Happy Independence Day, everyone!
Looks like it is going to be a gorgeous day to celebrate our country’s independence. For me however, this is the first year I will actually be celebrating the holiday for its intended purpose. You see, July 4th always meant something different in our family. Sure, our celebrations included family gathering, sweltering in the hot Grand Rapids sun, and cooking various foods on a grill. It even included fireworks. But it also meant cake and a lot of candles and it meant celebrating a remarkable life – it meant it was time to celebrate Bushia’s birthday. “Bushia” is the three-generations-of-Americans version of the Polish word for “grandmother”.
My bushia was born July 4th, 1918 and was one of the most wonderful, amazing, multi-faceted people I ever knew. She lived in a time where she remembered the doctor coming to her house in a horse and buggy to deliver her siblings. One of her brothers, who was born premature, was placed in a box with blankets on their wood stove and he lived. Bushia only went to school until 8th grade, and later earned her high school diploma when her youngest daughter graduated high school and her eldest daughter graduated college. She was devoted to her faith, but was never preachy about it, and prayed the rosary every day while she walked on her treadmill. She married my grandfather, a WWII Veteran, in 1947, and they had seven children. She used to complain at 60 years old that she would never have any grandchildren – she ended up with 18 of us. That’s 23 of us now if you include our spouses. Not long ago, she began accumulating great-grandchildren, 10 of them, and became known as “Bushia the Great.”
Bushia passed away last year; one week after making her 96th birthday; one week after the whole family gathered one last time. The funniest part about it is that she had been ready to go for years; she often said so. But it was last year that her age, and her complications from having cancer, seemed to finally catch up with the fast paced woman. She was 71 years old when I was born, so I count myself lucky every single day that I had her in my life for 25 years. She was a true spit fire, an independent, opinionated woman with great insights on life. I miss her every day. This July 4th will be hard, as it is our first without her, so I did what I do best – I baked a cake.
I didn’t specifically make the cake for her, but I thought of her all the while I made it. She was a great baker. She taught my dad everything he knows, which he passed down to me. He is now the keeper of her sacred recipe box so if I ever need a recipe, I just give him a call when before I used to call her. Plus, one of my best memories growing up is picking mulberries from the tree in her backyard. All of us cousins loved those things. We never failed to come back to the house with purple-stained fingers, toes, lips, and clothes. There are several mulberry bushes along the path that we walk our dog and every time I see them, I think of summers at Bushia’s house picking the berries. So this week I picked some and planned to eat them in some way – I ended up making a cake, two actually. I wanted to try out a recipe I had found for a raspberry cake which I intended to use for my brother and sister-in-law’s five-year anniversary cake later this month. I had raspberries and mulberries, so I went for it.
1 cup raspberries
1 tablespoon water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoons baking power
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
4 egg whites, lightly whisked and room temperature
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon raspberry extract
Food coloring, red or pink, optional
As it turns out, the recipe is good, but the method is not. Most cakes follow the pattern of beat the butter, add sugar and beat more, add eggs one at a time, add dry and wet ingredients, alternating in 3 and 2 parts. This one was a little different, but I figured I would try it out the way the recipe was written for the raspberry cake and try the “normal” way for the mulberry cake.
I ended up making two two-layer 6 inch cakes, 4 inches tall each. The raspberry turned out a nice shade of pink and the mulberry turned out a gorgeous purple. So what did I do? I torted each layer and stacked them all on top of each other because I’m crazy and apparently wanted a ridiculously tall cake. The recipe yielded very moist, dense cake, which I like. The raspberry wasn’t as strong as I would have liked, so I will tweak that. Honestly, for the mulberry, it didn’t taste like the berries, it just had the extra kick of sugary sweetness, which is not a bad thing. I would compare the texture and flavor of the cakes to red velvet, just without the hint of cocoa. Overall, very good. I will definitely store this one away for future use. The way the recipe was written turned out fine, but the “normal” way with the mulberry cake fluffed up a bit more. The raspberry cake just stopped level with the top of the cake pan. I took pictures of the raspberry cake while I was prepping it, so I will follow those directions.
First, you’re going to want to cook the berries to release the yummy juices. Put the berries, the small amount of sugar, and water in a sauce pan. Stir until it starts simmering and cook about 10 – 15 minutes to release all the juices. Take the sauce off the heat and let cool a bit. Then, take a sieve and place it over a bowl to catch the juices. Pour the berries into the sieve and press with a spoon to get all the juice out. This can take some time. A little pulp is okay, but you want to make sure you don’t have too many seeds, or in the case of the mulberries, any stems in the cake. With the raspberry, I actually scooped about half the pulp into the cake. I like the texture the seeds lend.
Meanwhile, mix the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl. Then, add the softened butter and beat lightly until you have pea-sized butter chunks throughout the batter. Do not mix until smooth. After that, add the lightly whisked egg whites, milk, and vanilla extract in two parts, mixing between additions. Lastly, add the berries. Use a little bit of red or pink food coloring if the color isn’t dark enough for you. Keep in mind that colors bake out of cakes, so always go a little darker than you think.
Bake in two 6” round cake pans at 350 for 40-45 minutes. Turn the cakes out on wire wracks and let cool. Then, you can begin stacking. I used an 8 inch cake board. Spread a little frosting on the bottom to help “glue” the cake to the board and prevent sliding. Then, stack away! Put a thin layer of frosting between each cake. I would not suggest using filling of any kind for a cake this tall. Slippage would be inevitable. If you make a cake half this height, be sure to pipe a tall circle of icing about a half inch inside the edge of the cake to prevent the filling from oozing out. When the cake is stacked, place the center dowel and measure it a little below the surface of the cake. This dowel will help keep the cake stable at this height. Put on the crumb coat and stick it in the fridge for a few minutes. Then, add another layer of frosting, keeping it as smooth as you can. Now you can decorate as you see fit!
Cake turned out pretty girly and cute. I rather like how it turned out. My only regret is that I didn’t quite have enough frosting to get the outside totally smooth. I wanted to save it for the roses on top. Not bad for throwing together a cake with leftover frosting I needed to use up.
This one’s for you, Bushia! I love you and miss you every day.
Have a great weekend all!