Somewhere around my 30th birthday (in lieu of an elaborate trip to India,) I decided it was a good idea to celebrate my birthday for 30 straight days. I filled the month with simple pleasures, and little celebrations. Over the years the tradition has stuck, as has the simple, silent sort of celebrations that allow me to embrace + be thankful for this life I live; long runs in the woods, afternoons on the couch reading and writing, or just finding a little extra time in the outdoors to dedicate to my next year on Earth. At the same time, some of that celebrating has become more elaborate, more adventurous, and traditions among friends have been formed. Traditions that started as celebrations of the day that I was born, but have morphed into big celebrations of just feeling alive.
This year I wasn’t able to plan to get back to the Bay for our typical lively bash and reluctantly informed my girlfriends that we’d have to find another time to ride ridiculous and epic distances, plan adventures, or plop ourselves in a cabin in the woods and hunker down together. It wasn’t a situation I was pleased with, but one that I recognized I needed to embrace. They understood, and we all agreed that the celebrating could wait. Or, so I thought.
Two women I absolutely cherish just didn’t agree. So they plotted a surprise attack on my birthday weekend, and appeared in our kitchen one afternoon to my astonishment and bliss, eyes welled to the brim with happy tears. In the days that followed, we scrambled up summits, drank wine, ate pastries, rolled fat bikes along snowy trails, refueled with beer and burgers, woke up to see the sunrise, and found ourselves engaging in huge embraces out of the blue, squealing with glee with just the sight of the others across the table, or in the mornings when we woke up with peeked eyes from being up too late. It was huge, and wonderful and powerful for all of us, and our friendship beyond measure. I’m still in awe that these three days really happened, and I’m still floating on the moments that we spent together.
When I had wiped away tears of joy as the last of these two gems pulled away for the airport, it was just me, my family, and that original plan of celebrating for a month. I had started the 30-day-birthday-celebration on my 30th birthday to do something simple and special, but also because I was unable to smash in all the people I had wanted to see, all the things I had wanted to do, to take inventory of all the sweet little gifts that this beautiful life of mine holds into just one day. This year, in just three days, I felt as if I’d received all the gifts I could ever need. To live a life filled with valuable experiences, more than valuable objects. To feel as if we’re getting younger at heart, even as we age. And to love others whom travel with us everywhere we go, and meet us exactly where we are – literally, and figuratively – these are the greatest gifts I can imagine. And these girls gave me all of them, just by being with me.
I don’t know exactly what else these remaining 29 days of celebrating will hold. My birthday isn’t just about cake; it’s about being here. Being alive, and continuing to thrive and so this is likely what I’ll focus on for the rest of the month. So, as I recognized the laughter that had filled our house for the weekend was just replaying in my imagination, I decided it was time to start doing the good things for myself that make me, me. That make me a good friend to these unbelievable women. That make me a valuable person in this world. I started with the first thing that came to mind: I baked myself a big chocolate birthday cake.
So – about this cake. There are a few other cakes you’ll find in this online space that would be suitable for birthdays (this, this, this and this come to mind.) But this is the only one that is gluten and dairy-free, and all without being any less classic, rich or decadent. I adapted this cake from a recipe found in one of my new favorite books, Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich, an absolutely excellent, inspirational, not to mention beautiful book that features all sorts of “alternative” flours, and help bring them into the mainstream of your baking repertoire. It was a recipe I’d been eyeing and is just the first of quite a few I have bookmarked. I happened to have a little jar of Italian amaretto cherries on hand so I plopped these between the layers, then spread on the frosting. It had been a while since I’d bothered with a layer cake and the process itself was delicious, but was even more so since the moist, rich bites have satisfied all of cake eaters that have passed through the house, and we all agreed that we should bake more chocolate cakes like this all year, just to be good to ourselves.
A couple of tips that will help you on your way with this Tomboy Chocolate Cake. I put together a little layer cake guide last week and you can find it here. Also, instead of frosting the cake in a traditional fashion, I decorated the cake as a tomboy cake, basically just icing between the layers and over the top instead of covering all sides of the cake with frosting, because I wanted a little change of pace.This is a great way to cut down your decoration time, mix up your presentation, and take some of the stress of perfect icing layers. If you don’t have amaretto cherries, no worries; you could also use cherry preserves.
I’m eager to hear where this little cake fits in; whether you bake it for yourself, for the goodness of your soul, or for others in your life, I hope it finds its way into a celebration; no matter how big or small. I’ll be back soon with more little celebrations from just being alive! -xo L
- adapted from Alice Medrich's Chocolate Fudge Cake from her newest book, Flavor Flours.
- 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
- 1 1/3 cups (200g) white rice flour or 2 cups (200g) Thai white rice flour
- 1/2 cup gluten free oat flour
- 2/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups almond milk (separated, one at room temperature, one boiling)
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 1/2 cup coconut oil, in liquid state
- 1 cup asian coconut milk
- 17.5 ounces 55-72% chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 cup coconut oil or coconut butter at room temperature (not liquid)
- 2/3 cup amaretti cherries, or high-quality cherry preserves for between layers
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat to 350F degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of two 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans with butter or coconut oil and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
- Place the sugar, rice flour, oat flour, cocoa powder, salt, xanthan gum, baking powder and baking soda in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix until well combined. Add the eggs, almond milk, and vanilla seeds and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Then, add the coconut oil and beat until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the boiling cup of almond milk until well incorporated, being sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula often. The batter will be thin.
- Divide the batter equally between the two cake pans and pop into the preheated oven. 8-inch cakes will take 20-25 minutes to bake, and 9-inch cakes will take 30-35 minutes. The cakes are done when they start to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out almost completely clean. Pull the cakes from the oven and allow them to cook on a rack completely before frosting or storing. I suggest placing cakes in the freezer to make frosting them a snap.
- While the cakes are cooling, prepare the frosting. Place the cream and the chocolate in a medium sized stainless steel bowl. Bring one inch of water to simmer in a wide skillet, turn off the heat and place the bowl of chocolate in the water. Let it rest there for 15 minutes, gently shaking the bowl to submerge the chocolate in the cream. When the chocolate is melted, start whisking at one edge and continue whisking until the chocolate is incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Add the coconut oil or coconut butter, whisking once or twice to incorporate the chunks. Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes so that the coconut can melt, and then whisk it smooth. (The frosting may need to be chilled briefly to set up before its ready to spread!)
- Now, you're ready to assemble the cake! When the cakes are cool, slide a thin knife or spatula around the edges of the pan to release them. (if the cakes have been stored in the freezer, simply pull them from the freezer, assemble the cake and then be sure to allow to chill in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours before serving, to ensure that they are not frozen!) Invert the cakes and remove the parchment layers. Dab a small amount of frosting on the center of a serving plate, and place one layer of cake on top.
- Fill a pastry bag fitted with large star tip halfway with the chocolate frosting. Spread ⅓ cup amaretti cherries over the layer, leaving a 1” border around edge. Then, pipe a ring of frosting over 1” border around edge. Place second cake layer atop meringue, pressing slightly to adhere. Repeat process with second cake layer, cherries then frosting. Place remaining layer on top. Using offset spatula, generously spread remaining chocolate frosting on top layer of cake, as you wish. Chill for at least 30 minutes then slice and serve.