Do you celebrate half birthdays?
In the peanut butter jelly days when playground tête-à-têtes were invariably opened with “How old are you?” I was armed with my age calculated to the month and day. Even now the seventh of the month rarely sidles by unnoticed. Happy 5/12ths Birthday, I whisper to myself.
If the months were cast in Wes Anderson films, December would be Madame D. Wafting in on a cloud of ermine and skillfully flurried Burbank snowflakes, she glides through the carols and canapés. Ascending a spiral stair without seeming to move her feet, she flutters her lacquered nails and legions of scullery maids, footboys, stewards, valets, housekeepers, and butlers scatter like pigeons. When she crests the final stair, it is Christmas. A kingly fir seeded long ago in the grunting days of Aethelbert and Cnut makes a coniferous obeisance to the Lady, its crown of needles almost as gorgonizingly immaculate as Madame’s platinum coiffure. I am honored to call December my month.
And yet. Lately, December’s choreography of aesthetics has been snarled by exams and cross-country flights. There is a cake on my birthday but a triple-wide slice is missing—family.
So I have reclaimed the half birthday. I bake a cake. Those three help me eat it. Remember my nostalgia for birthday parties? December 7th belongs to blue books and airline timetables. June 7th belongs to me.
The sixth month is December’s antipole but I am learning to be a child of June. Even her name is mesmeric languor of late afternoon. June. High-waisted shorts and sitting in the grass and watermelon smiles. Rummage sales and trampoline daydreaming and ants in the picnic basket. Cake for dinner and licking the frosting bowl for dessert.
I wanted a cake as indulgent and joyful as June. A slice heavy as the high noon sun. A crumb velvety as lightning bug nights. Frosting tangy-sweet as first kisses and paperback epilogues.
Beet Red Velvet Cake
Adapted from Je suis alimentageuse
- Two medium beets
- ½ cup oil
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 ¾ cups + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
- 2 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups nondairy milk
- 8 ounces vegan cream cheese
- ½ cup or two sticks vegan butter
- 3 ¾ cups powdered sugar
Do ahead: Boil the beets for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Let cool slightly and strip off the skins. Purée the beets and store in the fridge until you have a craving for cake.
Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour two 6” round pans. Beat together the beets and oil until smooth. Stir in the sugar and vanilla.
Whisk or sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Beat the dry ingredients into the wet in three batches, alternating with the milk. Divide the batter between the pans, filling them two-thirds full (if you have leftover batter, grease up a small ramekin and bake an itty bitty cake just for you).
Bake for 30-45 minutes or until the cake begins to pull away from the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or nearly so. Let cool in pans on a metal rack for 10 minutes before inverting onto the rack to cool completely.
Beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add in the powdered sugar in batches, beating the frosting until smooth. Place one cake layer face up on a plate. Apply an even layer of frosting and place the second layer face down on the first (the layers should be face to face). Smooth the frosting over the top and sides of the cake. You will have at least a cup of additional frosting. I assume you know how to handle that situation.