So, it’s my birthday. I’m beyond the age (21) when birthdays are exciting, and well settled into the adult routine of trying not to draw attention to myself for a few days. No no, please don’t have the wait staff sing to me while the whole restaurant looks on. I really would’ve been quite content eating a sweet potato at my desk, you know.
In keeping with longstanding tradition, I made my own birthday cake. Because if I don’t, who will?
I mean, there have been attempts. But let’s face it: I am an ungrateful prima donna when it comes to cake. I will go to great lengths not to eat that frozen gluten-free cake you picked up at the grocery store. Gonna act very flattered and grateful and then pretend to be stuffed from lunch. And then I’m going to go home and eat my real gluten-free birthday cake (after scraping off all the icing). Because it’s my birthday, dammit.
This cake may not have happened were it not for a friend’s upcoming wedding. Naturally, I am making the cake, and the last two weekends have been spent happily whipping butter and piping icing in the name of “research.” While I was at it, turning a practice cake into a birthday cake seemed only sensible.
I never got funfetti cupcakes in elementary school, and have consequently always been a little obsessed. My mom made chocolate zucchini cupcakes and took great offense at our requests for pudding-in-the-mix cupcakes with magical canned rainbow chip icing. To this day, those semi-homemade cupcakes still make me salivate.
Of course, there is a gluten free funfetti cake mix out there for gluten-averse ’90s kids like me. The trouble is, it’s incapable of living up to my childhood cake fantasies. I’ve had those gluten-free boxed mixes before, and frankly, they suck. Certainly not birthday-worthy.
Fortunately, Serious Eats has my back. Their gluten-free contributor, Elizabeth Barbone, cracked the code of the perfect homemade box cake by simply reading the label on some real-deal funfetti mix. She found shortening cut into the dry ingredients to create pockets of fat that steam into airyness. (I substituted butter, because yum.) And that “vanilla box cake” flavor you can never quite put your finger on? It’s vanilla and almond extract. Toss in some sprinkles and you’re in business: funfetti for all!
For once in my life I followed the recipe to a T, because while a giant birthday muffin is nice, I was set on a proper cake this time. So, in went rice flour and potato starch and an embarassing amount of sugar. The trimmings from leveling off my layers were heavenly in between sips of almond milk.
On perhaps a different birthday, I would have dolloped the plain cake in whipped cream and dug in. As you’ve probably noticed, though, that didn’t exactly happen. Because wedding cake practice, remember? This small-batch Swiss buttercream recipe was just right for my pint-sized celebration. If you’ve never attempted Swiss (or like me, never gotten it to work), try this recipe. It tastes a little too much like solid butter for me, but just look how nice it is to decorate with.
And after all that, you get get to eat cake. Cake made with real butter and vanilla. Cake that doesn’t come from a box or a freezer, cake that is one hundred percent worth the calories. Happy birthday to me, guys. It’s gonna be a good year.[Need this cake in your life? Follow this recipe and bake in three 6″ round pans. Level off cakes when cooled and slice each one into two layers. Layer with jam or buttercream and frost with your favorite icing.]