My first birthday cake – Belt buckle vanilla cake with fudge frosting.

First you might be thinking – first birthday cake? You’re how old, again? I’m 24, thanks, and I don’t mean this is my first birthday cake. (My first birthday cake, incidentally, happened to be a yellow cake with homemade chocolate frosting, made by Mom, and I smeared it all over my face. In the picture, I’m quite pleased with myself.) I mean that this was the first real “birthday cake” I made entirely by myself. Sure, I’ve made cakes, and one of them was even for a birthday. But this cake was a birthday cake, if you understand the difference. There are cakes for birthdays, and there are birthday cakes. This one was of the latter variety.

Second you might be thinking – what the hell is a belt buckle cake? That’s pretty simple: a cake in the shape of a belt buckle. Definitely different, and I was happy that my husband requested it. It was fairly easy to do, once I got my head around the logistics. You see, we just registered our own brand, Crooked Spears, in Cullen’s home county. We’re the first folks to have done that in almost 40 years (or more). Each state has their own brand registry, so even if we were to move there’s no guarantee that the brand hasn’t been taken somewhere else, but we’re pretty excited that we got the exact design we wanted. Cullen has wanted a buckle like mine for a while, but not with Dad’s brand on it. Sadly, the Stanbro Brothers (who made mine and Dad’s buckles) have since gone out of business, as I understand, and there aren’t many folks or manufacturers out there who work with ‘brown’ steel. So until we find someone that does, and get the funds, this was the next best thing.

The cake itself was a two-layer affair, vanilla bean pound cake adapted from a recipe that Cullen’s aunt got from a friend of hers some years ago. I adapted the recipe for vanilla bean – big adaptation, right? – and butter, since the original recipe calls for extract and shortening. Cullen’s aunt made the original recipe for our wedding cake, the last of which Cullen and I will be eating four days from now, but I digress. The filling was vanilla bean buttercream, as well as the coloring piping; and the frosting was fudge buttercream I found HERE and knew would be perfect on sight. I’m so glad I wasn’t wrong – this cake was a huge stress for me, as I wanted it to be perfect not only for my husband, but for the people we had coming to his party!

The layers I baked three days beforehand and froze in preparation for the day of, since the last thing I wanted to do was rush around baking two cake layers the day before the birthday itself. I used a 9×13″ rectangle and one 8″ round after some trial and error. Initially I thought a 10″ round would be all right, but it turned out too large to use. After shrinkage in baking, the 8″ fit the ends of the 9×13″ just right. Some of my lack of expertise showed through if you looked carefully at the baked layers – neither layer was exactly level, even after leveling. I tried, during the test bake, to measure out batter in cups but it didn’t work either. Still unlevel. Whatever – this was a learning experience!

Now, when it comes to buttercream, I’m good. Golden, even. I probably shouldn’t brag too much, as that usually tends to jinx me, but buttercream is something I’ve always been pretty decent with. I love the look of vanilla bean specks in anything, especially buttercream, so vanilla bean paste is a godsend. Our closest William-Sonoma is 30 minutes away, and I made good on the last trip there by buying a jar, and I think it’s a pretty good financial decision compared to buying two beans for the same price and meticulously scraping them down to get half the result. As mentioned above, the paste flavored the cake as well, so I got those lovely little bean flecks in every bite of cake, as well.

The majority of the frosting was done the day of, several hours before the party. I made Cullen split the rounds and I leveled the layers as best I could by cutting and dolloping some extra frosting on top. It wasn’t bakery-perfect but I was sure proud of it! I got many compliments on the cake and the vanilla bean ice cream – “rich, but very good,” our 94-year-old neighbor told me with a smile – but the best compliment was the big smile on my husband’s face all night. Especially as he ate his birthday cake.

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