For the past five or six years Jason and I have been making the birthday cake for the annual Marine Corps birthday celebrations at his work. I don’t in any way mean to imply that Jason is in the kitchen helping bake, clean, or frost. No, he is typically hiding to the greatest extent allowed by our three room apartment, venturing out timidly if I bellow for help. He is hiding because the M.C. birthday cake makes me nearly homicidal! Don’t get me wrong; I love to make this cake as my small way of honoring the men and women of the Marine Corps, and all other branches of service for the incredible sacrifices they make. In fact, that desire to honor them is what causes the crazy. I want this cake to be perfect: tasty, plentiful, and gorgeous. Well, I hear it is yummy, I know there is enough, but it is always butt.ugly. The first year we did the cake, I had no knowledge of the Marine Corps birthday traditions or norms. We selected devil’s food cake with cream cheese frosting as the tastiest thing in my cake baking arsenal, and Jason has insisted on having the same cake every year since. We got a sugar printed M.C. emblem from the grocery store bakery across the street and there you go: the homeliest, most well intentioned cake in the world! I thought, surely I can do better next year; I have a whole year to think and plan. But every year something has gone awry. Once the oven was off balance and so all of the cakes were slanted (and not the kind of slant you can hide with frosting) requiring an 11th hour oven alteration and bake-athon. Another year the kitchen was so hot, despite it being November, that the frosting kept melting off. Then the sugar emblem ripped. Twice (that was the last time we used those!).
Well, through all of that I have learned a few things.
1. This is a big cake, too big to be accomplished in one day with our facilities. For the last two years I’ve baked on one day, and frosted on the next. That way the kitchen is nice and cool and I have at least a fighting start at not melting the frosting. Have I mentioned that I have the hottest hands on the planet. I’m pretty sure I should never work in a sushi restaurant, and to my great despair I cannot work with moulding chocolate without two layers of gloves! I digress.
2. I am not good at “manly” cake decoration. I can make a super cute baby shower cake with little flag bunting, or swirly, twirly cupcakes, but my ideas/skills sort of peter out when it comes to scheming a realistic, manly, tradition honoring edifice of sugary goodness.
3. My obsession with perfection is dooming me to disappointment. In reality, I know that these guys (all guys in our bunch so far) appreciate these cakes and the thought behind them. I know that they will eat every bite, even if I draw hearts and unicorns all over it. But the idea of giving something I view as inferior to those who give so much for us just eats me up!
4. Butter-fingers is, I am now quite certain, an historically founded word going back to the first person who buttered a pan for cake only to find that they immediately needed to grab a bowl, which they then dropped and shattered, because they had buttered fingers! (It can’t just be me, right?)
If for some crazy reason you undertake to make this cake, here are some things you should consider. Unless you have a professional size stand mixer and a double oven, you will need to prepare the cakes in two to three batches. I have a regular old Kitchen Aid and I can barely do the first batch all the way through. On the second batch I use the stand mixer through the butter|sugar|egg|vanilla stages, and then switch to hand mixing in my “church picnic” bowl.
Stay tuned for for frosting and finale!
Marine Corps Birthday Cake
makes 4 9×13 in rectangles, 1 8 in or 9 in round
Devil’s Food Cake
13 ½ sticks (108 Tbs.) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pans
3 9/10 heaping cups dutch cocoa powder, sifted, plus more for pans
3 9/10 cups hot water
3 9/10 cups sour cream
2 lbs .95 oz cake flour, sifted
5 ½ tsp baking soda
2 ¾ tsp salt
4 lbs .45 oz granulated sugar
18 large eggs
4 ½ Tbs vanilla
Batch 1 ingredients: makes 2 9×13
6 sticks butter
1 ½ c. cocoa powder
1 ½ c. hot water
1 ½ c. sour cream
21 oz cake flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 lbs .1 oz sugar
2 Tbs vanilla
Batch 2 ingredients: makes 2 9×13, 1 round
7 ½ sticks unsalted butter
2 ¼ c. cocoa powder
2 ¼ c. hot water
2 ¼ c. sour cream
26.25 oz cake flour
2 ½ tsp baking soda
1 ¼ tsp salt
2 lbs .35 oz sugar
2 ½ Tbs vanilla
1. Butter, line with parchment paper, butter again and dust with sifted cocoa powder all baking pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk cocoa with hot water until smooth. Whisk in sour cream; let cool. Into a second large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to combine after each; scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in two parts, alternating with cocoa mixture and beginning and ending with flour; beat until combined.
3. Divide batter between prepared pans; smooth with an offset spatula. Bake until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 15 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack; peel off parchment. Turn cakes over; let cool completely, topside up.