- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

At our house, spring is all about birthdays. It seems like someone has a birthday every week — a cousin, an uncle, a sister, a daughter. So we gladly pull out the mixing bowls and start baking cakes because no one would ever dream of buying cake in this family.

Usually, the cake requests are pretty standard: chocolate layer, pound, maybe a lemon bundt. But every so often someone will just say, “Surprise me.”

And when they do, the following recipe is the one I prepare. My favorite birthday cake is a delightful cake with the flavor children love and all the nostalgia grown-ups crave. It will remind you of those birthday cakes Mom made while you were growing up.

My favorite birthday cake

Solid vegetable shortening for greasing pans

Flour for dusting pans

1 18.25-ounce package plain yellow cake mix

1 3.4-ounce package vanilla instant pudding mix

11/4 cups whole milk

½ cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Chocolate pan frosting (recipe follows)

Generously grease 2 9-inch round cake pans with shortening, then dust with flour. Shake out excess flour and set pans aside. Place cake mix, pudding mix, milk, oil, eggs and vanilla in large mixing bowl. Blend with electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop machine and scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula.

Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping down side again if needed. The batter should look well combined. Divide batter between prepared pans, smoothing it out with rubber spatula. Place pans in oven, side by side. Bake cakes on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven until they turn golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove pans from oven and place on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes.

Run a dinner knife around edge of each layer and invert each onto a rack, then invert again onto another rack so that the cakes are right side up. Allow to cool completely, 30 minutes more.

Meanwhile, prepare the chocolate pan frosting. Place one cake layer, right side up, on a serving platter. Spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer, right side up, on top of the first layer and frost the top and sides of the cake with clean, smooth strokes.

Store cake in a cake saver or under a glass dome, at room temperature, for up to 1 week. Or freeze it, wrapped in aluminum foil or in a cake saver, for up to 6 months. Thaw the cake overnight in the refrigerator before serving. Makes 16 servings.

CHOCOLATE PAN FROSTING

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) butter

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

½ cup whole milk

5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted (more if needed)

Melt butter in a medium-size saucepan over low heat, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cocoa powder and milk. Cook another minute, stirring, until mixture thickens and just begins to come to a boil. Remove pan from heat. Stir in 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, adding more if needed, until frosting is thickened and smooth and the consistency of hot fudge sauce.

Ladle warm frosting liberally over cooled cake to frost as indicated in cake recipes. It will harden as it cools. Work quickly because this frosting goes on best while warm.

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