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A Pastry Chef Makes Her Own Birthday Cake

It was my birthday last week. I love my birthday, but it never really turns out how I imagine. For my 12th birthday, I asked for Donnie Wahlberg, to no avail. For my 18th birthday, my girlfriends tried to plan a surprise party for me, which I ruined mid-car ride to the surprise, trying to get my mom to take me home, instead of to the party. For my 21st birthday, it was the middle of the week, so I had to go out for my first legal drinks with my COMM 211 acquaintances, shuffling home in the snow at midnight, because it was pretty lame as far as 21st birthdays go. For my 30th birthday, I planned my own celebration with family and friends. Hoping to drink and eat the night away with everyone, I ended up the designated driver. Where is the excitement and thrill we felt as children?

See also: How to Make Lamingtons, the Latest Cake Craze

I love making my 5-year-old niece's birthday cake every year. She plays with all her friends, blows out the candles on a double chocolate princess cake, and then opens presents that are "just what I wanted!" for each and every one. It's pure joy, at every turn during her birthday, and sometimes I miss that in my own life. While birthdays don't inspire excitement like they did when I was a kid, I still look forward to having a special day all to myself. I love getting a call from my parents in the morning wishing me a happy day, flowers from my husband, and drinking champagne with lunch. Plus who doesn't love cake?

Every year it's a struggle for some simple cake. No one wants to bake a pastry chef her birthday cake and honestly after making cake all day, I usually would rather have a bottle of wine and some ice cream. But I feel quite strongly that everyone should have a birthday cake on their birthday.

This year, I decided to take the reins and make my own cake. Currently I'm so buried in paperwork and baking for my customers that I feel detached from some of that creativity of getting to play around, baking whatever I want. Off I went, to try out cake ideas that have been bouncing around in my head, begging to become reality.

I made a rosemary-tangelo cake. I love using herbs in pastry, and despite what you might think, they pair really well with sweets just as they do with savory. Chopped fresh rosemary and zest from the tangelo tossed into the batter. Soon the house was filled with a buttery citrus-y cake scent.

Tangelo simple syrup goes on the cake layers that are then smeared with tangelo buttercream. I love a nice thick layer of cake, paired with a nice thick layer of buttercream, and since this is my cake, I can do whatever I want.

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Decorated with candied, almost caramelized, tangelo pieces and sprigs of rosemary, this cake is fresh with citrus, yet earthy with the hint of rosemary. It's everything I dreamed of in a birthday cake.

While there were no surprise parties, no Donnie Wahlberg (that's okay, he does follow me on twitter. Yes, I'm still a 12-year-old at heart!), and no shuffling home in the snow, I can honestly say that this year was a fabulous, low-key birthday, complete with family, friends, cocktails and the perfect cake.

Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.

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