he turned eleven

cookies and cream cake | the merry gourmet

I don’t know of anyone who takes the selection of his or her birthday cake so seriously, but I respect my son for this trait. It’s a big decision, to be sure. Chocolate or vanilla? Buttercream frosting or cream cheese? Ice cream on the side or not at all? Or perhaps an ice cream cake? So many choices to choose from.

We’ve been in birthday cake negotiations for weeks now. I offered up the easy-for-Mom and always-crowd-pleasing Publix birthday cake. Publix cake is usually a no brainer. Everyone loves that cake. Oliver, though, thinks it’s too sweet. He’s right. It is too sweet, but this usually isn’t a problem for most of us. We eat it, feel guilty, maybe add in an extra workout or neighborhood walk, then sneak a second slice when no one is looking. Oliver never finishes a slice. He’s the smart one in this household.

The weekend before we were to celebrate his birthday, I offered up three of my baking books for him to peruse and make a selection from. One had few pictures, so he wasted minimal time on that book. In the other two books, he placed sticky notes on the photos he thought looked interesting and “not too sweet,” though I’m not sure how he made this judgement based on photos. Ultimately, he walked away with one cake in mind – the cookies and cream cake from page 107 of Tessa Huff’s Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes. His only condition was that he wanted the Swiss meringue buttercream frosting from page 41 rather than the white chocolate-cream cheese frosting the recipe called for. He definitely wanted the Oreos in it, though.

I warned him, “You’ll probably think it’s too sweet.” He was insistent, though, that this was the cake he wanted.

I made the three chocolate cake layers one night after getting home from work, and I stored them, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the freezer until the night before I assembled the cake. On the morning of Oliver’s birthday sleepover, I made the frosting and assembled the cake.

Oliver had a couple of boys over for a sleepover that night, boys he’s known for years – and one since preschool. After a dinner of hamburgers, tater tots, and fresh fruit, it was time for cake. I stuck eleven striped candles into the top of the cake, lit them, and carefully set the cake in front of Oliver. We began singing, and at the end of the song, he blew out all of the candles in one big breath.

Watching him experience such joy – the joy of being with his friends and his family on his almost-birthday, with homemade cake and no bedtime – was such a gift to me. Almost as much of a gift as he was to me on October 4th eleven years ago.

Later, after all the dishes were done and the boys were getting ready to go upstairs to watch a movie or play video games, I asked him how the cake tasted.

He shrugged. “I’m not the biggest fan,” he said.

It was too sweet. Imagine that.

Yield: Serves 12-15

Cookies and Cream Cake

The components of this recipe come from the Layered cookbook by Tessa Huff. In her book, the recipe for Cookies and Cream Cake is made with cream cheese frosting. Somehow, I have a son who doesn't like cream cheese frosting (is he really mine?), so I've used her recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream frosting instead. I also made the cake with 8-inch cake pans rather than 6-inch pans.

This recipe makes one 3-layer cake, and there will be frosting leftover.

Ingredients:

For Chocolate Cakes:
2 ½ cups (315 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (95 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 mL) canola oil
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 ½ cups (360 mL) whole milk
1 cup (240 mL) hot coffee

For a large batch of Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
1 cup (240 mL) large egg whites
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
3 cups (6 sticks/675 g) unsalted butter at room temp, cubed
1 tablespoon vanilla
10 Oreo cookies, crushed

Directions:

Prepare Cakes:
Preheat over to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 8-inch cakes pans and set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat together the oil and sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes. With the mixer on, add the eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, and almond extract. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl. With the mixer on low, stream in the coffee. Mix on medium-low for no more than 30 seconds, or until combined.

Evenly divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Let them cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

Prepare Frosting:
Place egg whites and sugar in bowl of stand mixer. Whisk them together by hand to combine. Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and place it over medium-high heat. Place the mixer bowl on top of the saucepan to create a double boiler. The bottom of the water should not touch the water.

Whisking intermittently, heat the egg mixture until it reaches 160 degrees on a candy thermometer or is hot to the touch. Once hot, carefully fit the mixer bowl onto the stand mixer.
With the whisk attachment, beat the egg white mixture on high speed for 8-10 minutes, until it holds medium-stiff peaks. When done, the outside of the mixer bowl should return to room temperature and no residual heat should be escaping out of the top of the bowl. Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle.

With the mixer on low speed, add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, then the vanilla. Once incorporated, turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is silky smooth, 3-5 minutes.

May store frosting in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 10 days. Bring to room temperature before remixing.

Assemble Cake:

To frost cakes, place 1 layer on a cake plate. With an offset spatula, spread top with 1/2 cup frosting. Repeat with second layer. Stir the crushed Oreo cookies into the remaining frosting until well-combined. Place the third layer on top of cake, centering it, and spread the remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake. You will have extra frosting, so reserve it for another use.

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23 Responses to “the inadequate $20 bill and a recipe: oatmeal double-chip cookies”

  1. Sarah — April 12, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

    Ouch, that must have been hard. I am a social worker and often come home after listening to so many sad stories to cook. It’s kind of conflicting but also comforting. You’re doing more than most by just being there to listen, so keep it up sister.

  2. Miss @ Miss in the Kitchen — April 12, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

    What a sad situation. Your patients are fortunate to have such a caring physician.

    The cookies do look so comforting and delicious.

  3. Georgie — April 12, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

    I think you’re a superhero! I know so well, what it’s like to be on both sides, the needing and the giving. I bet he’s grateful and perhaps you gave him some hope and for certain put as smile on his heart for that moment.

  4. Macaroni Mama — April 12, 2012 @ 8:54 pm

    I believe you need to have homemade cookies readily available for indigent patients of yours. I have a microwave you can put in your office. This was a very touching blog. How heart-wrenching that must be for you to know your patients cannot afford their meds. XXXOOO

  5. Gail — April 12, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

    I don’t know how you do what you do, but I am so glad it’s you who does it.

  6. SMITH BITES — April 12, 2012 @ 10:37 pm

    You’re a good person MJ – and doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing when you should be doing it. And I know I don’t need to remind you that your patient is where he’s supposed to be – in your care . . . The world needs more MJs

  7. Brian @ A Thought For Food — April 12, 2012 @ 11:41 pm

    I’m not a religious man, but you are an angel darling. I mean that. I’m sure that meant the world to him. It wasn’t trivial at all. He needed those mess and you provided that to him.

  8. Lori @ RecipeGirl — April 13, 2012 @ 12:03 am

    oh man. What a tough job, and what an absolutely lovely human being you are. I’m sure that $20 meant the world to him… I mean, how many people would do that? Feel good about what you did 🙂

  9. Jayne — April 13, 2012 @ 3:48 am

    Gosh MJ, yours is a hard job. I think the way you handled the situation was lovely. Poor man, to be suffering with cancer and losing his home, I feel so distraught for him. Your cookies sound delicious, if anyone is in need of a cookie it must be you.

  10. Kathryn — April 13, 2012 @ 4:18 am

    I’m not sure that I would have the strength to do what you do, you are a pretty amazing person.

  11. Paula — April 13, 2012 @ 8:27 am

    You are a wonderful, caring person and a credit to your chosen profession. That gesture represented so much more than money for medication to your patient.

  12. Jenny — April 13, 2012 @ 9:52 am

    You are a wonder. I worked for an oncologist for eight years. I took their calls on the weekend to help my doctor, I went to their houses to hold their hands, I baked for their families – I did everything I could because I knew my doctor was so busy and had a family. He would have never done what you do – he was a good man – but he wouldn’t struggle with finding a way to help him or even given him $20 – he would have maybe mentioned to me – to see if a social worker could help him. The $20 doesn’t mean anything to this man – the fact that you thought and felt enough for his circumstances to give him the $20 – means the world to him. You renew my faith in humanity. xo

  13. Mary — April 13, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

    While $20.00 seems inadequate to you, the compassion you showed your patient gave him a small peaceful pause in a stressful situation. Good on you!

  14. Aggie — April 13, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

    What Gail said.

    My heart always hurts for anyone struggling like this.

    MJ, your storytelling is beautiful, even though the situation isn’t.

    And those are my kind of cookies. Comfort on a plate.

  15. jenna — April 13, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

    We are called to love one another and what you are feeling in your heart is that conviction. Sometimes its the smallest acts of kindness that mean the most…

  16. Di — April 13, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

    I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been, to be so close to human suffering on so many levels. You are a blessing Merry Jennifer.

  17. Kiran @ KiranTarun.com — April 14, 2012 @ 1:15 am

    You are a blessing to many, that’s for sure. xo

  18. Shaina — April 15, 2012 @ 1:38 am

    Heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing his story.

  19. You did what you could and I am sure it meant more to him than you will ever know! xoxo

  20. Noble Pig - Cathy — April 16, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

    The smallest acts of kindness are sometimes the most memorable..that was wonderful.

  21. Jamie — April 17, 2012 @ 8:17 am

    My sister is a doctor in geriatric medicine in Tampa and I hear similar stories and it does break our hearts. How helpless we feel and so wish there was a way we could do more. Maybe a plate of homebaked cookies, as trivial as it seems, on the corner of your desk could at least bring a temporary smile to someone’s face. And that is wonderful.

  22. art and lemons — April 19, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

    Lovely storytelling rich with compassion and truth and even the seemingly smallest of gestures matter!

  23. Jenny @ BAKE — April 20, 2012 @ 6:13 am

    I’m sure you did more than most would have done

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