When we managed to light all the drippy birthday candles on almost two dozen of these, we sang: happy birthday dear MomandAnneandBenandRoryandHugo! Happy birthday to yooouuuuuu! Between our immediate family, marrieds and offspring, January has become almost as celebratory a month as December.
My mom and sister share the same birthday, and sometime longer ago than I can remember it was decided that spice cake with penuche icing would be their birthday cake. None of the rest of us have a particular cake we must have from year to year, and to be honest I don’t even know if a spice cake could be called their favourite kind of cake anymore, but it gets rolled out annually without question. Usually it comes in layers, with money in between, but I thought we’d streamline things this year, as they’d be served at the second birthday party of the day, with 5 boys 8 and under in the house.
At Party 1, Ben’s 8th, we had a grilled cheese bar (just marble cheddar, white and grainy bread and ketchup, but can you imagine a grilled cheese free-for-all with caramelized onion, crispy bacon, sundried tomatoes, pesto, different cheeses and interesting breads? I can suddenly not wait for my next birthday) and a lemon sheet cake decorated like a hockey rink, complete with strategically placed gummi bears. (Which, my sister calculated, was her 40th homemade birthday cake, when you count the birthdays of all three of her kids. How does one celebrate that? With a cake?) At dinner we ordered Indian/Pakistani food from Mirchi, which was spicy but delicious, and a good price – 8 grown ups and 5 kids ate for under $100.
And the cupcakes. I’m not sure what the technical difference is, but when I think of frosting it’s more of a billowy, Martha-esque cake topping, whereas icing is the more dense, sweet stuff we had on our childhood birthday cakes and cookies and licked off beaters. Penuche is a brown sugar icing that’s traditionally cooked, a method that opens the door to the possibility of overcooking it into a sort of a fudge that while delicious, can easily rip the top off a delicate cupcake as you try to spread it. This time, I dissolved the brown sugar into water, making a sort of syrup which I added to the butter-icing sugar mixture as I beat it, and it worked just fine. I’d venture to call it a foolproof penuche.
Or you could just call it brown sugar icing. I confess: I didn’t measure the icing sugar, but dumped in the bottom half of the bag. I’d guess it was about 3 cups, but use your judgment – you may need more or less to make it spreadable.