Almost done with my vacation posts, I swear! This post is one I’ve been looking forward to writing and it includes the two BEST desserts I had while in the USA, both homemade. Keep reading to find out what they were! :-)
Just a few days after returning from Vegas to Maryland, we hosted a joint birthday party for me and J at my parents’ house. My parents have a wonderful house for entertaining, plus it was an excuse to get all our friends together one more time. We sent out a quick Facebook invitation, my parents helped us stock the fridge (thank you!), and there you have it– a party!
My mother and I threw together some simple appetizers– I wrapped pieces of melon in prosciutto and cut up some veggies for dipping.
My mother made her famous seven-layer dip (hey, remember when I made this from scratch in Estonia?).
Later on the appetizers were joined by crackers, goat cheese, and some amazingly delicious Trader Joe’s hummus. I love party food! My dad was in charge of beer, and we had a good selection– my dad doesn’t buy cheap beer. :-)
Oh, I should also mention that it was a hat party and all guests were required to wear some kind of head covering. People showed up with wigs, helmets and bandanas, which were also switched around throughout the night. It was a fun “theme” because it’s easy and people can have a lot of fun with it or keep it simple, whatever they like. I wore a crown of flowers– it made me feel like a birthday girl without being too princessy. Birthday boy J rocked an always-classy beer hat.
Dinner was burgers from the grill accompanied by various salads (including a black bean salad I made– yum). If I’m being completely honest with you, I can hardly even remember eating my burger that night. I know I had one– a cheeseburger with tomato slices and a ton of ketchup– but I was so engaged in conversation with my friends that the burger just seemed to disappear on its own. I’m sure it was good, though.
Finally, the desserts. My friend Siret told me she’d make cupcakes (we made cupcakes together in London last November!). She’s a cupcake queen. I expected her to arrive at the party punctually since she lives very close to my parents, but almost an hour after the slated start time I received a text message from her: “Am running late, cupcakes got the best of me”. Uh-oh. I told her not to stress and to get there when she could. When she finally arrived, I took one look at the cupcakes and realized why she’d been late:
Look at this cupcake. The latticework! The hand-formed marzipan strawberries, made of marzipan she had tinted herself! I think there were 24 of these cupcakes, with three strawberries each… absolutely incredible. I still can’t believe she did all that for our party. Not to mention she also made a batch of chocolate gluten-free cupcakes for our guests and vegan chocolate chip cookies as a birthday present for me. No wonder she was late! And as for the taste, I tried both kinds of cupcakes and they were outstanding. I actually really liked the chewiness of the gluten-free cupcakes, and the strawberry-decorated cupcakes were so moist with the perfect amount of icing. And the decorations were great because I love marzipan and of course I love strawberries!
The production of the other outstanding dessert had started earlier that day in my parents’ kitchen. My sister had decided to make a Smith Island cake, which is the official dessert of the great state of Maryland :-). The cake consists of around ten thin cake layers alternating with layers of chocolate icing, and it was my sister’s first attempt at creating one herself. While she tended to the delicate layers of cake baking in the oven, she recruited me to help make the icing. I chopped chocolate and then kept an eye on the chocolate concoction as it cooked on the stove for 10-15 minutes. Once all the components had cooled, she gently began layering them together.
I didn’t see the end of the process because guests began to arrive, but when it was time for birthday cake, I was able to see the finished product.
Not only was it impressive to look at, it tasted amazing. I expected the layers to be sort of dry like sponge cake, and I think on their own they might be, but compressed together, absorbing the moisture from the delicious, slightly firm chocolate icing, they become dense, buttery, and delicious. I think it’s the perfect cake because the icing to cake ratio is so very high. I ate the last piece of this cake two or three days after the party, and it was still completely moist. Honestly, it’s a super-cake. (Dear sister, if you read this: would you put a link to the recipe in the comments?)
To sum up, it was a fun party with great food, but of course the most amazing part was being with friends. We talked, we laughed, we watched old home movies my parents had put on DVD (which is the best idea ever, by the way). We sang around a campfire and visited a nearby construction site in the dark, which may or may not have led to a photo shoot on a giant truck thing.
Everything about that night made me happy. Friends, you all are the best, and hands-down the hardest thing about living in Estonia is that I hardly ever get to see you.