birthdays and spent grain cake

I’ve been thinking a lot about birthdays.

Maybe it’s because some of my favorite people in the world had October birthdays. Maybe it’s because I’m really into baking cakes of the bundt variety at the moment. Or maybe it’s because I just friggin’ love birthdays.

Though as an adult, I find that birthdays keep losing their steam with each passing year. Most of us are separated by long distances or overworked schedules and to compensate, we use Facebook posts as replacements for greeting cards and happy hour drinks as a stand in for parties.

What happened to the once sacred specialness reserved just for birthdays? The kind where your friends all congregated at Chuck-E-Cheese or the local bowling alley for games and pizza, and where your mom made or purchased a cake decked out with your preferred My Little Pony or Disney Princess theme? What happened to laser tag and movie outings and sleepovers?

We may have left our childhood behind, but in my opinion, that doesn’t mean the specialness has to leave with it.

This really came into focus for me in September when I had the rare opportunity to spend the day with one of my best friends, Matt, on his 31st birthday. The entire day we were together, all I could think about was how many times I had told him [and many others] throughout the years: “I hope it’s wonderful!” or “I wish I was there to celebrate!”

Yet there I was… with him… celebrating. There wasn’t a big party [or laser tag for that matter] but there was coffee, conversation, and cake [and later, free booze thanks to Pete and Whitney].

It wasn’t just any cake either. It was Ina Garten’s chocolate cake, which just so happened to be the same cake my dear friend Adriane had conjured up for me on my 26th birthday. I still remember it because it was the first cake someone had baked for me since I left home for college. So yeah, I was thrilled to recreate it in honor of such a significant occasion as Matt’s birthday.

26birthday cake

These are the moments worth everything — the harking back to traditions, the gathering of your favorite people in one place, and that minute of “blowing out the candles” for posterity and promise of blessings in the coming year. This is where the specialness resides.

Luckily, this past month has provided me with ample opportunity to recreate these magical scenes and to shower some of my closest friends with home-baked, candle-laden cakes [bundt cakes to be exact].

Our most recent celebration was for the one and only Lauren, at none other than Strange Craft Beer Company.

strange craft beer

We frequently refer to Lauren’s birthday as one of our favorite gatherings of the year. That’s because it checks off almost all of the “specialness” boxes reserved for only the best birthday parties. The people are always the best of the best; random games of “round the horn” or “pass the candle” often break out just for the hell of it; the beer is always ridiculously good; the gifts are always opened; and onesies or costumes are frequently donned.

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Last but most definitely not least, a cake is almost always present. And this year, it was my turn to provide it.

I knew Kate’s Maple Cake was going to be tough experiment to beat, but when it came time for Lauren’s birthday moment, I let the fall season and the brewery setting do the talking. The result was an altogether singular cake — a pumpkin, molasses, and beer influenced Spent Grain Pumpkin Cake — perfect for an altogether singular person like Lauren.

Seriously, this girl is unworldly. She bakes some of my favorite treats on the planet. She kick boxes simply because she can. She is always — and I mean always — up for an adventure, whether it’s to New Orleans, Lake Granby, or a Fleetwood Mac concert. She is a food and music addict of the absolute highest quality. And she is a reliable social media contributor and follower on any platform. She’s also one of the kindest, most generous people on the planet.

So yeah, we like her a lot, and we definitely love the way this cake turned out in her honor. It’s filled with all sorts of unlikely ingredients: fresh pumpkin purée, homemade applesauce [made from our co-worker’s apples], olive oil instead of butter, and dark wheat spent grain flour made from our recent home-brewing endeavors.

It’s certainly a hard one to replicate, but we couldn’t help but share the recipe for this chocolate-y, autumn-y, and altogether tast-y cake — the perfect complement to our beers in hand and our toasts to the birthday girl.

This one’s for you, Lauren! Thank you for bringing the specialness back to birthdays.

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spent grain pumpkin cake

Spent Grain Pumpkin Cake

  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. pumpkin purée [aka goop]
  • 1/3 c. applesauce
  • 1 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 c. spent grain flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie or cake spice
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg

Molasses Icing

  • 2 Tbs. butter, softened
  • 2 Tbs. milk
  • 2 tsp.  molasses
  • 1/4 – 1 c. powdered sugar [to desired thickness]
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • Cacao nibs for garnish [alternatively: chocolate sprinkles or chocolate chips]

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F and grease a bundt pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat vegetable oil and brown sugar together. Add eggs, beating well after each addition. Add pumpkin and applesauce and mix until well combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine flours, baking soda, salt, and spices.
  4. Gradually add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, beating after each addition until batter is well blended.
  5. Pour batter into bundt pan and bake for 30 – 35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to rest 10 minutes, then turn out on a cooling rack to cool completely.
  6. While baking, prepare the glaze by beating the butter, milk, and molasses together. Add powdered sugar gradually until it reaches desired consistency. [We kept ours pretty thin but definitely think a thicker icing would work well!] Mix in spices and set aside.
  7. Once cake is cool, top with glaze and cacao nibs.

spent grain pumpkin cakespent grain pumpkin cake

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