The cake arrived at the table serenaded by the traditional song, its many candles highlighting smiles all around. Yes, we had a birthday in our house. I won’t say who or how old (with age comes wisdom) only that it was celebrated with joy, love, and cake.
The birthday cake tradition, a gift from Germany 200 years ago, immigrated to the new world from across Europe. Since then, candles, icing, and ice cream have been added to the festivities. The Happy Birthday song first appeared in print in 1912 and has been a runaway hit ever since. All birthday party expectations regardless of age.
Cakes come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors: individual cupcakes, round layers, or large sheet cakes — iced or plain. They can be elaborately decorated either with a custom theme created in colorful fondant or with just a simple swirl of buttercream. Family tradition, a favorite flavor, or a flight of fancy all figure into the flavor and style. The sky’s the limit.
Forever Sweet on Main Avenue takes cake artistry past wow to “Oh my Gosh!” They’ll tackle any theme or color scheme and realize your birthday cake dream. Disney princesses, movie characters, sports teams, fashion icons are all within their skill set. Unicorns and rainbow sprinkles are among the most asked for designs. A cap of contrasting icing dripping down the sides is trending right now.
Customers come in with a picture on their phone, owner Sky Merced told me, and ask, “Can you do this?” The answer is almost always yes. They have even met a request for a gravity-defying spilled can of paint. Cakes generally run $25 to $45, but elaborate creations will be more.
Cake decorating at this level is fueled by TV shows like Cake Boss where fanciful confections are created out of sugar, flour, and butter. This has driven a craze for one-of-a-kind personalized cakes that have to look great.
Forever Sweet, known for its flavorful, good-looking cupcakes, uses the same tender, delicious sponge and icings for their special occasion confections. They taste as good as they look. For birthdays, vanilla is the most popular flavor for the layers, with chocolate at number two.
Sky’s request for his birthday (and he’s in a position to have whatever he wants) is a chocolate layer cake with chocolate mousse between the layers and chocolate buttercream on the outside. I’d eat that.
The SoNo Baking Company in South Norwalk, is a triple threat bakery with excellent cakes, fancy pastry, and artisanal breads. Their cakes, in the European tradition, are classically elegant and beautiful — cakes with intense flavor, rich texture, and a timeless look.
“We’re custom cake builders,” owner and head baker, John Barricelli told me. On a recent weekend SoNo’s cake orders included: always popular chocolate ganache cake (chocolate, chocolate, chocolate); coconut; a custom lemon-raspberry with lemon curd and fresh fruit mousse; carrot; and a strawberry shortcake. Their list of choices for sponge, filling, and frosting is extensive and you can always ask for something out of the ordinary. Elaborate themed creations in fondant or chocolate artwork are no problem. Prices run roughly $6 to 8 per person.
John confided that for his birthday he likes, “chocolate cake with fresh whipped cream inside and out — 4 or 5 layers.” It sounds splendidly simple.
Other local cake options include Stew Leonard’s where they can print a picture on your cake in icing. Just email in your photo and then pick up the cake. At Palmer’s Market in Darien they have a Parisian-style bakery tucked in a far corner offering a dazzling array of cakes. At the Stop and Shop, they’re happy to write your inscription on a ready-made cake.
Angel food cake is the tradition at our house. Made without butter, airy angel food depends on whipped egg whites for its unique texture and loft. Understand that we’re not against
butter, in fact for birthdays the cake is usually slathered in butter cream icing tinted to the celebrant’s favorite color. Angel food is good with ice cream (what cake isn’t?) and/or fresh berries macerated with a little sugar.
Whipping all those egg whites is hard work. Spoiler Alert! Angel food cake mix is about 95% as good as scratch made, and that’s good enough for me. It leaves more time to concentrate on the icing.
The cake, crowned with candles, is the highlight of any birthday party. Whether fancy or plain, homemade or store bought, I’ll have another slice please.
Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.