Memories are the icing on the sheet cake

March 05, 1997|By Rob Kasper

LAST WEEKEND my wife and I threw what we hope is our last big birthday bash. Our youngest son turned 12, an occasion he and a gang of his buddies marked by shooting each other with lasers and eating chocolate sheet cake.

We figure that this noisy event might signal the end of the "mob of kids" style of birthday celebration. We are hoping that from now on, the kid will want to celebrate birthdays the way adults do: Either ignoring them or going out for a quiet evening with a few friends. We'll see.

The shooting-each-other-with-lasers part of the birthday experience was new to me, but not to the guys at the party. Most of them were veteran marksmen, having already plugged each other at previous birthday celebrations held at the same laser tag emporium, Ultrazone in the East Point Mall, where our party was held.

The chocolate sheet cake, however, was an old friend. As the birthday parties of our kids have moved from site to site, the cake has been a fixture.

The other day, during a pause in laser hostilities, I recalled some of the various birthday party venues where the cake had appeared. I remembered that when our older son, now 16, was small, he had a theme for each of his birthday parties. One year his theme was law and order and little boys sat around our kitchen table wearing plastic, police hats, looking like English bobbies as they ate chocolate cake. Another year the theme was the king and his court, and again all the "knights" in attendance wore the appropriate headgear and dined on chocolate cake.

As our sons grew older, their birthday celebrations moved out of our house. There were rides at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, duckpin bowling outings at Taylor's lanes in Stoneleigh, indoor miniature golf games and swings in the batting cages at Sports in Cockeysville, trips through mazes at the now defunct Family Fun Jungle. Regardless of the backdrop, the birthday cake remained the same.

It is a simple, farm-country sheet cake, with eggs, buttermilk, butter, cocoa and a generous amount of sugar. It comes from "The Christian Home Cookbook," (1967, Gospel Publishers, Hesston, Kan.). The book is a collection of recipes sent in by Mennonite women, many of them living in western Kansas.

The recipe, sent in by Delma Friesen of Conway, Kan., and Bernice Giesbrecht of Glenn, Calif., makes a chocolate cake that is probably too sweet for most occasions, but just right for a birthday. It is also easy to make and serve. Using powdered sugar, you can write the age of the celebrant on the top of the cake.

The other day for instance, my son blew out the candles on his cake and the "12" made of powdered sugar took flight. The collection of boys at the celebration loved the chaos.

There might be some cultural message in the fact that a sheet cake from the plains of Kansas has moved through the city of Baltimore leaving a series of sated celebrants in its wake. I'll let the anthropologists figure out exactly what the message is.

All I know is that as my kids get older I look forward to their birthday celebrations getting smaller and quieter, at least the ones I am invited to. And I am counting on getting a piece or two of that chocolate birthday cake.

Chocolate sheet cake

Serves 12

2 cups sugar

2 cups flour

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup shortening

4 tablespoons cocoa

1 cup water

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift sugar and flour into large mixing bowl. Combine butter, shortening, cocoa and water in sauce pan, bring to rapid boil, pour this mixture over sugar and flour and mix well. Add buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, cinnamon and vanilla; beat thoroughly.

Pour into greased rectangular pan, 10-by-15-inches. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Icing

1/2 cup butter

4 tablespoons cocoa

6 tablespoons milk

3/4 to 1 pound (1 box) powdered sugar (to taste)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter in saucepan, add cocoa and milk and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add sugar and vanilla. Beat well. Pour on cake while still warm.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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