Bravely Baking A Birthday Cake - Spanish Sabores

Bravely Baking A Birthday Cake

Despite the small kitchen, uneven oven, lack of measuring cups and scale, and 2 pans of completely different sizes, I went against my better judgement and made it anyway. I mean, no birthday is complete without a good birthday cake and Cadiz isn’t exactly famous for its baked goods. Birthdays here are funny… Ale’s mom just wished him a feliz cumpleaños now, although we’ve been up for an hour already. She must have forgotten since we actually celebrated yesterday, which was more convenient for the rest of the family. Birthdays at Ale’s house aren’t really about the “birthday person”. No one asked him what he wanted to eat, there were no cards or gifts, and the general reaction to my baking was, why? Isn’t it easier to buy something from La Mercadona?

I don’t know if this birthday attitude is typical in other Spanish families, but here it makes me a little sad. I love how my family always makes my birthday a special day; I choose what to do, where to go, what to eat and there are always a few gifts to open. I feel special on my birthday and I want my husband to feel the same. That’s why I make him his cake. Actually, I’m lying. The more I think about it,, I’m pretty sure I make him his cake to make myself feel better. It makes me feel  more “at home” seeing a homemade cake on the table. Ale, honestly, doesn’t care. He’s so laid back and good natured that, although he loved the cake I made him, he’d have been just as happy with something store bought.

So, out of pure selfishness, disguised as wanting to please my husband, I set out to bake a cake in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. (Does this qualify as self-inflicted torture?) The cake, which is amazing btw, is something I found here. It’s easy to make and really moist and delicious. Here’s how to bake it (more or less):


  • Patience
  • Good humor
  • Patience


  1. Have in-laws take you to various supermarkets looking for exotic ingredients like powdered sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder.
  2. Nod politely when they insist that vanilla extract is easy to find in any big supermarket (absolutely not true).
  3. Set up shop in the kitchen and start mixing ingredients.
  4. Don’t worry if the things you thoughtfully set out suddenly disappear; they thought you were done with them.
  5. Stretch your arm before starting– it’s your only option for beating eggs and creaming sugar.
  6. Turn on the oven but be careful– people who never bake don’t know their oven the same way as those who do.
  7. Check the cake often due to the strange oven situation.
  8. Take out and let cool on anything available (such as the barbeque or toaster).
  9. When completely cool, decorate. Don’t argue when when people insist that frosting is the same as nata (whipped cream) or pasta de azucar (fondant).
  10. Enjoy the fruits of your labor– with something alcoholic, if possible.

The final result may not be pretty, but it tastes great (trust me)! And Ale’s niece and nephew loved decorating their first cake.

My Assistant

As I previously mentioned, the recipe can be found on Erin’s Food Files. The only thing I changed was adding finely crushed oreos to the frosting.

Not pretty but definitely delicious!

Has anyone else braved baking a cake in Spain? How about baking or cooking in your MIL’s kitchen? I really shouldn’t complain because I know it could be MUCH worse! Leave a comment if you have a funny story!


  1. Good for you for attempting this daunting double-decker!

    My family stocked me up with plenty of liquid vanilla after I had trouble locating it in Madrid, so I’ve been dabbling in baked goods when I have the chance. Earlier this week I attempted this Red Wine Chocolate Cake (; I checked it after 25 minutes and it was already waaaaay overbaked. Thanks, oven, thanks. One day I will speak Celcius…

  2. Powered sugar can be quite difficult to find in Spain, although you might have some luck at one of the corner stores run by Pakistanis or Moroccans. I usually just take regular sugar and put it in the blender until it has the correct texture.

    I’ve had mixed results cooking in my suegra’s kitchen. At this point we’ve reached an agreement regarding mutual non-encroachment zones. Spaniards tend to be extremely conservative as far as food goes, and anything that differs even slightly from “the way it’s always been done” is regarded as slightly dirty. Don’t take it personally; as long as your table-mates ask for seconds, you know that you’ve done something right, even if they’d rather be flogged than admit it.

    Feliz cumpleaños.

    1. Ah, I tried blending sugar once but the results were a bit disastrous! They sell powdered sugar at Mercadona, thank goodness. Brown sugar has been more difficult to find, although I have seen it at some Asian supermarkets. And pure vanilla extract… I’ve never found. BUT… with patience you can make your own in 3 months. Just cover vanilla beans (also found at Mercadona) with vodka and voila, a few months later you have vanilla extract!

  3. Baking at the suegra’s – yes. She hovered a lot, making sure I had everything I needed and that I wasn’t going to blow up her kitchen. I used to make treats and share with them as well. My boyfriend’s father once commented, “You make a lot of things with chocolate chips, don’t you?” Uhhh yep.

  4. I am definitely a baker — even in Spain. Last year, I attempted a whole slew of things, and I can’t remember any of them being total failures– a pumpkin pie, banana muffins, chocolate birthday cupcakes, a chocolate cake, chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies… yum! It takes some creativity, but it’s always worth it… and my Spanish roommates were always super impressed at the outcome, despite their weird looks and million questions during the baking process. By the end of the year, they were trying to convince me to open an American bakery in Spain. 🙂

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