This boy takes the cake


Amanda Miller
Lettuce Eat Local


One of Benson’s current favorite phrases is, “When I get bigger bigger bigger, I will….” It’s adorable, especially when said with his typical high level of enthusiasm, but it’s also a bit heart-squeezing for this sentimental mama. He doesn’t just talk about getting bigger bigger bigger, he actually does it, and some days I’m not sure I can handle it. Where on earth has my baby gone?! 

To be fair, Benson’s not exactly an adult yet. And technically I would not like to dwell in this emotionally volatile developmental stage forever, so there may be some benefits to growing. But he turned three last week, so it’s hard not to think about how fast he’s growing. 

He had been looking forward to his birthday for quite a while, reminding me all the time that he was about to be three. “After I get three, then I will get five, and then six!” I know, child, I know. 

Brian and I are pretty lackadaisical when it comes to holidays and special occasions, and while neither of us want anything lavish or to have our kids feel entitled to extravaganzas, we know we need to be intentional about making our children feel special on their birthdays. Clearly, we adore our children; we’re just not party animals. 

Because I know we could slide into not making a big enough deal about the momentous day, letting it pass too closely to any other, I asked for my Christmas present to be a cake pan set. I already have cake pans, of course, but this single pan came with inserts and instructions on how to make all the letters and numbers shapes! I knew it would be a great way to ensure that I do actually make a special cake for my kids’ birthdays, and one birthday in, it’s been very successful. 

Well okay, it wasn’t as successful in the actual cake part as I was hoping, but that’s life — and Benson did get a tractor and combine on his cake like he wanted. The boy asks for oatmeal at least once a day, so I decided on a simple oatmeal cake as the base. It came out tasting amazing, and was deliciously moist, but due to its density didn’t exactly come out of the pan as well as I had hoped. 

That was the first in a series of not-how-I-anticipated situations. Since the top of the cake was structurally unsound, I had to change my icing plans to be softer so as not to be just spreading crumbles around. (Literally right now I realized I could have just flipped the cake over. Great timing on that epiphany.) A marshmallow/meringue buttercream is lovely and soft, and perfect since Benson gets ecstatic over even the idea of marshmallows…but somewhere between the fussy baby and the ticking clock, I didn’t let the sugar heat long enough to fully dissolve. Mm, crunchy frosting, everyone’s favorite. 

By the time I got my colors made (using cocoa powder, turmeric, and spinach for the brown, yellow, and green, because I’m weird like that), spent forever looking for the icing spatula I never found, appeased Kiah, and took for-ev-er to frost and decorate the cake, Benson was on his way home from playing with cousins. But I got it done just in time to surprise him — and the way he had to pull up a chair so he could just stand and gaze at it made it all worth it. 

Even though when it actually came time to eat it, all he wanted was the ice cream.


Cinnamon Oatmeal Cake

We’ve had oatmeal at all of Benson’s birthdays so far; the funny little guy loves it, which is great since his parents do too. He always wants copious amounts of cinnamon (like to the extent that it burns his lips sometimes), so I amped up the cinnamon extensively in a traditional oatmeal cake recipe I found. The tan brown color of the batter worked well looking like the soil under the frosting fields with their crops of sprinkles, coconut, and marshmallow, and was a nice diversion from the false dichotomy of chocolate versus vanilla. I’m not a cake person, but I keep coming back to the leftovers, which is saying a lot.

Prep tips: you can frost this essentially any way you like instead of with a marshmallow meringue; even a simple powdered sugar glaze would go well. 

1 ½ cups quick oats

1 ½ teaspoon salt

2 cups boiling water

¾ cup [6 oz] lard or butter, room temp

1 cup white sugar

1 ¼ cup brown sugar

3 eggs

2 cups flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon

Put oats in a heat-proof bowl; pour boiling water over and let set until cool. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer, cream lard, sugars, and remaining salt. Beat in eggs one by one. Add cooled oats to creamed mixture; and then add the flour, baking soda and powder, and cinnamon. Mix well so everything is combined. Transfer to a greased 9×13” pan, smoothing out the top with a spatula. Bake at 365° for 30-40 minutes, until sides are just beginning to pull away from the pan and no crumbs come up on a toothpick.


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