Saturday, January 5, 2013

An Angel Food Birthday Cake

My birthday celebration was a few days late this year, but I didn't mind. As usual, I was treated to an angel food cake with a raspberry glaze frosting, and some vanilla ice cream. Ever since I was about twelve, I've chosen angel food cakes for my birthday. 

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When I was a little girl, I admired their high, fluffy shape. My mother did not bake layer cakes, so this was the only way to get a tall cake at my house. In a life that was often dictated by the tastes and styles of my three rough-housing brothers, my angel food cakes felt like a dainty and feminine indulgence. 

I was also fascinated by the special pans in which angel food cakes are baked. There are actually two pieces - a round outer shell and a separate bottom piece with a tall funnel in the center - that fit together for baking. Once the cake has cooled properly, the outer shell slips easily away from the sides, and then a knife can be used to cut the edge of the cake from the bottom part of the pan. I marveled at the clever design, played with the two parts of the pan to my mother's distraction, and loved to help with any stage of the baking process that involved them.

On my eighteenth birthday, I moved away to college. We had celebrated my birthday the night before, and as we were leaving home, my mother handed me a leftover piece of cake, packed carefully into a small plastic bag. It got all squished during the move, and most of the frosting got stuck inside the bag, but that first evening in my dorm room, when I was horribly homesick, I ate it and felt comforted.

My first year out of college, my roommates didn't know of my angel food tradition, and they bought me an ice cream birthday cake instead. It was a very close runner-up. Still, from that year on, I made it a point to be at my mom's house for my birthday, so I could celebrate properly.

Eventually I moved to Seattle, far from my mother's kitchen, and my own family took on the responsibility for making my cakes. Every year, I have been pushed out of the kitchen on the afternoon of January 1 for a 'secret baking project,' though occasionally I have been called back in to consult on various steps in the process. Still, the cakes always turn out fine, and my dining table is surrounded by shining faces who are proud to have carried on the tradition for one more year.

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I have been treated to a long and lovely succession of angel food birthday cakes, and I enjoy the constancy they bring to my celebration. Each year, as I see my candles atop the pink glazed circle and anticipate the sharp, sweet taste of the pure white cake, I feel the strong rhythm of memories in my life that leads me back to the beginning and helps me see how far I have come.

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For more stories about birthdays, read:

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