Alicia Kennedy, Food & Drink Writer

old blog

birthday wknd: perfection / pumpkin cake w. walnut buttercream

I speak to you now as a 29-year-old, someone old and not that wise who is nonetheless feeling like her life right now is a very, very wonderful thing. Basically, I'm a teenager with a decent salary (this is always obvious, no?), so keep that in mind while reading me just be ~so psyched~.

On Thursday, Agita and Sareen played a show together, with Saurin Choksi doing a crazy-funny stand-up set in the middle. Everyone was on point and in amazing spirits, despite all technical difficulties at the venue. I'd never seen Sareen do his thing before, and it was so good and beautiful and energetic—like him! Watching the people closest to me do their shit onstage was the best way to start off my birthday weekend. 

Friday was for birthday dinner prep, baking and blending and watching The Mind of a Chef season two. Oh, and then falling asleep on the couch in front of Gilmore Girls once I let myself sit down.

Then it was party day, a perfect one from start to finish. Waking up and listening to records, drinking coffee, going out for brunch, hitting the Union Square Greenmarket for all the vegetables I'd be cooking up. Back at home, I started on making enough food for fifteen people: maple-sriracha Brussels sprouts on red quinoa with dried cranberries, kale salad with apple and walnuts in a lemon vinaigrette, and mashed sweet potatoes. For dessert, marzipan pops (homemade marzipan made with homemade cane syrup, dipped in dark chocolate and coconut) and pumpkin cake with walnut-butter buttercream. It was all quite good, if I do say so myself, and pretty much everyone brought over wine, as instructed. We got through nine bottles, plus a twelve-pack of Rolling Rock. There was disco, a listen to the entirety of Black Celebration once the cake was served, and tarot readings. It was so perfect. A couple of my old roommates brought me coffee beans; Doug got me Lana Del Ray's Ultraviolence on vinyl. Everyone I know is the best!!!

On Sunday, my actual birthday, I got up and made coffee (obvs) and was given the coolest non-wrapped box ever by Sareen, which contained a ridiculously cool Basquiat-printed tote and one of my favorite albums of all time, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' By the Way, on vinyl. I whipped up banana pancakes (or, fried banana muffins, because I accidentally used muffin-recipe doses of sugar and butter, but that's even better) for us, my mom, and my sister. I got my wished-for slip-on leopard-print shoes, which I wore out later for Motorino and the ANTEMASQUE SHOWWWWW at Bowery Ballroom. I had been so excited, as excited as the 15-year-old boy I am on the inside, to go see Cedric and Omar do whatever it is they do, and I had such an insane amount of fun. For starters, Le Butcherettes opened and put on one of the most incredible performances I have ever seen. Teri Gender-Bender is fucking possessed while playing and then calm and polite as a little girl when she thanks the audience. And Antemasque? So fun. Occupying a wonderful place between At the Drive-In and the Mars Volta, only a bit of noodling from Omar, with incredibly payoff, and Cedric is just always my favorite front man, jumping and mic-swinging like this is Warped Tour except that he's 40 and the music is far more mature. He fluffs his hair periodically like I do, too. That is the trick to rock-star curly hair, knowing when to fluff.

That is my ramble. Here is a bonus recipe for pumpkin cake with walnut buttercream! It's 12 cupcakes or one 2-layer 6-inch cake. You should make it for someone who's got a November birthday, or on Thanksgiving, for it is cake that even pie people enjoy.

Walnut-Butter Buttercream
300 g butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup walnut butter
1/2 t vanilla extract

1. Ok, yeah, you need walnut butter and you're not gonna find that in the store. You have to bring out the food processor and put in 200 grams of raw walnuts, plus 3/4 of a teaspoon of sea salt. You're gonna let it go until it releases its oils and is a very smooth consistency that resembles, you know, peanut butter. It's a lot like that. It will not taste good on its own. It's about getting all the bitterness and flavor of walnuts contained and usable for other purposes. 

2. Put all of these ingredients in the food processor and let it go for just about a minute or two, until you've got fluffy buttercream. SO EASY! No whipping or beating butter. Then empty it into a clean container and put it in the fridge. It'll harden up, so plan to leave it out to come down to room temperature a few hours before you're planning to decorate your cake. This will give you enough to go at the cake with your pastry tips and get a little fancy free.

Pumpkin Cake
210 g flour
¾ t baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t salt
1 ½ t pumpkin spice blend (ratio: 2 t cinnamon, 1 t nutmeg, 1/2 t cloves)
1 1/4 cup (plain) almond milk + 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
111 g pumpkin puree
88 g coconut oil, melted

200 g sugar
1 t vanilla extract


1. Heat oven to 350 and line your cupcake pan or grease cake pans and add parchment rounds to the bottom.

2. Combine almond milk and apple cider vinegar to curdle. Set aside

3. Measure out and melt your coconut oil in a double boiler or in the microwave. Set aside.

4. Combine the pumpkin-spice blend. This one is heavy on those cloves and that's what gives the cake its spice kick, the one that cuts through the sweetness of buttercream and complements those walnuts and just makes for autumnal perfection. (There is no ginger in it, which is maybe sacrilege, but I save ginger for when it is the star of the show in my gingerbread cookies and cake.)

5. Measure your dry ingredients into a bowl and whisk until they're all mixed up.

6. Measure the sugar into a bowl and add the vanilla, then pour in the almond milk and coconut oil. Whisk whisk whisk.

7. Pour the dry into the wet and go at it with—you guessed it—your whisk. Then pour into your liners (one third of a cup per!) or your cake pans (400 grams of batter per 6-inch pan!). Bake cupcakes for 12 minutes, then rotate, and go for another 12 or until a toothpick comes out clean; bake cakes for 15, then rotate, then yada yada yada. Make sure you're using toothpicks and not stupid metal cake testers that they sell for no reason. They don't work. (Grumble, grumble, maybe I bought one thinking this time would be different.)