Our time is coming, mamas. Mother’s Day is around the corner.
This is my third official Mother’s Day as a mom (not counting the one where I was newly pregnant and feeling all fluttery-excited over the idea that I was about to become a mom, with no real clue as to what it would be like), so I can tell you a few things about it.
Sleep in if you can. It’s a cliche, sure, but there’s not one of us that’s clocking enough hours in bed at this stage in life, so grab the chance if it’s offered. Breathe deeply and burrow back down into the comforter. Let someone else do the things for a while. Breathe.
Make sure someone snaps a few pictures. Hear me out, I know, I KNOW....your skin is tired and your hair is frizzled and wild from a million nights spent in messy mom-buns, and the last thing you want is to have this moment documented, but trust me. You DO. We have this tendency to melt into the background of so many of life's scenes, we mothers, to be the unseen support crew that makes the regular days run smoothly and the holidays extra magical. This goes double for those of us who are some form of "mom/photographer," since we have an extra layer of protection built into the excuses for not ever showing up in pictures: but I have to take all the pictures--it's for WORK!
As worried as you may be about the bags under your eyes and your tendency to always be chewing and/or blinking whenever someone snaps a photo (and believe me, I am not crazy about these aspects of my own photos, haha), years from now you won't even notice them. You won't see anything but the love in their eyes as they serve you a wobbly tray of breakfast in bed, or proudly bestow their handmade gifts on you (my two year old is forever giving me handfuls of damp flowers he's picked up from the ground--"For you, Mama!"--and I try to ooh and ahh over each one like they were exotic orchids). You won't see anything but the memories.
Finally, if someone offers to make you cake, take them up on it. I have JUST THE PERFECT ONE. This vanilla layer cake right here is an epic example of cake perfection: it's tender, flavorful, sturdy enough to stack with layers of frosting or jam but not dense. It's the perfect blank canvas onto which you can project all sorts of other flavors, like a zesty citrus buttercream, bitter marmalade, a deep chocolate ganache, a layer of fresh strawberries--make it your own! Here, I imagined a dreamy Mother's Day morning tea involving fresh flowers, linen napkins, small sweet bites, and a showstopping cake topped with faux succulents and piped buttercream. If your plans for your special day are a little more modest than this (and whose aren't, honestly?), let's say you're getting grilled cheese sandwiches and a misspelled construction paper card with only half-dried glue and glitter on it instead of a sugary pastel fantasyland party, that's one hundred percent okay. But insist on the cake anyway. It's worth it.
Happy Mother's Day, fellow mamas!
Vanilla Layer Cake with Citrus Buttercream
(lightly adapted from a recipe by Sally's Baking Addiction)
Makes: One 2-layer cake
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for pan
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup butter, plus extra for pan
- 1 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 eggs + 2 extra whites
- 1 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) softened butter
- 5 cups of powdered confectioner’s sugar
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon finely zested lemon peel
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Some kind of jam filling; choose one of these: marmalade (if you like your sweet things a touch on the bitter side), apricot jam, lemon or orange curd
For the citrus buttercream:
For the layer in between:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8" pans with butter and dust lightly with flour.
- Place flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl and stir until combined.
- Place butter in bowl of stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat on high until fluffy (about a minute). Add sugar, continue beating on high until they are creamed together and the mixture is pale & fluffy. Add eggs & egg whites, continue to mix on high. Add vinegar and vanilla, continue to mix. Decrease speed to low, slowly add dry ingredients until just combined. Slowly pour in milk and mix batter until just combined and smooth (batter will be slightly thick).
- Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bake for 25-30 minutes (times will vary according to oven, but each layer should be browned and puffed, and a tester inserted into the middle should come out clean). Remove and let cool completely.
- While cake is baking, whip butter in stand mixer with the paddle attachment for several minutes on medium speed, until butter is fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula as you go. Lower mixer speed to low and begin adding sugar one cup at a time, continuing to stop once in a while and scrape sides of bowl. Increase speed back to medium and beat in cream and vanilla until smooth. Add salt, lemon juice and zest, and beat until smooth. Taste and add more sugar if frosting needs to be stiffer, or a splash more cream if it needs to be smoother.
- Assemble cake with jam filling between the layers. Spread buttercream generously over top & sides, smooth with a butter knife or offset spatula. Garnish cake with faux succulents, sprinkles, piped buttercream flowers & stars.
When I was little, Easter used to mean baskets full of artificially dyed eggs, iridescent plastic shreds of grass, jelly beans and the kind of cheap, waxy chocolate that thrills a kid’s heart before they know what the really good stuff tastes like. I loved them, but it’s been decades since I had an Easter basket like this, and to be honest I hadn’t even really notice that this family tradition had slipped away.
Until, that is, I became a mom.
Now that I have a little one, I’m always overcome by the urge to make things feel just a little more magical for him--and that goes extra for the holidays! This year, we’re bringing back Easter baskets. Not the technicolor plastic baskets of my youth, though. This Easter, I’m filling a vintage basket with natural moss (see ya later, bright green shred of plastic “grass”), speckled eggs, spring flowers and of course, plenty of chocolate. I’m so grateful to my friends at Ghirardelli for inspiring that last part, and for letting my Easter basket imagination run wild with my dreams of a floral basket overflowing with chocolate goodies. I used handfuls of Ghirardelli bite-sized Milk Chocolate Caramel Bunnies and Dark Chocolate Eggs with indulgent sea salt caramel centers to build my basket, along with a few classic large Chocolate Bunnies at the center. Thanks to Ghirardelli, my child will know what the really good stuff tastes like from the very beginning (seriously though, why waste time with anything else?). After all, we’re starting our new family traditions from scratch here, and finely crafted bean-to-bar chocolate is all part of the plan!
Here’s another thing I’ve learned since starting a family...it’s important to carve out moments for yourself once in a while. It’s also important to make sure there’s an extra chocolate bunny laying around that doesn’t quite make it into the basket. You know, for when Mama needs to have a “chocolate moment” all to herself.
In my family, we may have let the basket tradition lapse years ago, but one thing that’s only grown stronger over the years is our Easter brunch tradition. It’s a multi-generational affair that usually has us gathering at my parents’ house to celebrate and feast. Dad makes an enormous ham (that typically has us making leftover sandwiches and salad for weeks), my brother invents something complicated and delicious, and my mom puts together an epic tablescape. I’m planning to contribute a flower & chocolate-filled basket to the brunch table, of course…..as soon as we’re done with breakfast, I’m sure everything will be devoured right down to the last chocolate bunny!
This year, I’m also treating us to a simple but elegant version of (what else?) carrot cake, layered with creamy frosting and a fluffy layer of coconut on top. Crowning the top of the cake, as an extra sweet treat? A ring of Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Eggs, meticulously arranged so that everyone gets one on each slice. The hint of smooth dark chocolate and rich caramel in every bite makes this cake irresistible...it might just be delicious enough to start a new Easter tradition!
My huge thanks goes out to Ghirardelli for sponsoring this post and encouraging me to develop these treats to share with you! All recipes and opinions expressed in this post are, as always, 100% my own. To find out more about Ghirardelli Easter Inspiration click here!
Cardamom Carrot Easter Cake with Chocolate Egg Garnish
Makes: One 3-layer cake
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup vegetable oil (plus a little extra, for the pans)
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 3 cups grated carrot
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
- 12 oz whipped cream cheese (room temperature)
- 4 cups of powdered confectioner’s sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Sweetened coconut flakes
- 8 Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Eggs
For the cream cheese frosting:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 6” pans (or bake one at a time if you don’t own three, cooling the pan fully in between) with vegetable oil and dust lightly with flour. It’s a good idea to line the bottoms with a circle of parchment paper, too.
- Place flour, sugars, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and cardamom in a large bowl and stir until combined. Place eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla in a smaller bowl and whisk until combined. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients slowly, whisking just until smooth. Gently fold in pecans and grated carrot.
- Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bake for 40-50 minutes (times will vary according to oven, but each layer should be browned and puffed, and a tester inserted into the middle should come out clean). Remove and let cool completely.
- While cake is baking, beat butter and cream cheese together in stand mixer for several minutes on medium speed, until completely smooth. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula as you go. Beat in vanilla. Lower mixer speed to low and begin adding sugar one cup at a time, continuing to stop once in a while and scrape sides of bowl. Adjust to your preferred thickness and level of sweetness as you go, adding up to four cups of sugar.
- Assemble cake with frosting in between each layer and all over the outside. Sprinkle top generously with sweetened coconut flakes. Garnish with 8 Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Eggs, one for each slice. Happy Easter!