As I mentioned in my last post I’ve recently hit thirty. And my primary concern during this supposedly big deal of a birthday was cake.
As an adult who doesn’t indulge in sugary things very often, birthday cake was my consolation prize for not having accomplished quite as much as I wanted to over the past year. Feeling dejected on all fronts, yet unwilling to give in to the birthday blues, there was only one thing to do: seek out the birthday cake of my dreams.
Everyone has a birthday tradition of sorts, usually developed within the family unit. A ritual, an order of events, presents or foods that must make an appearance at every household member’s birthday. Sometimes these traditions are altered over time as the character of a household changes, but there’s usually some consistency there.
That consistency is most apparent in the family’s choice of birthday cake.
When we lived in Cairo, our birthday routine consisted of hosting a large birthday party. We always had the same birthday cake for these celebrations — a chocolate cake with a chopped hazelnut and caramel filling, topped by a heavily iced bear that appeared on the verge of toppling over and ruining everything. He somehow never did.
The precariously placed bear was also edible, although none of us can quite recollect whether he too was made of the same components as the cake itself.
But always the bear.
That was just the way it was…the way it had always been.
Our move to Amman, traumatic on so many fronts, coincided with me generally becoming less popular among my peers because that’s how it is when you move to a new school in a new country. Older and with fewer friends to invite to celebrate, making a fuss about my birthday seemed unwarranted. The big birthday parties became a thing of the past and we started celebrating as a family. This basically meant we’d have some cake at tea-time and sing “Happy Birthday” to one another unenthusiastically as my mom snapped photos. All the while I would ask her repeatedly to stop.a
Because Amman’s bakeries didn’t do the bear, he was replaced by a homemade rich chocolate cake smothered in chocolate sauce which invariably appears for all our family birthdays.
A note about this chocolatey-chocolate cake: we make this cake for practically every special occasion. It’s a good cake as attested to by the people flocking over it when whenever we host a dinner or lunch. It has also sold out at every bake sale I’ve taken it to.
But having eaten it year in, year out for the past 19 years, I can no longer feign any enthusiasm for chocolatey-chocolate cake.
So this year I decided to break with my family’s chocolatey-chocolate cake tradition, appropriating a friend’s family birthday cake custom instead. After years and years of all that chocolate sponge, I wanted to sink my teeth into something more vanilla-fruity.
Because I love strawberries and cream, there was only one way to go.b
My friend’s family, the Michimpsc have been buying the same birthday cake since time immemorial. It’s Amman’s take on the Fraiseir, which is a classic French cake made of white sponge, strawberries, and an unhealthy amount of pastry cream and crème mousseline.d
The version of the cake in Amman is much lighter than your traditional Fraisier, with the sponge being more similar to Angel Food cake and the filling being whipped cream. Come to think of it, the two have nothing to do with one another. Still, strawberries, sponge and creamy stuff — you get the picture.
Because of the lightness of its components, a forkful of this Jordanian strawberries and cream concoction tastes like you’re eating a slightly sweetened bit of cloud with strawberries strewn onto it.
Albeit quite generic and store-bought, things I usually frown upon when it comes to desserts, in the run-off to my birthday this year I lay awake at night thinking of this cake. Yeah. I wasn’t joking about that “cake of my dreams” bit.e So I bought it for myself and shared it with my family.
If you ask anyone who grew up in Amman during the 1990s, this simple cake was a standard feature at most birthday parties — it was the staple birthday cake, much like our chocolate & nut stuffed bear-topped cake was our 1990s birthday essential in Cairo.
And firmly leaving my gastro-snobbery at the door on this one occasion, I’ve got to say that it made me very happy.
- Very little has changed since. (back)
- My two favourite childhood desserts were chocolate mousse and strawberries with whipped cream and powdered sugar, as prepared by my mom. (back)
- Not their real name, obviously. (back)
- Crème mousseline is pastry cream with even more butter added to it. Vile and yet so delicious. (back)
- When I was pescetarian for a year in 2005, I also had a burger of my dreams. Not a pescetarian anymore. (back)