Vacation House Birthday Cake


Our family had a grand finale to the summer with a trip to a beautiful lake house, for a week of fishing and relaxing, the latter involving playing lots of board games, reading, and just hanging out together. We took along all kinds of groceries for days and days of meals together, and the gardeners came with bundles of greens, zucchini, and tomatoes to add to the good eating. We all knew we wouldn’t have to bring much for protein sources, since there would surely be plenty of fish–and we weren’t disappointed. This picture gives you a sample of what was on the menu:

My assignment had been to bring a pretty basic birthday cake for the almost 8 year old. He would be celebrating a week early with his out of state family, before the “real” party after he got home.  I baked the cake before leaving, with the frosting to be added later.  Powdered sugar,  cream cheese, etc., were all packed, along with a box of birthday candles. To accommodate the expected large group, I doubled the recipe below and baked the cake in two 9 X 13 pans. (Doing this left enough batter for about 8 cupcakes.)

The larger size made flipping the top layer on to the filling covered bottom layer much more difficult than with two round layers, and the cake was not as “pretty” as I might have liked. After its four and a half car trip, it was even a little more dismal looking, despite the nested pans and lots of effort at keeping it unscathed.  Still–frosting covers a lot of defects, and there were also some toasted and sugared walnuts to add a decorative border. The frosted cake was better but there was something missing even when all the bumps and jiggles had been covered over and smoothed.


Don’t birthday cakes usually have SOME kind of contrasting color, even if there is no fancy shape? A search through the rental house’s cabinets uncovered nothing that would work as food coloring, and it hardly seemed reasonable to make a half hour trip into town just for that little item.

We, however, are nothing if not creative. A bowl of beautiful black grapes sat on the island, and inspiration struck.

I quickly peeled some–with the centers gratefully eaten by nearby bystanders–and chopped the deep purple skins into tiny pieces. Stirred into a small amount of the frosting, we soon had an acceptable purple color, enough to add a large X (for Xavier, the honoree) across the top.


I plan to make this again soon, with a little less transportation trauma and a lot more gracefulness, but until then, this picture will have to suffice. Our lake chalet cake would never win a cake decorating contest, but it was tasty and disappeared very quickly. And the purple frosting experiment was fun; we might even try some other “natural” colors for future efforts.

The nice thing about this cake is that it keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days, with the fruit filling gradually permeating the layers without having them fall apart. It’s a good recipe to keep in mind as we enter the fall season and more abundant supplies of apples and pumpkin.

Pumpkin Birthday Cake with Honey-Apple-Walnut Filling


1/2 c butter
1 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
1 c cooked or canned pumpkin (half a 15 oz can of pumpkin)
1 t vanilla
2 1/4 c flour
1/2 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
3/4 t nutmeg
1 t ginger
2 t cinnamon
3/4 c buttermilk or sour milk (see NOTE)

1. Beat butter until light and creamy.  Beat in the eggs and then the pumpkin and vanilla.
2. Sift together all the dry ingredients and add along with the buttermilk. (NOTE: If you don’t have buttermilk, put about a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar in the bottom of a measuring cup and add milk to make 3/4 cup.) Beat for three minutes until smooth and well blended.
3. Turn into two oiled and floured 9 inch cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until done.
4.  Ten minutes after removing the cakes from the oven, turn one layer on to a cake plate, top-side down. Spread Honey-Apple-Walnut filling over the cake and then top with the other layer, top-side up.
5. When cake is completely cool, frost with Cream Cheese Frosting. Press more toasted walnuts into the sides of the cake if desired.

Honey-Apple-Walnut Filling

2 T butter
1 c chopped coarsely chopped walnuts
2 to 3 apples, enough to make 2 cups of tightly packed, finely chopped apple (core but do not peel)
1/4 to 1/3 c honey, depending on tartness of the apples used
1 t cinnamon, or to taste

NOTE:  Prepare the filling while the cake is baking so that it will still be quite warm when the cake is removed from the oven.

1. Melt butter in a small pan over low to medium heat. Add walnuts and stir, cooking just until the walnuts are fragrant and becoming slightly golden. Remove from heat and set aside about half the nuts. If desired, sprinkle the nuts with a little cinnamon.
2.  Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl, cover, and cook about 3 minutes or until the apples are very tender. Stir in the half cup of nuts with the butter in the pan.
3.  Spread the still warm filling evenly over the cake as noted above. Use the reserved nuts to press into the sides of the cake layers. (OR, as in my doubled cake, around the edges of the cake.)

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 T butter, softened
2 T cream cheese, softened
1/2 t vanilla
1/2 t cinnamon (optional)
2 to 2 1/2 c powdered sugar
1 to 3 T milk

1. Beat butter and cream cheese together.
2. Add about a cup of the powdered sugar, stir, and then add the vanilla and cinnamon.
3. Add a tablespoon or so of milk, beat, and then add more powdered sugar. Add just enough milk to reach desired consistency.
4. Spread the frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Press the reserved nuts around the edges of the top or around the sides of the layers.

(If making “grape skin frosting,” reserve one or two tablespoons of the frosting. Chop black grape skins very, very fine and add to the frosting, using enough to reach the desired color. A bit more powdered sugar may be needed to make up for the liquid in the grape skins.)

Today’s baking hint:

One secret to making cakes with wonderful texture is to beat the butter and sugar well–I once had a teacher who said this step is not complete until you can no longer feel any grains of sugar in the mixture. That may be a little extreme, but blending these, and then beating in the eggs until the mixture is quite light colored, does provide the kind of old-fashioned tenderness that will make people ask for your recipe. To accomplish this, a stand mixer is really the best thing to use, if you have one available.


Now, one more picture of the youngest fishermen and just two of the literally dozens of fish our crew was able to catch during the week. 

Leave a Reply