Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each. Let them be your only diet drink and botanical medicines.
—Henry David Thoreau
Cultivation of pleasure comes from living as mindfully as possible during the natural progression of time. Just as there are seasons of the earth, so are there seasons of the mind, and of life. To embrace each life season is key, not only will we be more satisfied, but also feel more fulfilled.
I recently had the pleasure of making a birthday cake for a dear friend who experienced one of life’s rites of passage to a new season, she turned 40 years old. Although there are still many women who dread the idea of getting older, fortunately forty doesn’t hold the same stigma it once did. Nowadays, there’s no real reason to fear 40, 50, 60, and beyond. Most people today believe that 40 is the new 30 (or even 20) and the beginning of a new way of living and a more fulfilled life. It’s becoming accepted that persons 40 and older have fewer limitations with regards to health and lifestyle options than those of previous generations. We’re living longer and, with proper lifestyle changes, we can be as healthy, fit and vital, and youthful in appearance and physique, for many of the more mature years. I think that’s fabulous! We no longer have to buy into the negative cultural messages that bombard us about getting older. Turning 40 is awesome and it is to be embraced and celebrated. By being mindful that life is not about anti-aging measures, we can (as Thoreau’s words advise) resign ourselves to the influences of each life season, creating the space to age with health, gratitude, happiness, and grace.
To celebrate this wonderful milestone full of wisdom, maturity and new opportunities for growth, I wanted to make a cake that was both classic, yet modern—a cake that would bring one back in time to familiar flavors while exhibiting a refined aesthetic. I wanted a cake that would befit modern femininity—a portrait of strength, happiness and elegance. I decided to make a classic yellow cake and decorated it with fresh raspberries and a raspberry meringue buttercream frosting that is silky, luxurious and rich, and light—all at the same time. There are a lot of different buttercreams in the world of baking, this is one of my favorites. Not only is it full of flavor, but it’s also quite versatile and easy to use for decorating.
The recipe makes two, 9-inch-round cakes. I made it twice to make three 8-inch layers. Normally I would have made this as a three layer, 6-inch cake (I’ve always been fond of small things, particularly cakes), but I had to transport it alone and I was afraid a small and tall cake might shift too much in the car as I drove.
To those of you who have already had the fortune of reaching 40, and to those who have yet to experience such a milestone, whatever your season of life, may you breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each day, each year, each season!
Yellow Butter Cake
Cake recipe slightly adapted from CakeLove
Makes 2 9-inch round cakes or 24 cupcakes
7 ounces (1¼ cup + 2 tablespoons) unbleached all purpose flour
2 ounces potato starch
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon raspberry extract (optional)
6 ounces (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
14 ounces (1 3/4 cups) extra-fine granulated sugar
fresh raspberries, for decoration and in between layers, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour into a bowl on a measuring scale. Measure dry ingredients into a mixing bowl, add flour and whisk for 10 seconds to blend. Set aside. Measure half-and-half, brandy and vanilla into a separate bowl and set aside.
Cream butter and sugar in a bowl on the lowest speed of a standing mixture for three to five minutes. Add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Stop mixer and scrape sides.
Add dry ingredient mixture alternately with the liquid mixture in three or five additions each, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. This step should take a total of about 60 seconds.
Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl. Mix on medium speed for 15 to 20 seconds.
Line bottoms of 9-inch pans with parchment paper; do not spray sides. Fill pans two-thirds full. Bake 28 minutes or until center is evenly blond, edges pull away from pan and a toothpick inserted in the cake’s center shows just a touch of crumbs.
Cool cake 25 to 30 minutes, loosen sides with an offset spatula and frost.
Raspberry Italian Meringue Buttercream Frosting
Makes about 6 cups
14 ounces (about 2 cups) sugar
1/3 cup water
5 egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1½ pounds (about 3 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ cup raspberry sauce, the amount used depends on how dark you’d like the frosting
2 cups fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
Make the raspberry sauce. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine raspberries, water and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook until berries break down and are liquefied, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve over a heat proof bowl. Let cool to room temperature before adding to frosting.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar and water to a boil. Clip a candy thermometer onto the saucepan. Boil the syrup, brushing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent crystallization, until the syrup registers 248 degrees F, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites and cream of tartar, and beat on medium high until soft peaks form.
When the sugar syrup reaches 248 degrees F, with the mixer running on low to medium speed, pour the sugar syrup in a steady stream into the egg whites (pour down the side of the bowl to prevent splattering). When all the syrup has been added, beat on high speed and continue to whisk until the mixture cools to room temperature, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Only when the meringue has cooled (to about 70 to 75 degrees) should you begin adding the butter. This is very important! Reduce the speed to medium, add the butter one tablespoon at a time. Wait until each tablespoon has been incorporated before adding another. If the mixture begins to look curdled at any point, raise the speed to high and continue to add tablespoon-size pieces of butter. Again, make sure each is completely incorporated before adding another. When all the butter has been added, the frosting should be thick and smooth. Add vanilla raspberry syrup and mix to combine.
Use immediately or cover and refrigerate until needed. If your frosting is chilled, bring to room temperature before using. You may want to beat it a few seconds until soft and spreadable again.