All you “accident babies” and “late life babies,” raise your hands!
Personally, I was dubbed a “blessing child,” a poetic and positive spin on the typical “oops” branding, though not without its fair share of pressures. Arriving late to the party as I did, I grew up feeling like an only child and a member of a big family, a position that’s difficult to explain. I imagine it’s like trying to describe what it’s like to be a twin to us non-twins. Isolating though my childhood was at times, my family always made me feel loved, especially when it came to my birthdays.
I’m grateful for the ways my sisters lent their creativity and attention to my birthdays. There were scavenger hunts on the trail of Cruella DeVil. There were sleepovers with feasts for breakfast. There were designed invitations, and there was always a thematic cake, thanks to my mom, the master baker. As I grew older, our relationships became more complicated, running the gamut from inseparable to distant silence.
Being a sister is not easy.
As my birthdays ticked on, I couldn’t help but see my sisters, even in their absence. I had grown up observing them as adults. Without knowing it, I had glimpsed who I would physically become. I saw my sister Tonya’s hands when I began to work with my own. Toying with a blonde hair color made me realize I do resemble my only blonde sister Stacy, and maybe I wound a little like Tosha. Birthdays became such out-of-body experiences. With each year, I felt more like a conglomerate than an older version of myself, felt like I was outside my maturing features, looking in.
And for the first time, I felt like they began to acknowledge what unites us more than what separates us. Maybe they looked at me and saw their own hands or features or ups and downs. Maybe they saw a younger version of themselves just on a different path than memory recalled.
No matter the roads taken or the years tacked on, I am a piece of each of them. These women shaped me, and I am grateful to each of them in their own way- for a love of words, for a model of fierce independence, for a charisma, for a sentimentality. We may never all be on the same page, but I carry them with me from birthday to birthday.
From birthday to birthday, there are cakes. One cake for each year of life. That’s my birthday tradition, and it continued in a full-on, chocolate-hazelnut force as I hit the big 3-3.
Whole Grain Chocolate Sheet Cake with Hazelnut Ganache
About this Recipe: The recipe below yields one 18″x13″ sheet cake. To create my mini tiered cakes, I doubled the recipes and used my smallest biscuit cutter to create the cake layers.
Whole Grain Chocolate Sheet Cake
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill)
1 cup pure cocoa
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups organic buttermilk, at room temperature
1/2 cup organic avocado oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature (organic/cage-free)
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons organic vanilla extract
1 cup hot filtered water
chocolate hazelnut ganache (recipe below)
black lava sea salt (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a sheet pan (18”x13”), line with parchment paper, then butter the parchment.
Sift the cake flour and cocoa powder into a large bowl.
Add the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and whisk to combine.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla extract.
Briefly stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones to incorporate.
Add the hot water and mix just until combined. Do not over mix.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread into the corners. Bake until puffed and a toothpick comes out clean, about 12-14 minutes. Cool on a rack before removing, and topping with Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache (recipe below).
Garnish with hazelnuts and black lava sea salt.
Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache
Add the cream and Nocciolata to a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring just to a boil, while stirring to combine. Remove from heat, and add chocolate. Let stand for 10 minutes (don’t stir — doing so will cool the ganache too quickly, making it grainy).
After 10 minutes, stir with a whisk until smooth and shiny to break up any pieces and emulsify cream and chocolate.
Chocolate will often settle on the bottom or sides of the bowl. Scrape the dish with a rubber spatula to incorporate all of it.