled downstairs to watch her blow the candles out on her cake and then went back to sleep.
My single contribution to Emma's 4th birthday was her confetti cake from the Milk Bar Cookbook. It was per her request since she loves everything and anything with sprinkles and we had actually made it together in the days leading up to her birthday. She tasted each and every component as I assembled the cake and everything received her stamp of approval. The finished product was no exception. Emma lingered over each and every bite. She ensured that not a single crumb of cake nor a smear of frosting remained on her plate. She loved it. In the days following her birthday, she had a piece of cake for dessert each evening and enjoyed it just as much as she did that first day, declaring after cleaning her plate once again: "Mommy that was a very wonderful cake that you made!" Although the cake was my gift to her, she gave me the greatest of gifts by loving it so much. It gave me a little consolation for not being physically present to celebrate her birthday.
Emma has great tastes because this is no ordinary funfetti cake. It's sweet, it's salty, it is absolutely sinfully indulgent and conjures up plenty of childhood memories of themed birthday parties with balloons, streamers, and colorful funfetti cupcakes as the crowning dessert. It's a cake that just about everyone will love and it was certainly the simplest of all the milk bar cakes to make. The only non-pantry staple in the cake was the citric acid (easily found at Walmart) and the clear vanilla extract - something I skipped entirely and just used regular. It was mainly to make the cake and the frosting as white as possible and I was pretty sure that Emma did not care about that in the least. We made this easily in an afternoon with very little hassle. Emma is already requesting it again for her birthday next year and I will be more than happy to oblige.
Birthday Layer Cake
from the Milk Bar Cookbook
For the Birthday Cake Crumb:
½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1½ tablespoons light brown sugar
¾ cup (90 grams) cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
¼ cup (40 grams) grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
For the Birthday Cake:
4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅓ cup (60 grams) vegetable shortening
1¼ cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (50 grams) light brown sugar
½ cup (110 grams) buttermilk
⅓ cup (65 grams) grapeseed oil
2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
2 cups (245 grams) cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup (50 grams) + 2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles, divided
For the Birthday Cake Frosting:
8 tablespoons (115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup (50 grams) vegetable shortening
2 ounces (55 grams) cream cheese
1 tablespoon glucose
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
1¼ cups (200 grams) powdered sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch baking powder
Pinch citric acid
For the Birthday Cake Soak:
¼ cup (55 grams) milk
1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
Quarter sheet pan
1 (6-inch) cake ring
2 strips acetate, each 3 inches wide and 20 inches long
To Make the Birthday Cake Crumb:
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper or Silpat.
Combine the sugars, flour, baking powder, salt and sprinkles in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until well combined. Add the oil and vanilla and mix on low speed until small clusters form.
Spread the clusters on the prepared sheet pan. Bake for 20 minutes, breaking up the clusters once or twice during baking. The crumbs should be slightly moist to the touch; they will dry and harden as they cool. Allow the crumbs to cool completely on the pan before using. The birthday cake crumbs can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week, or in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 1 month.
To Make the Birthday Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a quarter sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray and line with parchment paper, or with Silpat.
In a measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, grapeseed oil, and vanilla extract.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and ¼ cup of the sprinkles.
Combine the butter, shortening, and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.
On low speed, gradually pour in the buttermilk mixture. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for 4 to 6 minutes, until the mixture has nearly doubled in size and is completely homogenous (don’t rush this step!). Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and mix just until the batter comes together, about 45 to 60 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and give the batter a final mix with a rubber spatula.
Spread the cake batter in an even layer in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles evenly on top of the batter. Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes; when you gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger, the cake should bounce back slightly, and the center should no longer be jiggly. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely. The cooled cake can be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.
To Make the Birthday Cake Frosting:
In a small bowl, whisk together the glucose, corn syrup and vanilla extract.
Combine the butter, shortening and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
With the mixer on its lowest speed, stream in the glucose mixture. Increase the mixer to medium-high speed and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is silky smooth and glossy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the powdered sugar, salt, baking powder and citric acid, and mix on low speed just to incorporate them into the batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the frosting is completely smooth. Use the frosting immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. (Bring to room temperature before using in the recipe.)
Put a piece of parchment or Silpat on the counter. Invert the cake onto it and peel off the parchment or Silpat from the bottom of the cake. Use the cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake. These are your top 2 cake layers. The remaining cake “scrap” will come together to make the bottom layer of the cake.
Layer 1 (the Bottom): Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment or a Silpat. Use 1 strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring.
Put the cake scraps in the ring and use the back of your hand to tamp the scraps together into a flat even layer.
In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and vanilla extract for the birthday cake soak. Using a pastry brush, brush half of the soak over the top of the cake.
Using the back of a spoon, spread one-fifth of the frosting in an even layer over the cake.
Sprinkle one-third of the birthday cake crumbs evenly over the top of the frosting. use the back of your hand to press them gently into the frosting.
Use the back of a spoon to spread a second fifth of the frosting as evenly as possible over the crumbs.
Layer 2 (The Middle): With your index finger, gently tuck the second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top 1/4 inch of the first strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall. Set one of the cake rounds (the more imperfect of the two) on top of the frosting, brush with the remaining soak, and repeat the process for Layer 1 (a fifth of frosting, a third of crumbs, and another fifth of frosting).
Layer 3 (the Top): Nestle the remaining cake round into the frosting. Cover the top of the cake with the last fifth of the frosting. Garnish the frosting with the remaining birthday crumbs.
Transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and filling. (The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.)
At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer and, using your fingers and thumbs, pop the cake out of the cake ring. Gently peel off the acetate and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand. Let it defrost in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 hours before slicing and serving. (You can store the cake, wrapped well in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.)