Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Happy 1st Birthday, Barrett Leo!

One year ago, July 11th, I gave birth to my greatest joy. Today we welcome Barrett Leo to his very first birthday. I'm so grateful for this day. Albeit, a bit emotional too. You hear it said a lot, "Time flies." And it really does. But maybe more true than that--there are moments when you're a new parent where you look at this precious new baby and you're so struck by the the sheer awesomeness of it all: having carried life, feeling so blessed to have brought this beautiful child into the world; The paragon of humanness--so small and precious and curious. Their smell, so sweet. The way they look up at you, and the knowing pang you feel in your heart when they do because you, you are beholden to nurture all of this promise into something great.

You do your best, and the reward is an uttered "Mama" or "Papa", and little hands reaching up for you who they trust implicitly in a moment of need. You know then you're doing all you can to make them feel safe. Countless hours on a floor that reminds you of your age and their protests and screams, but finally sitting up without your help because they can do it now. Pulling themselves forward, faster and faster towards his favorite toy. He peers back to make sure I'm watching, impressed. I am, little cub, so proud. Even faster and faster still. Giggling all the while. Reaffirmed in your hard work, your patience and immeasurable love, despite any shortcomings you may have worried over all those early months. You're fulfilled.

 You watch, and soon they're standing, holding on to something without your help. It's in a moment like this where it hits you, you're not losing time, you're filling in the lines that time creates with the color of your life, and drawing past them with the permanence of those very moments you'll always remember. Etched into the pavement of your heart, the only place where time is truly inconsequential. And it's bittersweet.

There's only one point in anyone's life where they will be this innocent, so consistently pure juxtaposed against the ebb and flow of all other reality. Childhood is a dream. One in which you close your eyes and wrap your arms tightly around, if only to preserve just a bit longer.
You know the days are numbered before these little lives will belong more to the world than they do to you, in the way they do right now. But if you've done your job, that's exactly what you want.

And all that really matters, is right now.

In honor of my Barrett Leo on his first year, we say: "Hooray", "Hooray." We love you. Happy birthday/ Joyeux anniversaire, our baby boy.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy 4th of July & Strawberry Shortcake

The first time I made this cake, in February, was for my brother Billy's 26th birthday.
I think everyone who bakes has at least one chocolate cake under their belt they're really happy about. Chocolate is does most of the work for you--lending itself perfectly to a cake that is sweet, not too sweet; Rich and decadent. But not so decadent you can't enjoy a big piece in place of dinner without feeling like you've lost your will to go on a third of the way through. And moist. Maybe the first thing anyone notices after biting into a piece of moist it is.

To the contrary, a great vanilla cake is an elusive thing. Of course the right frosting goes a long way on a so-so cake. But the perfect vanilla cake would be one you could eat with no frosting at all, and not even notice until you were done. Vanilla should be both vibrant and fruity, plus delicate and nuanced. It's a fine balance, vanilla cake. And moist. Maybe the first thing anyone notices is missing after taking a bite of dry, so-so vanilla cake.

I searched and searched for a vanilla cake worthy of starring as the lead to the cake my brother requested--his favorite, strawberry shortcake, before coming upon this...Without a doubt, my new, absolute favorite go-to vanilla cake.

I topped it with berries and knew immediately--donned in red, white and blue, I would save it for just this occasion. Happy 4th of July, Friends!

Strawberry Shortcake Filling


1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon and 1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1-1/4 cups fresh strawberries, sliced (You could use frozen instead)
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons white sugar

1. In large saucepan, whisk together water and cornstarch

2. Add in sliced strawberries and sugar, stir

3 Over low-medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until somewhat broken down

4. Set aside and allow to cool completely before use.

Vanilla Simple Syrup
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (Optional)

Combine 1/4 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup of water in medium saucepan. Split and scrape down half of vanilla bean. Add vanilla bean seeds and scraped vanilla bean to pan. Cook over low-medium heat and stir until sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool completely.

Fluffy Vanilla Cake

Recipe courtesy and slightly adapted from Sweetapolita

Yield: One 2-layer, 8-inch round cake


5 large egg whites (5 ounces/150 grams) at room temperature

1 cup whole milk (180 mL/6 liquid ounces), at room temperature

2 1/4 teaspoons very good quality pure vanilla extract (9 grams)

2 3/4 cups cake flour, sifted (11 ounces/315 grams)

1 3/4 cups sugar (12 ounces/350 grams)

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder (19.5 grams)

3/4 teaspoon salt (5 grams)

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (6 ounces/170 grams), at room temperature and cut into cubes
*It's important to use a good quality vanilla as that is all the taste of the cake. My mother-in-law brought this gorgeous vanilla extract with her for me last summer from Paris.


1. Set oven to 350 degrees F to preheat. Meanwhile, butter and flour, or line two 8-inch cake pans with parchment.

2. Add egg whites, 1/2 cup of milk, and vanilla. Stir and put aside.

3. Fit mixer with paddle attachment, or use hand mixer and large bowl. To bowl of mixer, add dry ingredients and mix for 30 seconds.

4. On low speed, mix in butter and final 1/2 cup of milk to dry ingredients just until moistened. Turn speed up to medium and continue mixing for 1 and 1/2 minutes, until incorporated.

5. Scrape down sides of bowl. In three separate batches, add in egg mixture, mixing for 20 seconds after each addition.

6. Into prepared pans, divide cake batter evenly; spread top of batter with offset spatula to level. Weigh each pan to ensure evenness, if you have a scale. (I don't).

7. Bake between 25-35 minutes, or until an inserted cake tester is removed cleanly. It is important to not over bake cakes. After 20 minutes, no sooner, check for doneness. Continue checking every 2 minutes thereafter until done. Allow to cool on racks for 10 minutes before using small metal spatula to loosen cakes from sides of pans. Gently turn out onto greased cake racks. Be very careful when flipping right-side up.

8. Allow cakes to cool completely.
Whipped Cream Frosting
Recipe courtesy

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened. I like Philadelphia.
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream

Berries for decorating cake, Optional

To assemble cake:

Once both cake layers, simple syrup and strawberries have cooled, remove whipped cream frosting from refrigerator. You may flip over, or level top of one cake to be used for bottom layer by carefully carving off "hump" to ensure top layer will sit on bottom layer evenly.
Poke several small holes in top layer of cake with toothpick. Brush each cake layer with simple syrup.
Set aside or refrigerate 15 minutes, until syrup has absorbed.
When ready, place bottom cake layer on cake stand or platter. Frost first layer with whipped cream frosting, pipe extra around the circunference of bottom layer to build "dam". Add strawberries inside of piped dam. Before adding top cake layer, you may add dowels to either side of cake by using wooden skewers cut to size just shorter than the two cakes assembled. Add top cake layer. Frost top and sides with remaining frosting. Strawberry filling may spill out of sides a bit, that's part of the charm. Refrigerate for several hours to set up before decorating with fruit or slicing. Best served room temperature.

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