I don’t normally make a big deal out of my birthday. The cake-and-animatronic-mice thing at Chuck E. Cheese’s got old by the time I turned 35, and I only kept doing it for maybe another decade after that. Mostly for the ball pit.
Now it just passes like any other day: in quiet contemplation, filtered through a haze of apathy and booze.
No wait – it doesn’t. Because I’m married.
NewWifey(tm) DOES insist on making a big thing out of my birthday, although to be honest I suspect it’s only because she knows it’ll make me feel obligated to do the same on hers. Regardless, every January 27th I get the song, a card, mylar balloons, a Sicilian cassata cake, and my choice of orifice. THEN quiet contemplation and booze. Or at least booze.
Don’t get me wrong, all that stuff is appreciated. Especially the choice of inputs. (“Ooo! The ear! The ear!!“) But more and more I’ve come to *almost* equally anticipate that cassata.
Cassata cake, if you’re not familiar, is God On A Plate. It’s Sicilian, so you know it’s gonna be overly sweet, overly dramatic, and probably armed. My Sicilian grandmother used to make me one every year when I was a kid.
When I mentioned that last fact to NewWifey(tm) shortly after we were married, in the context of staring glumly at the birthday Devil’s Food Cake she’d made from a box, she took it as a challenge. As she always does.
So the next year I got a cassata cake:
Then another one the year after that.
On and on, year after year, one cassata after another, each more elaborate than the last.
Look at that thing!
The wife, I mean.
Seriously, look at her. You can practically smell the combination of pride, and hot, salty perspiration right through the monitor. Matted hair, bulging veins, forced smile. I don’t think she slept the entire two days it took to assemble that monstrosity of a confection.
And make no mistake. It did take two days. You can’t see it, but underneath that cacophony of colors there is a real Sicilian sponge cake supporting the entire edifice. (This sponge is unique to Sicily, btw. It’s delicious, but so time and money consuming to produce that you hardly ever get it in even in the nicer Italian bakeries around here. However NewWifey(tm) was gonna be DAMNED if she skipped it, if it meant showing up my grandmother.)
So that Sicilian sponge has to be made the day before. As does the marzipan. She makes her own marzipan. Then colors it by hand. (Yes, that’s a sheet of hand-rolled marzipan that bards the outside of those cakes, not fondant. Pfffff. Fondant.)
Also the day before: make the candied fruit. All those glittering jewels and wedges and blobs have to be prepped and simmered in syrup and cursed at when it burns your fingers and cooled and pried off Silpats and trimmed. The only things she didn’t make in that lower picture were the candied citron (couldn’t find citron fruit) and the green cherries. Everything else – the orange wedges, the red cherries, the figs, the orange zest, the pineapple, etc. etc. – were the product of her paring knife and a lot of tears.
What ultimately ends up coming out of the kitchen (besides a sweaty wife) is a birthday cake that far, far exceeds the rather workaday version my Nonna used to crank out in an hour using store-bought sponge cake as the base. Sorry, grandma. You’ve been bested by an Irish girl. The shame, the shame….
Unfortunately though, this year there will be no birthday cassata cake.
NewWifey(tm) has the flu.
She gamely offered to rise from her sick bed and attempt one, but frankly…ick. No thank you. I see how much trouble she has staunching the flow of snot onto her lap. I wanna know that any glaze on top of my food is sugar based, not mucous.
Of course, this also means the postprandial multi-input boink-fest is also off the table. So I guess it’s back to filling the toy cement mixer with warm mashed potatoes and cranking away again.
Here’s the thing, though. I am completely content to just carry on like every other day. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t make a big deal out of birthdays. So I told NewWifey(tm) not to worry, that when she felt better we could do it up in style and all would be right in the world again.
Nope. Not happening.
“You have to celebrate your birthday ON YOU BIRTHDAY” she said. “I don’t care if I die on your birthday, you still have to do something, even if it’s small. That’s the Rule.”
NewWifey(tm) is all about The Rules.
Alrighty then. Looks like I’ll be making myself my own birthday…something…when I get home. But what? I won’t have time to whip up a cassata if I want to eat it while it’s still technically my birthday. And frankly, I’m just too shagged out from getting up at 3am. It always hits me hardest at the end of the week, and today is no exception. I think I’m gonna go with something light and quick.
Something like what I made a couple of years ago for Thanksgiving: Apple Pie in an Apple. It’s quick, easy, and I can make a single portion.
I posted the steps on Pinterest a while back, so I’ll cut-n-paste ’em here to show you. Because I’m an unapologetic egomaniac.
1. Peel the top third or so of your apple(s):
2.Core out a cavity from the top with a melon baller. Don’t break through the bottom:
3.Mix the scooped out apple with pie spices, and whatever else you add to your apple pie filling. Stuff it into the cavities. Make some pie dough, and either cut it into strips or large circles, your choice:
4. Place the dough over the apple (form lattice if using strips, vent circle and dock edges if using circle). Brush water, egg white, or whatever you usually use on top and sprinkle with decorative sugar. Place in pan with cider or other flavored liquid and bake off. When crust is done, dish is done:
A couple of notes: 1. I’m going to skip the colored sugar this time. The color washed out and looked dingy in the finished dish. Just white sugar from now on, the large crystal baking stuff. 2. What’s not shown here is that after I took the final pic I reduced the liquid in the cooking pan and built a caramel sauce out of it. That got drizzled around each apple so it looked like it was sitting in an amber pool of goodness. And it was. Try it. 3. Yes, the corgi is mandatory.
So that’s what awaits me at home today, in lieu of cassata and ear hole sex. I guess it’ll have to do.
Ciao, kids. Enjoy your second rate cakes. Poor bastards….