because birthdays are about cake, even when You're a little on the savory side
I will freely admit that I'm totally the girl who makes her own birthday cake - almost every year. 'Happy birthday to me!' I think, as I frost three layers of celebratory genoise. No, it's not because I don't have a wonderful group of friends and family who offer to take care of such things - it's because I know what I like. When you're the person people come to for dessert, doesn't it make sense to provide yourself with the same experience? I believe it falls under the 'treat yourself' and 'because I'm worth it' mantras we so often utter, right before making a really frivolous or irresponsible decision. (Has anyone else been shopping after two glasses of wine, btw? You're totally worth it until the rosé colored glasses come off.) No, I'm not a control freak.
Ok, maybe just a baby control freak, but I'm ok with that. We all have something. Cake by me it is.
Not only do I make my own cake, I also try to make a birthday cake (or any cake) for as many of my friends as I can manage. I have a stack of cake boxes at the ready, stowed under my desk, for precisely these occasions.
When you're a kid, birthday cake is a bit of a given and chances are, mom or dad will have you covered. From homemade to store-bought, cake features prominently as part of your special day, from the age when you'll probably stick your tiny foot in it, to the age when you're too embarrassed to be celebrating with your parents to actually enjoy it. It simply isn't a birthday until the designated amount of candles have dripped their inedible wax into the frosting of a cake so loaded with sugar, it's a wonder you make it through the remainder of the day after eating it. And what is another year gone by, without a flame snuffing wish by which to enter the next.
As an adult, however. you have to hope that someone else assumes the parental responsibility, or it falls on you to take matters into your own hands. I try to assume that responsibility when I can, because no matter how grown up my friends are, they still light up at the sight of piped buttercream. And sprinkles. Sprinkles will always make 'em smile.
I have made quite a few of these celebratory cakes in the last few years, for many a sweet-toothed friend and co-worker, but this week, I was faced with a bit of an obstacle. The birthday of one of my nearest and dearest was looming and, despite the fact that he shuns the idea of drawing attention to this occasion at work, I was intent on making him a cake. Because it's my party and I'll bake if I want to, dammit...right? Ish. (Still not a control freak.)
Obstacles two, three and four were that he doesn't care for sweets and that he's lactose and gluten intolerant.
Now, you may be thinking 'Tess, just throw in the towel, you're fighting a losing battle here!' Sure, sure, sure I could. But I'm stubborn as hell, and if I want to make a cake, I'm going to make a damn cake. (Let's call it headstrong - that has a more positive ring to it.)
So how do you celebrate without sweets, gluten and dairy? Oh, and without really celebrating? You realize that he can tolerate goat milk and cheese, that he likes beets and that if you serve the 'cake' up once almost everyone has left, it's a little less like celebrating and a little more like enjoying an extravagant midnight snack with a glass of champagne and a few select co-workers. And so, the beet salad birthday cake was born.
With sliced, roasted beets to serve as the cake layers, whipped goat cheese to serve as the frosting and toasted, salted macadamia nuts for some added crunch and decorative flair, you end up with something that looks so much like birthday cake, friends will be utterly surprised when they unwittingly bite into something much more savory than they had expected.
Set your oven to 400*F.
Place your beets on a large baking sheet covered with a sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle the olive oil over the beets and season them with salt and pepper. Tear off another sheet of aluminum foil and lay it over the beets. Crimp the two sheet together at the edges, to form a sealed pocket for your beets to cook in. Roast them for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender all the way through.
Once the beets are roasted, and cooled enough to handle, rub the skins off, using two paper towels. Set the beets aside to cool completely.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the goat cheese, lemon zest, goat yogurt and salt and pepper to taste. Whip the ingredients at medium speed, until completely incorporated and smooth. You want a 'pipeable' consistency, so if you need to add a little more yogurt to make that happen, by all means do. Place the 'frosting' in a piping bag, fitted with a star tip.
Slice your beets to somewhere between a 1/4 inch and a 1/2 inch thickness, using a mandolin or a knife and a steady hand.
Chop your nuts (reserving a few whole ones to decorate with on top) and tear your basil (also reserving a few whole leaves for the top.)
Using a 6" cake ring placed on top of a cake plate or board, begin to layer your ingredients. Start with a thin layer of frosting, so that the cake sticks to the plate and doesn't slide, then add your first layer of sliced beets. You'll have to cut a few of the rounds to fit - don't worry, you won't be able to tell on the finished cake.
Next, pipe a layer of frosting, top that with some of the chopped nuts and a bit of the basil, then repeat with a beet layer. Continue this process, until you reach the top of the cake ring. At this point, place the cake in the fridge, so that the goat cheese frosting sets.
When you're ready to serve it, gently slide the ring up and off the cake. Decorate the top with the remaining frosting, whole macadamias and a few whole basil leaves.
And there you have it! A cake that's also an appetizer. The stuff that every child's birthday dreams are made of!
Seriously though, everyone needs a birthday cake. It's just a fact. And if you have someone in your life who makes a beeline for the salad bar instead of the dessert table, this one's sure to be a hit.