Q: My son's request for a birthday cake each year is a yellow box mix with canned frosting. I would prefer to make something from scratch to celebrate his birthday this year. Do you have any a good yellow buttermilk cake recipes with a tasty chocolate frosting that will satisfy his tastes and my desire for a truly homemade cake?
—Laura Henze, Lemont, Ill.
A: My first thought was, sure, I can get you a yellow buttermilk cake recipe. I turned to Debbie Moose, a Raleigh, N.C.-based food writer and author of "Buttermilk: A Savor the South Cookbook," for a recipe. Debbie didn't have one but she made an important point that I think you need to consider.
"It is his birthday. Make him what he wants,'' she declared.
Moose suggests you bake something else to serve with the box cake. No, not the homemade alternative, as much as that is what you desire, but something different and less open to direct comparison. For the danger is that the harder you push that homemade cake, the harder he'll shove it back at you.
Nudge him instead toward your idea of quality.
I inadvertently learned that lesson myself years ago when I started stir-frying dinner as a teenager in Madison, Conn. Up to that point, "Chinese" food at my house meant store-bought cans of meat, vegetables and sauce or occasional forays to the big city for takeout. My father raged against my Sichuan-style dishes, moaning the addition of garlic and chilies and the lack of a gloppy sauce. When I went off to college, he went back to his canned stuff. And didn't like it; his palate had grown accustomed to what I had been doing. The cans stayed in the cupboard unopened.
Debbie suggested pairing that box cake with these red velvet cupcakes, which are made with buttermilk, cocoa and a beet juice dye. She thinks he just might go for it.
"It's something red and kind of goofy,'' she explains.
Give it a shot, Laura. At the very least, you'll find something on the birthday party table that you can enjoy.
Magie's Naturally Red Velvet Cupcakes
Makes 24 to 30 cupcakes.
This recipe in Debbie Moose's "Buttermilk: A Savor the South Cookbook" comes from Mage Lanz, an artist and former food blogger based in Sunnyvale, Calif.
For the beet juice dye:
1 beet, sliced
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
For the cupcakes:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar