Mother Earth Living

Happy Birthday Cakes

<p>Birthday celebrations demand cake. ­Because this is a birthday celebration for a magazine about herbs, here’s an array of luscious cakes that use lots of them.</p>
<p>Leave it to peppermint to jazz up a decadent chocolate cake layered in buttercream. The flavor of delicate lemon herbs caresses a light and virtually fat-free angel food cake, and thyme contributes its flavor to a spice cake as well as to its soft cream cheese icing. An easy, home-style apple skillet cake is laced with sage and sweetened with brown sugar. Oranges, dried cherries, and toasted pecans speckle a rich orange cake that carries a subtle hint of orange mint. Whether the occasion is a simple Sunday supper or a formal dinner, these cakes are something to celebrate.</p>
<p>Cakes take many shapes. A layer cake stacked with buttercream can be the elegant culmination of a birthday dinner, but the same batter may be baked in a 13-by-9-by-2-inch pan (add 10 to 15 minutes to the baking time) to make a sheet cake that’s just as tasty, travels well, and is easily cut into squares to serve a crowd. The Spice Cake with Lemon Thyme and Cream Cheese Icing is a sheet cake, but it could also be baked in two layers or in a bundt pan. The Lemon Verbena Angel Food Cake stands tall in its traditional tube pan, but the batter can also be baked in two loaf pans. The Sage and Apple Upside-Down Cake needs to be baked in an iron skillet to achieve a deep golden brown crust. Whatever the shape, whatever the flavor, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a homemade cake.</p>
<p>• <a href=”https://www.motherearthliving.com/cooking-methods/happy-birthday-cakes-chocolate-peppermint.aspx”>
<strong>Buttermilk ­Chocolate Cake with Peppermint</strong>
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• <a href=”https://www.motherearthliving.com/cooking-methods/happy-birthday-cakes-chocolate-peppermint.aspx”>
<strong>Chocolate Mint Buttercream</strong>
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• <a href=”https://www.motherearthliving.com/cooking-methods/lemon-verbena-angel-food-cake.aspx”>
<strong>Lemon Verbena Angel Food Cake</strong>
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• <a href=”https://www.motherearthliving.com/cooking-methods/happy-birthday-cakes-spice-cake-with-lemon-thyme-and-cream-cheese-icing.aspx”>
<strong>Spice Cake with Lemon Thyme and Cream Cheese Icing</strong>
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• <a href=”https://www.motherearthliving.com/cooking-methods/happy-birthday-cakes-sage-and-apple-upside-down-cake.aspx”>
<strong>Sage and Apple Upside-Down Cake</strong>
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• <a href=”https://www.motherearthliving.com/cooking-methods/happy-birthday-cakes-orange-cake-with-pecans-orange-mint-buttercream.aspx”>
<strong>Orange Cake with Pecans and Orange Mint Buttercream</strong>
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• <a href=”https://www.motherearthliving.com/cooking-methods/happy-birthday-cakes-orange-cake-with-pecans-orange-mint-buttercream.aspx”>
<strong>Orange Mint Buttercream</strong>
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<strong>
<font size=”3″>Herbal Tip:</font> Invisible Herbs</strong>
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<p class=”sidebar”>Don’t want flakes in your cakes? These cakes get most or all their herbal flavor by infusion, not chopped leaves. For a strong herbal flavor in baked goods, I steep herbs in whatever liquid is called for in the recipe, whether it’s water, juice, liquor, or milk. For cakes, I generally use milk because it gives them a tender crumb.</p>
<p class=”sidebar”>A generous handful of fresh leaves or sprigs will flavor 1 cup of milk. Use the back of a spoon to bruise the leaves against the side of a nonreactive pan while heating them with the milk over medium heat. Do not allow the milk to boil. As soon as the milk begins to bubble around the edges, remove the pan from the heat and allow the milk to cool to room temperature.</p>
<p class=”sidebar”>Remove the herbs, squeezing out the excess liquid. You can prepare the milk 2 days ahead and refrigerate it, covered, until ready to use.</p>
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<strong>Herbal Tip: Successful Cakes at High Altitudes</strong>
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<p>At high elevations, decreased atmospheric pressure stretches cake cells, causing the cake to rise excessively, or breaks them, allowing it to fall. To adapt cake recipes formulated for sea-level kitchens, like the ones given here, use these tested guidelines.</p>
<p>At altitudes above 3,000 feet, raise the baking temperature by 15° to 25°. Above 5,000 feet, also reduce the baking powder by 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon for each teaspoon called for in the recipe, decrease the sugar 1 to 2 tablespoons for each cup called for, and increase the liquid 2 to 4 tablespoons for each cup called for. Above 7,000 feet, decrease the baking powder by 1/4 teaspoon per teaspoon, decrease the sugar by 1 to 3 tablespoons per cup, and increase the liquid by 3 to 4 tablespoons per cup.</p>
<p>For angel food cakes at elevations above 3,000 feet, beat the egg whites only until the peaks fall over, not until they are stiff; decrease sugar by 1 to 2 tablespoons, add 1 to 2 tablespoons flour, and increase the baking temperature by 15° to 25°.</p>
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<em>Susan Belsinger, who lives with her family in Brookeville, Maryland, has been a frequent contributor to</em> The Herb Companion <em>for many years. She is the author, with Thomas DeBaggio, of</em> Basil: An Herb Lover’s Guide <em>(1996) and several other books from Interweave Press.</em>
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  • Published on Oct 1, 1998
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