Tag Archives: My Birthday Cake Tradition

Garnets & Ganache: Cranberry Almond Cake with White Chocolate Ganache

February 2014

Collaboration is at the heart of so many of my endeavors. Having another brain at work not only keeps me sane, but partnerships have that way of pushing and prodding an idea toward a better solution. When I told my Harvest & Gather partner about my Birthday Cake Tradition, he proved once again how a fresh set of eyes can challenge the norm.

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Photo by Joey Kennedy.

Since I was 26 or so, I have been celebrating my birthday with a fancy mini cake for each year of life. This is my tradition and any “rules” involved are of my own making. When I explained this, Thommy very simply asked, “Can the cakes be different varieties?” It was such a simple question, and yet, I had never really though to add variety to my ever growing number of sweets. Sharing, however, was always a must. Thus, I came to add a few more recipes to the collection, and hence the steady flow of garnet reds and ganache on this little corner of the interwebs.

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Photo by Joey Kennedy.

Almond Cranberry Cake with White Chocolate Ganache

Note: The recipe calls for a bundt pan. I used a smaller springform pan and cupcake pans for the remaining batter in an effort to have many, smaller cakes. If you also decide to use a different pan, adjust the baking time accordingly.


3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups organic evaporated cane sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup organic almond milk
2 organic eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup organic greek yogurt

3 cups homemade cranberry sauce


White Chocolate Ganache (recipe below)
Slivered almonds


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; sift together.

In a separate bowl combine milk, eggs, oil, almond extract and yogurt; whisk together.

Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and stir together (this batter will be very thick).

When liquid and dry ingredients are completely incorporated together, stir in cranberry sauce.

Pour cake batter into a well-greased Bundt pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes; until toothpick comes out clean. Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes in Bundt pan, remove cake from pan and place on serving plate.

Allow cake to cool completely on serving plate.


White Chocolate Ganache


8 ounces good quality white chocolate (such as Callebaut)
3/4 cup organic heavy cream


Using a sharp, heavy serrated knife or a chocolate chopper, finely chop the chocolate. It’s important to chop it finely so that it melts quickly. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Bring heavy cream just to a boil, and pour over chopped chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted and smooth.

Stir the mixture vigorously until it reaches the desired thickness or consistency.

*Note: I drizzled the ganache over the cakes when it was still quite warm and liquid, making it more like a glaze. Allowing it to cool more will result in a more solid spread. 


Bon Appétit!

Garnets & Ganache: Lemon Ginger Cake w/ Lemon Syrup & Chocolate Ganache

February 2014

On January 21st, I hit the big 3-0, and on February 1st, I shared 30 cakes with friends. This is my tradition– one mini cake for each year of life. I hope to some day make 100 mini cakes and share them with equally crazy, vibrant people as this year, but I am perfectly content to enjoy 30 while it lasts.

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Photo by Joey Kennedy.

This year, there were a few varieties counted amongst the total, one of which was a musical lemon-ginger. Since the party theme was Garnets & Ganache, the finishing touch was chocolate ganache of course.

Cakes and Tunes

Photos by Joey Kennedy.

Lemon Ginger Cake with Lemon Syrup & Chocolate Ganache

This recipe calls for a bundt pan. I used a large sheet pan in order to cut mini layers from the whole. If you use a sheet pan, adjust the baking time accordingly. Mine took about 25 minutes.


3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 Tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) organic unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
2 1/2 cups turbinado pure cane sugar

6 large organic eggs
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)

1 cup organic Greek yogurt

Lemon syrup (recipe below)
Chocolate Ganache (recipe below)
Powdered Sugar & Candied Ginger for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a standard 12-cup bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, lemon zest, ginger, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; mix in lemon juice.

With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture in three parts and Greek yogurt in two, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until incorporated (do not overmix). Spoon batter into prepared pan, and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Firmly tap pan on a work surface to level batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes (if cake browns too quickly, tent loosely with aluminum foil).

Brush the cake with lemon syrup, to taste.

Let cake cool in pan 30 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.


Candied Lemon Slices & Syrup

*I made candied lemons for a different cake and used the reserve of syrup for this lemon-ginger cake. Since you’ll be starting from scratch, go ahead and add the candied lemons to this cake. I’m sure it will be delicious!


3/4 cups pure cane sugar
1/3 cup water
2 lemons, thinly sliced


Place the sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Add the lemon slices and bring to the boil.

Cook for 12-15 minutes or until the syrup has thickened and lemon slices are translucent.

Pour some of the syrup* over the cake and top with the lemon slices. Allow to cool and serve.

*You can use any leftover syrup as a simple syrup in cocktails or add to homemade whipped cream and then dollop into your morning coffee.


Dark Chocolate Ganache


8 ounces organic, semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup organic heavy cream


Bring the cream to a boil, in a saucepan over medium heat.

Remove from heat and add the chocolate, whisking to combine.

Allow to cool slightly, and then pour over cake and use an offset spatula to spread evenly.


Bon Appétit!

Garnets & Ganache because I’m Thirty.

Assuming everyone I meet is somehow magically my age, I began to bemoan the utter confusion so many of my friends and I have experienced to a new acquaintance, “Uuuuugh, the early and mid-twenties can really suck. Promised so much success if you do x and y, you’re weighted with all the accolades you were supposed to achieve, and then suddenly the bottom just drops out beneath you.”

Continuing along until I had sufficiently beaten the twenties into oblivion, I turned to this new acquaintance and finally asked, “How old are you?”



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[Fails to backtrack, inserts foot in mouth, pats girl’s back metaphorically…pat, pat, pat] “What I meant was…haaaang tight kiddo, it’s going to get so much better [smiles with feigned enthusiasm].”

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Mistake me not. I enjoyed my twenties. Much to the confusion of many around me, I meandered instead of a taking a direct path. Though that path often left me questioning just about everything, I wouldn’t be where I am today without all those tiny, quirky, questionable steps along the way.

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So here I am.

THIRTY years old. While that is mind-blowing and unbelievable, it’s also completely inspiring and surprisingly comfortable. The decades leading to this big number change were about discovery and finding out what makes me leap from bed. Now, thirty is about diving in headfirst. If my twenties were the maps, thirty is the plane ticket and passport in hand, and that, my friends, calls for a celebration(s)!

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A celebration in the tone of red to be exact…

Garnets and Ganache Invite

Inspired by my birthstone, my love of chocolate and my affinity for alliteration, Garnets & Ganache transpired thanks to the efforts of my Harvest & Gather partner, Thommy Conroy.

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One of my birthday traditions is to bake a mini, layered cake for each year of life I am celebrating. Contrary to popular doubt [haters gonna hate; cake bakers gonna bake], I continued this tradition in my third decade [yes, 30 is a LOT of cake, but tradition is tradition].

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I even wore heels for the occasion. Those who know me, know this is rare, so rare they barely recognized me.

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Being surrounded by good friends, my favorite color and lots of chocolate filled me with smiles and gratitude and solidified my start to a new decade.

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This love and I have a deep bond commemorated by Black Velvet, and she managed to find me a chocolate bear bearing Black Velvet, the Canadian whiskey. Winner winner!

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Do you see the resemblance to a certain #JulepOfTheDay? Thanks Sylvan for this amazing find!

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Never fret. If your cake doesn’t have candles, just grab a candlestick and enjoy the song!

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What happens when Taboo meets Charades? Our entertainment for the night was the game “Celebrity,” and it left me with mental images I’ll never forget, specifically when it comes to this guy  “twerking.”

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How much do I LOVE this glasses-clad girl! She drove all the way from DC to celebrate me! Our love is the forever kind.

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Where would I be without these creative ladies (left and right) constantly brightening my days and proving shorthaired girls have more fun?

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Bring it 30. I’m ready for you! I’m ready for your youthful wisdom and purposeful drive!


-The Birthday Girl

P.S: Stay tuned to Harvest & Gather for more memorable events and check out the Garnets & Ganache recipes:

Lemon Ginger Cake w/ Lemon Syrup & Chocolate Ganache
Cranberry Almond Cake with White Chocolate Ganache

P.P.S: Thanks to Joey Kennedy for documenting my memorable evening with such beautiful photos!

P.P.P. S: This is a great article about coming into your 30s. 

The Birthday Party: My Black Velvet Bourbon Birthday Dream (28 Cakes for 28 Years)

January 2012

Oh friends, it was beautiful!

I curtsy to the multi-talented, mad scientist, Alex Mohamed for his photo documentation of the night.  Knowing someone else was preserving my moment in time really enabled me to act a fool (a true fool…just scroll down)!

(Click on the beautiful table spread photo to see the rest of Alex’s photos of the night.)

Good friends brought great food, the wine flowed, the Black Velvet burned, and a really memorable night ensued!  Speaking of that Black Velvet, we don’t drink it for its whiskeyness (it’s Canadian after all), and certainly, we don’t drink it for our health.  We drink it because of what happened here.

Don’t expect this to normalize what’s about to transpire, but allow me to explain (and forgive me if you have already read this before)…

On that dreamlike Fleatique & Pique-Nique Sunday, I happened to be wearing riding pants and riding boots and feeling very in touch with my [nonexistent] equestrian side.  One vendor even told me I carried myself with the dignity of Meryl Streep.  Keep talking, vendor!  In my flea market rounds, I spied a black, equestrian helmet.  It was a thing of beauty, but as I don’t actually ride, could I really justify a helmet in my hat collection?  I thought not, but as the market began to close, my nagging want at least merited a price inquiry.

By that time, Nicole and Nina were following my pursuit.  I found the helmet vendor packing up his already full car.  The price pursuit then seemed hopeless, but I asked about the beautiful riding helmet anyway.  When the vendor said “$12,” I though, “sold (but I still played my poker face)!”  Why not?!?

Nicole and Nina lingered by the man’s tables while I followed him to his car, which was literally packed so tightly, items were pressed against the windows.  Fortunately, the helmet was on the perimeter of the colossal squish.  He somehow pulled out only the helmet, and I perched it on my head (above my head really as it’s rather small).  I motioned to Nicole and Nina, “How do I look?”  The vendor told me I looked rich!

Meanwhile, from what seemed like a football field’s distance away, a melody could be heard.  “Black velvet and that little boy’s smile… [mumble mumble]…”  FROM SOOOO FAR AWAY, Nina was serenading the black velvet [velour?] purchase in debate.  I admit, it took me a moment to understand what Nina was doing, but once she hit the chorus, I made the connection, and I sealed the deal right then and there.  I had to have this piece!  A real Kentucky Derby helmet no less!

We tried to sing the song on the way home, but we couldn’t seem to piece together the disparate lyrics in our heads.  Every sentence ended on a questioning high note- a new religion?  Southern…?  We didn’t find resolution until we arrived home and gathered around a computer to watch the video.  It was then we realized, or rather came to a concluding question- WTF IS THIS SONG ABOUT?!!?  She (do you even know the name of the singer?) sings with all the passion of some strong emotion but which emotion and why?!?  Which emotion?!?  We never figured it out, but we did go on a delightful train wreck of a viewing experience (ie:  This and this one too).  Once I discovered the whiskey version, this song really became our anthem.

Then it was my birthday, and a few AMAZING things happened…

Well friends, the future is now!  Someone gave me the best birthday present ever, which gave me an idea!  Though Sandra, one of my absolute bests, was stuck in Florida, there was no reason why she couldn’t join my festivities, especially when the guitar came out.  You see, Sandra, Nina and I go back to 2002, and my life is definitely better for it!

You saw it here first!

Once again, I forgot to make a wish.  I was so concentrated on summoning enough breath to hit all those candles, and furthermore, I was already having a perfect night!

One last antic…

As a baker, I have a silly affinity for the band Bread.  As lifelong loves, Nina and I have a special appreciation for this song, which called for a rekindling of a dance we started ages ago.  (You might notice our projected version featured subtítutlos en español for some reason).

The night concluded like this…

It was the best!

The Birthday Party: Q To Do

January 2012

My latest apartment had never known a proper dinner party- the kind with an abundance of food, friends and folly.  I was also overdue for a grand birthday celebration.  Thus, I decided this was the year for a birthday dinner party!


To Do:  Send the invites
I encouraged potluck provisions beginning with, or containing the letter Q.  It’s a pretty misunderstood letter, one that’s very near and dear to me.

To Do:  Buy Some”Supplies”

When I said “BYOB,” I highly encouraged bottles of red or bottles of bourbon.  I appreciate alliteration and I am big on bourbon (see what I did there?)!  I prepared a small Q stash and a bourbon with a back story (and a song…but that will come later).  Some people say I’m a bit of a megalomaniac (though you can’t really be a “bit” of a megalomaniac), but to those people, I simply say, “Quiet!”

To Do:  The Kitchen Scurry

Snoqualmie Kumquat Compote

Q Points:  
02+ (Bonus because I used to play routinely with a red tractor as a wee Quelcy)


1 cup red wine (Snoqualmie par example)
1 cup water
1 cup organic light brown sugar
1 pint fresh cherries, pitted and sliced
1 pint Kumquats, sliced


Bring the red wine, water and sugar to boil.  Reduce heat and continue to simmer until mixture begins to thicken.

Remove from heat.  Add the cherries and kumquats.

Serve with cake or bread or however you very well please.

28 Rolls for 28 Years:  Whole Wheat Quinoa Birthday Buns
Makes 28(+) small rolls for serving with sandwich fixings in increments of 28
Prep Time:  15 hours minimum

Q Points:  
Birthday Points:  28+ (for representation of 28; bonus points when served with a sammich fixin’ platter with charcuterie, cheese, olives and pickles in increments of 28)


3 ¼  cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 cups quinoa flour
1 ½ teaspoon salt
2 ¼  cups water

For the Pre-Dough

Mix all of the pre-dough ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. (If it will be more than 24 hours, store in the refrigerator; it will be good for up to 3 days.  Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.)

3 ⅓ cups organic all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup warm water
6 tablespoons warm milk
4 teaspoons instant yeast
5 Tablespoons raw sugar
2 large eggs (local/free-range)
extra flour or water for adjustments

Egg Wash- 1 whole egg (local/free-range) beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
Himalayan Pink Sea Salt


In a large bowl, whisk flour with salt.

Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs.

Cut the pre-dough into 24 pieces and add them to the flour mixture, tossing the pieces to coat (to keep them from immediately sticking back together).
Add the water, milk, yeast, sugar, and egg, and stir with a rubber spatula until a dough forms.

Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead until smooth and elastic. The dough will be on the sticky side, but the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get. Try to leave them tackier than you would a round loaf.

Grease a bowl with olive oil; shape dough into a ball and place it in bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, one to two hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Divide dough into 28 equal parts.

To shape each portion into an even round, gently pull the edges toward a pucker and pinch them together. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange them side by side on the prepared baking sheet.

Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let buns rise in a warm place for about one hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center.

Brush egg wash on buns and sprinkle with sea salt and poppyseeds.

Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Serve with sandwich fixins in increments of 28.

The Most Important Part….

When I hit my quarter-century birthday, I baked a memory.  I recalled those January moments when my mom would ask what type of treat I wanted her to bake for my special occasion.  More often than not, I requested self-filled cupcakes.  Chocolate, cream cheese and the bonus of chocolate chips equated to a really delicious birthday.  When it came time to bake my own treat, rather than make cupcakes, I turned a sheet cake into twenty five little fancies.    When I turned twenty six, I found myself adding one more little fancy.  By the time I turned twenty seven, I had clearly taken my little cake fun and turned it into a full fledge tradition, one that will probably lead to lies about my age when the number equates to too many pretty, bitty cakes.  This year, though, I was content to count my years in cake.

28 Cakelettes for 28 Years

Makes two rectangular cakes for the sake of cutting and restructuring.  Halving this recipe would probably suffice if you’re just fixin’ for a dessert and not continuing a quirky birthday tradition.

Q Points: 01
Birthday Points:  28!


1 (8 oz) package organic cream cheese, softened
1 (8oz) package Neufchatel cheese, softened
2 eggs, slightly beaten (local/free-range)
2/3 cup turbinado sugar

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup quinoa flour
2 cups trubinado sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

2 cups brewed organic, fair trade coffee
1 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract

1 (12 ounce) package chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease two 9×13 glass baking dishes.

In a small bowl, combine first four ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt.

Add the coffee, olive oil, vinegar and vanilla and stir to combine, scraping down the bowl.

Add chocolate chips.

Pour into prepared pan.

Drop a few large dollops of the cheese mixture on top of the batter.  Use a knife to swirl the two batters.

Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Dark Chocolate Drizzle

1 bar Ghirardelli dark chocolate (70%)
1/2 stick of organic, unsalted butter

Use a Maria bath to melt the chocolate and butter, stirring frequently.  Drizzle over cakelettes while still hot.

Whipped Topping

1 pint organic heavy whipping cream, chilled
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 Tablespoons Root


Combine all of the ingredients in a chilled bowl.  Use an electric mixer to beat until stiff peaks form.  Keep chilled until ready to use.  Use a pastry bag to pipe onto cake.

Quality control tastings
Tidy the apartment.
Hydrate before the wine floweth.
Set the table.
Thank the boyfriend for loads of help!
Thank that boyfriend once more!

Await the party guests (not with the candles lit, though)… more on that to come!


Birthday Brunch: The Party!

January 2011

Oh how I worked on those cakes until the last minute, but alas, it was time for my birthday brunch!

Fixings for sopes.

MMMmmmmaple sausage!

My fix of baked french toast.

My very own challah bread.

Food excitement and perhaps over stimulation caused by the wonders of the butcher block.

A hush fell over the table.  The only thing to be heard was the din of forks and “mmmm” sounds.

Birthday girl’s first venison meat ever in that there bowl of venison chili.
Two types of frittata, since the Carpenter refuses to like goat cheese.
Maple sausage.
Boozy baked french toast.
Mimosas and coffee.

… and naughty glasses.

… and birthday balloons from Bahrain

… and a quiet contentment caused by cakelettes.

Me + My Birthday + Cake + Me + My Birthday + Cake
The Tradition Continues …

Julia must have color coordinated with the cake vision in my head.

My new apron!  A wonderful present from Erin.

Someone was just a bit mopey because he didn’t get to eat any cake.

As the food comas hit, we all felt like this.  Thanks everyone for such a delectable finale to my January celebrations!

Birthday Brunch Preparations: THE MOST IMPORTANT PART!

I’ll tell you!  Here goes…

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and position an oven rack in the center.  Line two 9×13” pans with parchment.

Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of stand mixer and beat on medium until very light in color, about 4-5 minutes.

Add the agave syrup and mix until well combined.

Add the eggs, one at a time, combining well before adding the next.  About half way through, scrape down the bowl with a spatula.  Finish adding the eggs.  Add the vanilla and almond extracts.  Scrape down the bowl again.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and ginger.

With the mixer on the lowest speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the creamed butter, beginning with 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by ½ of the buttermilk.  Repeat, and then finish with the remaining flour mixture.

Scrape down the bowl, and divide evenly amongst the two pans.

Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes, until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Transfer to a rack to cool completely before transforming into two-tiered fancies!

For the Icing

Use a food processor to combine all the ingredients until well mixed.

For the Assembly

Use two sizes of circle cookie cutters to form the two tiers.

Ice and garnish!

Friends sing, b-day girl blows out candles, divide and enjoy!