Walking over to the back door she reached behind the oven and pulled out the old step stool, snapping it open with a creak and placing it just next to her working space next to the stove. From a high cabinet overhead she reaches for the flour canister, measuring some out into her brown melamine bowl. I stood on my stool watching her, anxiously waiting to get my hands dusty with flour.
She measured out the rest of the dry ingredients, giving them a stir before opening a carton of eggs. One by one she cracked them into the bowl of dry ingredients; if a bit of shell fell in she would simply fish it out with a finger, it was all part of the fun and how it’s been done for years.
Opening a can of crushed pineapple she drains some of the juice before handing it to me to dump into the batter, and lets me give it the final stir before she pours it into a buttered 13×9 pan and sliding it into the oven. She peels open a pack of cream cheese and stick of cold butter, dropping them together into another bowl and helps me guide the hand mixer around the bowl to whip them together light and fluffy. Adding the powdered sugar she turns the mixer down low as small clouds sugar appear, and the frosting is just about done. As the smell of a baking cake fills the kitchen I know its only a short time until I get to have a slice.
It was many years ago that I watched my Grandma cooking and baking. She made it all look so easy. Tossing this ingredient and that into a bowl, whipping them with a mixer. When the frosting was done, so was the cake, perfectly timed every time. She’d hand me the beaters so I could lick off the frosting while she spread the rest on the cake. After the frosting and cake were one, she’d cut me a slice, poured me some milk, and we sat at the kitchen table eating warm cake. And although most people aren’t baking sweet desserts in mid-July I can’t help thinking of her and every summer find myself baking at least a couple of times. You see, on July 10th she will have been gone for thirteen years, and I can’t help thinking about her never-fail fudge (which I managed to fail 5 times in a row one Christmas several years ago), fried apple pies, and of course my favorite, her Birch cake. We still don’t know where the name came from, but this cake has been a part of my family since before I was born.
Her recipe was published in a small cookbook put together by her church many years ago, alongside the cream cheese frosting and never fail fudge recipes but forgive me… since we’ve moved I still haven’t found it in the jumble of boxes that we still need to unpack. Once I do find it, I’ll post a photo of it. This cake could be compared to a pineapple upside down cake but its more buttery, and not as sweet, but it does have the carmelization that forms all around from the sugar and butter. The buttercream frosting is light and fluffy and I still can’t resist licking the whisk after I make it.
She’s been gone for thirteen years today. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of her and I still get choked up when I talk about her and my voice starts to strain as I hold back tears. She was not only my Grandmother but my dear friend. A picture of her and I sat on my desk in Germany and now I carry it with me. Sometimes I can feel myself being drawn back to the yellow house with the paneled walls, with shelves filled with her collection of carnival glass. The plastic slip-covered yellow furniture inviting us to sit together watching old tv shows with our collies Dusty and Tiny to keep us company. She will forever be in my heart, wherever I go, she is always with me. Grandma this post is for you.
My Grandma’s Birch Cake
for the cake
2 cups of sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 can crushed pineapple (unsweetened)
2 cups cake flour *
for the icing
2 cups powdered sugar
1 9 oz cream cheese
1 stick of butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
For the cake: Mix eggs, sugar, vanilla, and baking soda together. Add the pineapple and flour and mix. Pour into a buttered 9×13 inch glass pan and bake for 40-45 minutes.
For the icing: Mix the powdered sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Let the cake cool for about 20-25 minutes and then spread the cream cheese frosting on top.
*If you don’t have cake flour you can make your own very easily. For every cup of flour your recipe calls for, take out two tablespoons of flour and return it to the flour bin. Place the flour (minus the two tablespoons) into a sifter and sift over a bowl. Replace the two tablespoons of flour that your removed with two tablespoons of cornstarch. Lastly, sift the flour and cornstarch together 6 times. You just made cake flour!
Note: The cake will look golden and perhaps a little burnt. If this happens, you’ve done it correctly. It is from the sugar and pineapple caramelizing. I hope this cakes becomes one of your family’s favorites as it has been ours for years.