Life gets trippy sometimes. For example, my mother and I each have new grandbabies, born three months apart.
These precious little ones come to each of us via marriage. Mom married a man a few years younger than she; I married a man a few years older than me, which accounts for the fact that we get to share this experience simultaneously. (Another trippy fact: Our husbands are a mere 6 years apart in age.) When our respective husband's children have babies, we get a front row seat to the joy and affection to be shared. And we get special honorifics, too. Mom is her same Grammie that my grown up children have always called her. I get to be GramPam for the first time.
We each live hundreds and hundreds of miles away from these little people and their moms and dad, so its a bit of a bigger challenge to support and encourage these budding young families; to come play with and rock the precious wee ones to allow their parents to run errands or take a deep and reconnecting breath; to sit the midnight shift when the babies might be feverish in order to allow mom and dad a night's rest; or to have them over for a Sunday dinner to connect, relax, and to together observe and delight in the babies growing into toddlers and then preschoolers.
I think we each are going to miss that a lot. I just got set up with Skype, and hope that serves as a connection aid, and there's already been a smattering of photos, art and "letters" from our new grandson's big sister, our 3-year-old granddaughter, magnetized to our fridge.
To celebrate the birth of a grandson this week, I baked a birthday cake. He was born the same week as his mommy and Grandpa Scott's birthdays, too, so it's really a cake to celebrate the birth of them all. It's straight from an old favorite cookbook, Flo Braker's The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. This old fashioned tender, buttery cake is highly adaptable, and this time, I've paired it with Flo's smooth and beige-y Maple Italian Meringue to celebrate the season of little Bennet's birth.
Along with frogs, snakes, secret decoder rings, and jumping off of very tall things, most little boys I've known are drawn to pyrotechnics. In that spirit, I took it a step further and torched the meringue for a touch of toastiness, and to welcome this special little boy with a blaze of glory.
I wish his mama, mommy and big sis could share some with us.
Buttermilk Cake with Maple Italian Meringue
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
Position the rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350˚.
Butter and flour two 8" or three 6" pans and line with parchment.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk.
Pour the buttermilk and vanilla into a liquid measuring cup and stir to combine.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter with the paddle on medium speed (#5) until it is light in color, clings to the sides of the bowl, and looks satiny (this should take about 30-45 seconds).
At the same speed, add the sugar in a steady stream. When all of the sugar is added, turn off the machine and scrape the gritty, sandy mixture clinging to the sides into the center of the bowl. Continue to cream at the same speed for 4-5 minutes, or until the mixture is very light in color and fluffy in appearance.
With the mixer still on medium speed, add the eggs a tablespoon at a time. Continue to cream, stopping the mixer and scraping the sides of the bowl at least once. When the mixture is fluffy, white and increased in volume (it should look like whipped cream cheese and the graininess should disappear) take the paddle and bowl off of the mixer.
Add 1/4 of the dry ingredients, sprinkling over the top of the creamed butter. Fold in with a rubber spatula, then add 1/3 of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat, alternating dry and wet ingredients. With each addition, scrape the sides of the bowl and continue mixing until smooth.
Spoon equal amounts of batter into each pan. With a rubber spatula, spread the batter, working from the center outward, creating a slightly raised ridge around the outside rim. (This helps to compensate for the usual raised center in baked cakes.)
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the baked surface springs back slightly when touched lightly in the center and the sides begin to contract from the pan.
Cool for 10 minutes before inverting on a cooling rack. Peel off parchment from bottoms and allow to completely cook before proceeding.
Maple Italian Meringue
1/2 cup (about 4) egg whites, room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup pure maple syrup
In heavy saucepan, boil maple syrup over medium heat. Continue boiling until temperature reaches 230˚. (This temperature is merely a guideline for when to begin whipping the egg whites.)
As syrup continues to boil, whisk the egg whites on low speed of your KitchenAid mixer until small bubbles appear. Increase speed, and pour in sugar in a steady stream. Continue to whip until stiff but not dry peaks form , about 2 minutes longer.
When maple syrup reaches 238˚, on medium speed slowly pour it into the whipped egg whites, pouring in a steady stream down side of bowl to avoid splattering.
The meringue expands as the syrup in incorporated. Whip for about 2 minutes or until fully expanded. Then decrease speed to low and continue to whip for about 5-7 minutes to stabilize the meringue's texture as it cools to room temperature and thickens.
Split cake layers in half. Spread about 1/4" of the meringue over each layer. Frost top and sides with remaining meringue. Brown with a propane torch for added drama if you want, but the meringue is fully cooked and doesn't require it.