I celebrated a birthday last week. This particular date lost its allure long ago, but the day I officially turned “50ish” I awoke not thinking about how fast time has passed, but specifically about my own birth.
It states on my birth certificate that I was born at 6:38 a.m., and as my clock clicked toward that time on my birthday, I wondered what it was like for my mom that Jan. 11 so long ago. One time, when I was a kid, I asked her about the day I was born. She didn’t go into the details of the actual birth, but about how happy she was to become a mother. This was a big step for her. She told me she had aspired to become a mother when she was just a girl. “Whenever someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would tell them I wanted to be a mother,” she said proudly. And so having me, her first baby, was a dream come true, I guess.
I never really knew what a big deal it was for her though, until I came across an old photograph a day after she passed away. I distinctly remember that inconsolable time; that period when a loved one has died but the funeral is pending, that limbo of piercing grief and confusion. Feeling heartsick and bereft, I thought maybe looking at some photographs would bring a sense of peace. But there was one photo that pulled at my heart strings like no other. This particular picture was not carefully laid away in an album, but separate. It was as if someone had looked at it frequently throughout the years, its corners dog-eared and frayed.
That photo was of me as a baby, waving confidently from the arms of my mother. I am looking out into a crowd of relatives, and Mom is looking at me, pride and happiness written all over her face. I had never seen this particular picture before, and wondered why. Wondered why it had never surfaced when my mom was alive. Nonetheless, I took that photo, enlarged it, and now it hangs in my house, where I peer at it just about every day. I’m still enchanted by it.
While I was growing up, Mom would make our favorite dessert for our birthdays. I always chose her homemade German Chocolate Cake. I can remember her making this confection from scratch, and I’ve included that recipe for this week. I do wish with all my heart Mom was here to make me this favorite though. No German Chocolate Cake has ever tasted as good as the ones she used to make for my birthday.
But that photo brings solace. In fact, on the morning of my birthday, I looked at it especially close, realizing how lucky I was to have a start in life like this; to have a mother who smiled proudly down on me while I was tucked safely in her arms. Birthday gifts don’t come any more precious than that.
German Chocolate Cake
Cooking spray to grease pans
4 oz. sweet baking chocolate
1/2 cup water
21/4 cups all-purpose flour or 21/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup butter or margarine (2 sticks), room temperature
4 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
Coconut-Pecan Filling and Topping
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar or packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 stick)
1 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
Heat the oven to 350 degree. Spray the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans with the cooking spray. Coarsely chop the chocolate. In a 1-quart saucepan, heat the chocolate and water over low heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate is completely melted; remove from heat and cool. In a medium bowl, stir the flour, baking soda and salt until mixed; set aside. In another bowl, beat 2 cups sugar and 1 cup butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy; set aside. Place an egg separator over a small bowl. Separate the 3 eggs. On medium speed, beat 1 egg yolk at a time into the sugar mixture until mixed. On low speed, beat in the melted chocolate and 1 teaspoon vanilla. On low speed, beat in 1/2 of the flour mixture just until smooth, then beat in 1/2 of the buttermilk just until smooth. Repeat beating in flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk just until smooth. Wash and dry mixer beaters. In a small bowl, beat the eggs whites on high speed until beaten eggs whites form stiff peaks when beaters are lifted. Add egg whites to the batter; continue folding until batter and egg whites are blended. Pour batter into pans evenly and smooth. Bake 8-inch pans 35 to 40 minutes, 9-inch pans 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes. To remove cake from pan, invert onto cooling rack, then invert right side up on second cooling rack. Cool completely, about 1 hour. For the topping; separate the 3 eggs. In a 2-quart saucepan, stir the egg yolks, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter, the evaporated milk and 1 tsp. vanilla until well mixed. Cook over medium heat about 12 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick and bubbly. Stir in the coconut and pecans. Cool about 30 minutes, beating occasionally with a spoon, until mixture is spreadable. Place 1 cake layer, rounded side down, on a cake plate; using a metal spatula, spread 1/3 of the filling over the layer. Add second layer, rounded side down; spread with 1/3 of the filling. Add third layer, rounded side up; spread with remaining filling, leaving side of cake unfrosted. Store cake covered in the refrigerator.