Sunday, 11 January 2009

Happy Birthday to ME

A birthday offering to myself
Italian Cream Cake

If I had known how much spoiling I was going to get today, I wouldn't have dreaded my birthday so much! Sigmund and the girls overwhelmed me with a stack of delicious books, anti-ageing skin care products (should I be offended?), a special dinner away with friends and a pair of diamond earrings. What a way to ease the pain of January! I also got lovely cards, funny cards and a few slightly rude cards . . . which, nevertheless, made me snort with laughter.
Two of my favorites are:

My idea of housework is
to sweep the room with a glance


Inside me lives a skinny woman
crying to get out.
But I can usually shut the bitch up
with cookies!

This last sentiment (oh yes, the truth does hurt) from one of my walking partners . . .

As with so many things in life, it is tough to maintain the proper balance between exercise and baked goods. On my birthday, I don't even try. Let me eat cake is my mantra.

For some reason, this year I had a yen for Italian Cream Cake. I hadn't made one in years, partly because mine never tastes quite as good as my grandmother's always did. When I was a child, it was my favorite cake -- and it made a perennial appearance at birthdays, especially the one I shared with my grandfather. I was the first grandchild to be born, on both sides of the family, and it was truly the catbird seat. My grandfather was the rather stern father of two boys, but he was a loving, indulgent grandfather to me. As far as I can tell, I got the biggest portion of his sweetness.

My grandfather had a notable sweet tooth, and I particularly remember how much he loved cookies. My grandmother always had freshly baked ones in a jar on the counter, and he would come into the kitchen and pull out a handful. (He had unusually large hands and a really efficient metabolism.) Whether you believe in nature, nurture or astrology, you can see that the cookie problem is really not my fault!

As far as I know, Italian Cream Cake is a Texas/Southern confection and nothing like that cake with ricotta cheese and candied fruits that sometimes goes by the same name. I searched all of my cookbooks, and could only find it one other place -- a church cookbook. Emeril Lagasse did a show on Deep South Desserts, and his recipe is nearly identical to the one handed down by my grandmother. It is a moist yellow cake, rich with coconut and pecans and topped with the the sort of cream cheese frosting that also tends to go on carrot cakes. I was a bit worried to serve it to English friends, as many kids "of today" don't seem to like nuts or coconut, but I really shouldn't have wasted my time fretting. In fact, if I were inclined in that way, I could have worried about having some cake left over for tomorrow! But why worry at all? I'm not sure why, but my friends have come up trumps this year and I am going to be celebrating all week long. It's my birth-week, I guess.

Italian Cream Cake


4 ounces of butter
4 ounces of shortening (Crisco or Trex)
2 cups of sugar
5 eggs, separated
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces buttermilk
2 cups moist coconut (do NOT use dessicated coconut)
1 cup chopped pecans


Prepare three 9 inch cake pans by greasing the sides and bottoms, and then lining the bottoms with wax or parchment paper.

Cream together the butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the 5 egg yolks, and mix until the ingredients are creamy and well-incorporated.
Sift together the flour and the soda, and then gradually add to the butter mixture – alternating with the buttermilk. You should end with the flour.
Slowly beat in the coconut and pecans.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they have firm peaks. Fold carefully into the batter.

Divide the mixture between three 9 inch pans. Bake at 350F/175C for 30-35 minutes. I baked my three layers in two different ovens. The top oven only required about 33 minutes, while the bottom oven needed about 38 minutes. The cakes should be golden brown, should spring back to the touch, and will pull slightly away from the sides when they are finished. Cool on wire racks.

Frosting ingredients:

8 ounces of cream cheese
4 ounces of butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
16 ounces/1 pound box of confectioner’s (icing) sugar, sifted


Cream together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla. When the mixture is light and fluffy, gradually add the sifted confectioner’s sugar. If the frosting is too stiff, you can thin it with a small amount of milk.

Not as good as Grandma used to make,
but everyone did have seconds!


CashmereLibrarian said...

Wah-hoo! Happy Birthday Bee! Wondering what books you rec'd?
BTW, am loving Jhumpa Lahiri's book of short stories (Unaccustomed Earth), which I discovered thanks to you!

Reya Mellicker said...

Italian cream cake? Va va voom!!

Hey Happiest Happiest Happiest birthday!! My advice?

BEE DRUNKEN (on cream cake or whatever!) Hope you celebrate with style.

Elizabeth said...

This sounds much better than chocolate cake to me.
Perhaps I'll even arrempt it.

Elizabeth said...

Word verification: abili

obviously I have no spelling abili at all.....

The Grandpa said...

Happy birthday, Bee! And celebrating a birth week? What a great idea. Go for it and have fun!

fairyhedgehog said...

Happy Birthday! Or is it Happy Cakeday?

JaneyV said...

I think celebrating birthdays for a week goes hand in hand with the Pajama Society manifesto. One should always be prepared to be pampered.

Happiest of happy birthdays Bee. (I'm 42 too - isn't that the answer to the ultimate question, of life, the universe and everything?) The cake looks wonderful and I hooted with laughter at your cards particularly the second one. I can relate to that!

Your home looks beautiful bathed in frost. I think I'm going to miss the glitter as the weather gets milder. You'll have plenty of sparkle twinkling around your ears though! Lucky you! ;0)

Bee said...

Cashmere -- Too funny, but I was just thinking of you today! One of the books that I received would be right up your alley: Perfumes, The Guide (Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. Even weirder, I randomly opened it to a section extolling the virtues of l'heure bleue!

I also got The Outsider (from my Xmas list) and Wanderlust - a book about walking. I will have to buy the Lahiri for myself, though; no prob, as my MIL gave me book tokens! Hooray!

Reya Mellicker - That cake really is the voomiest. As for style, it depends on how you define it! Blue jeans and diamond earrings?

Elizabeth - I didn't even notice your arrempt until the second time around. I think we notice our own typos more than others'.

Grandpa - I will be giving it my all, thanks!

fairyhedgehog - Oh, it is definitely Happy Cakeday!

Janey - I would try to stretch the birthday out to a month, but I've got to sneak in the little daughter and the husband on the next two weekends. Pajamas are forever, though! I don't know why, but it makes me happy to think that you are also 42.

Hopefully we will get some more frost. I actually prefer it to the usual dampish cold.

Lisa said...

Oh, Happy Birthday! What a beautiful picture of you. That cake looks fabulous. I can see why you would have a craving for it.

Laura said...

Happy Birthday!

The cake looks delicious, I might have to try some.

Laurie said...

Happy Birthday and Oh My God that cake looks delicious!!

willow said...

Happy, Happy Birthday, Bee! The cake looks deeelish. Hope everyone in your household enjoyed the festivities. :)

Beth said...

Happy Birthday to you! Everyone deserves a day of being spoiled...
Such a lovely picture - of both you and the cake!

Braja said...

Hey, happy birthday Ms Bee :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, happy birthday! You do look happy, and I can see why. What a delightful celebration!

I love the picture you posted in your sidebar of your home and garden. It looks like a setting for a fairy tale.

My parents were just in London and said it was only 20. Wow! Keep warm by your fire.

Coccinella said...

I'm going to resist the urge to print this recipe out! I'll pop back when it's further down the page!
Happy Birthday Bee, mine was on the 9th and I started detox today!

Alyson (New England Living) said...

Happy birthday, Bee! You look fabulous, you beautiful thing you!

The idea of getting a pile of books as presents sounds so appealing. My birthday is coming up next month. Maybe I'll start compiling a list now and slyly making it sure it gets into my husband's hands.

That recipe looks divine. Loved reading about you and your grandfather and your shared sweet tooth.

A very merry, birthday week to you!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Happy Happy Birthday, dearest beautiful Bee! May your year be blessed.

I had no idea that Italian cream cake was a southern thing. Hmm. And regarding the nuts, I have never seen a place so nut concious. Roxi's school is strictly NO NUTS. Back home, people were so careful about peanuts. Pecans never seemed to be a worry.

Bee said...

Lisa - thank you; thank you! I made my daughter take a picture of me, (remember our conversation about always being the photographer, never the subject?) and my family was mocking me!

Laura and Laurie - Thanks for you birthday wishes. I'm sorry that I can't send you a piece!

Willow - Well, they probably didn't enjoy the festivities as much as I did (but they did eat lots of cake).

Beth - Thank you! I'm not sure if I've had a picture of me with my cake since I was a little kid.

Thanks, Braja! :)

Sarah - Thanks for mentioning my new sidebar picture. Doesn't it look lovely with the frost? Sadly, we are back to the normal wet muck today. The postman prefers it, though! He told me this morning that he hasn't enjoyed the low temperatures much.

Coccinella - Happy belated birthday to you! I am saving the detox for . . . well, never, probably.

Alyson - Not only did I get a pile of books, but I also got book tokens (some of which I spent this morning)! You should put a wish list on your blog!

Thanks for all of your kind comments, my friend.

JAPRA - Are you familiar with the cake? I wonder how it got its name, as Texas is not exactly full of Italians. Maybe it's like the "English" toffee. (smirk)

I've been thinking about you a lot, wondering if your homesickness is easing.

And yes, the nut thing drives me crazy because I like to put nuts in nearly everything!

bonbon said...

Bee, It always seems a little unfair when the birthday girl has to make her own cake but we know if we don't no-one will.
Gald you had a splendid birthday with all your favourite things and loved ones about you.
As for frost and wlaking in the snow!!! Tx has gone from 70 to 38. I never know what to wear but at least the sun is till shining.

Anne said...

I am adding this recipe to my list of cakes that I'd like to make when the opportunity next presents itself. And I'm glad you enjoyed your day! Hopefully the enjoyment will continue unabated all week.

I love the new "notes from the desk" feature, and the pictures! Your garden and barn are beautiful in the frosty winter whiteness.

Bee said...

BonBon - Your comment about cake-baking amused me. (I'll make you a cake, honey.)

Texas always has such crazy weather in the winter! Remember me telling you about the Spring Break when we enjoyed everything from hot and sunny to snow?

Anne - Thanks for the feedback. It's a baby-step into the world of daily blogging . . . and at least I know my mom is interested!

Let me know if you make the cake!

Anil P said...

Belated birthday wishes to you. May the year make for many a happy moment, always.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the recipe! I have work to do now in creating this cake that I will devour in 4 hours!

Clayrn Darrow

Audrey said...


Happy Belated Birthday.

xx Audrey

Shauna said...

Happy Birthday from me as well!

The cake looks fabulous.

Bee said...

Anil - Wow, birthday wishes from India. How cool is that?

Clay - Nice to meet you! Tell me how you like the cake.

Audrey - Well, I'm still up for celebrating! It's better than the alternative, I guess.

Shauna - Thank you! It's been so long; I thought that we had lost you.

A Cuban In London said...

Happy Birthday (belatedly)! Loved the cake (or the photo of it).

Greetings from London.

Bee said...

Thanks, Cuban in London. I just got back from London in fact. It was really chilly there today!

Lucy said...

So sorry I missed your birthday Bee. You don't exactly look as if the cakes and cookies are doing you much harm...

Bee said...

Well, Lucy, I try to fight the good fight! I don't eat everything I bake . . .

HS @ Our Debt Blog said...

Is that really you? wow you look great! keep up whatever your doing LOL


Bee said...

HS - Yes, c'est moi. And thanks!

Susanna said...

This is my birthday week too, can I have a cake? ;-)

Happy Birthday!

Bee said...

Susanna - When is your birthday?! Yes, I will make you a cake. For sure!

Kate said...

You are SO beautiful, Bee!
Beauty and brains: what a powerful combination.
Have you begun writing your novel yet? Or how about a Laurie Colwin type of food memoir, from the perspective of a Texas woman in an English countryside kitchen?
I'd LOVE to read it!!!!!!

Bee said...

Kate - Thank you for your lovely, buttery comments. If I do write a novel, you will be amongst the first to know!

Brave Sir Robin said...

Happy Birthday indeed!

My fondest hope is that your birthday was filled with warmth and love . . . (and cake!)

That cake is an old fashioned one to be sure, and among my Mother's all time favorites. It was a holiday cake around our house. I may be "missremembering", but it seems that she made that one at Easter? Perhaps my sister remembers.

I at first found it humorous that you made your own birthday cake, but then I suppose it is fitting, because on your birthday, you deserve only the best.


Bee said...

BSR - We often had this cake at Easter -- also at Thanksgiving, for those who didn't want pie . . . or who wanted both.

I suppose it IS a bit strange to make one's own cake, but I always do! (as it is the only way I'm going to get one . . .)

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