Viva! to Birthdays and German Chocolate Cake...

Growing up in Brasil, we always sang the traditional "Happy Birthday to you" song in English on our birthdays, followed by the Brasilian version in Portuguese, "Parabens A Voce." I'm not sure why, but even after we returned to live in the United States, my family continued this tradition of singing both songs (same tune, by the way!). Perhaps singing in Portuguese was a way to keep the memory of those years alive...and a little piece of the language and culture.

The words to the Brasilian birthday song are: "Parabens a voce, Nesta data querida, Muitas felicidades, Muitos anos de vida." The translation is "Congratulations to you, On this dear date, Much Happiness, Many Years to life."  And then the Brasilians would cheer loudly, "Viva!", meaning "live" or "to life". I've always loved that! (You didn't know you were going to get a little Portuguese lesson, did you?).

My sister, Evangeline, just had one of those big birthdays, celebrating decades of life. We always try to gather on our birthdays, especially the "big" ones, to celebrate life and love together as a family. Often we meet in restaurants, but this year, I thought it would be fun to have my siblings and partners join us for dinner at our home. We had the added bonus of celebrating my sister-in-law, Bonnie's, birthday also!

Things have been a little tight for us financially as we have been trying to complete the loft apartment of our place in Plain, WA. So, following my mom's example for table decor, I just went outside and clipped some flowers from the rhododendrons in bloom and put them in little mini pots near each place setting, along with an inexpensive bouquet from the Pike Street Market vendor that sells flowers on a street corner in Snohomish. (And yes, the green candles and table runner were the same ones I used for Kristi's Sweet Pea Baby Shower!).

Our menu was:

Appetizer:

 La Panzanella whole wheat mini Croccantini crackers and Beechers White Aged Cheddar, Fig Jam, Trader Joe's salted dried Green Beans, and Kalamata Olives

Dinner:

 Raspberry and Almond Tossed Green Salad with Blush Wine Vinaigrette, Roasted Mini Potatoes, Roasted Lemon Asparagus, Como and Swedish Rye Bread, and Lake Creek Lodge Salmon....my husband's specialty.

Dessert:

 German Chocolate Cake with Vanilla bean Ice Cream and Coffee

German Chocolate somehow became our family's favorite birthday cake, at least for everyone except my father. He loved Spice Cake with Caramel Icing the best! For the rest of us, Mom would bake the German Chocolate cake recipe from the box of Baker's German Chocolate and make the divine Coconut Pecan Icing. She always drizzled a little unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate across the top, which was just enough to offset the super sweetness of the Coconut Pecan Icing. 

As I was perusing cake recipes online one day, I came across this recipe for German Chocolate Cake from Annie's Eats and it sounded so wonderful...a step up from the Baker's recipe. I decided to give it a try. Though it contains a few more steps, the end result is so worth it. I have to say it's the best German Chocolate cake I have ever made...and I've made a few, believe me! Most importantly, my sister and family loved it so it was worth the extra effort.

 Viva to Vangie!

Viva to Vangie!

The other new thing I decided to try using for this dinner was Table Topics Dinner Party conversation cards.

Now, you may be wondering why siblings who have known each other their whole lives would need such a thing. Well, I'll tell you! You see, some of us work in health care and this can tend to be the main topic of conversation, leaving those who don't work in the field a little left out. I had purchased this set of cards on sale at Pottery Barn a while ago and used them several times before...loving that each person has a chance to respond to the question or topic and often learning something new about someone you know well...or learning a bit more about someone you've just met. (The cards are available at Amazon, if you click the link above). The topics we discussed were things like, 

"What was your favorite book as a child?"

"What would you have for  your last meal?"

"If it were necessary to add two countries to the U.S., which would you pick?" (By the way, Norway was the resounding winner!). 

We had a wonderful time together, celebrating life with my sister. She has always been such a role model for me, a great caregiver, and reminds me often of my mother. There is no higher compliment in my book!

How about you? Does your family have a special birthday cake or birthday tradition?

Yes, and now the recipe for the most delicious German Chocolate Cake!

Ingredients:

For the cake:

2 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped

6 Tbsp. water

4 large eggs, separated

16 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided

2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the rum syrup:

1 cup water

3/4 cup sugar

2 Tbsp. dark rum

For the filling:

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup sugar

3 large egg yolks

6 Tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped

1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut, toasted and tightly packed (I used sweetened coconut and it tasted fine)

For the icing:

8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used half semisweet and half german chocolate)

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 cup heavy cream

2 Tbsp. light corn syrup (I had trouble getting my ganache icing to set up, so I would omit the corn syrup and even the butter next time).

Directions:

  • To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Butter and flour the sides; set aside.
  • Using a double boiler, melt the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate with the water, stirring until smooth. Set aside until the mixture cools to room temperature.
  • In the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until they form soft droopy peaks. Slowly add 1/4 cup of the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Transfer the egg whites to a separate bowl and return the mixer bowl to the mixer base.
  • In the bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter with 1 1/4 cups of the sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate, Mix in the egg yolks one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed.
  • In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture on low speed just until incorporated. Mix in the buttermilk and vanilla extract until combined. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients just until incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold about a third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Then fold in the remaining egg whites just until incorporated.
  • Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and bake in the preheated oven for about 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the cake pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
  • While the cakes are cooling, make the rum syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Off the heat, stir in the rum.
  • To make the filling, combine the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter, pecans and coconut in a mixing bowl; set aside. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. The mixture will thicken as it cools.
  • To make the icing, place the chopped chocolate in a bowl with the butter (and corn syrup...which I might omit next time). Heat the cream just until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until smooth. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator or freezer until firm enough for decorating.
  • To assemble the cake, cut the two layers in half horizontally to yield four layers. Set the first layer on a cake plate, cut side up. Brush well with rum syrup. Spread 3/4 cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach the edges. Set another cake layer on top of the filling. Repeat, using the syrup to brush each cake layer, then spreading 3/4 cup coconut filling over each layer, including the top. Ice the sides of the cake with chilled chocolate icing. Pipe a decorative border around the top layer, encircling the coconut topping. 
  • Optional: drizzle bittersweet or unsweetened melted chocolate in a grid pattern across the top of the coconut pecan mixture.

Yes, like I said, there are a few steps, but it's all worth it in the end! Would love to hear if you give the recipe a try and see what you think. Warmly, Gracia