Wednesday, October 11, 2006

baking cakes

In the book (and movie) "The Joy Luck Club," there is a painful scene in which a woman, separated from her husband and unlikely to get back together with him, bakes him a cake. He will come over that afternoon and the cake--the result of much effort, a manifestation of the love she feels for him and the lengths she will go to for him--remains uneaten and unappreciated.

At age 22, after watching the movie, Mara and I vowed that we would stop "baking cakes" for guys. Sometimes we succeeded, sometimes we did not. Mara bakes cakes now, but she does not "bake cakes." When you're married to someone who would do the same for you and more, it is no longer a metaphor, it's just a cake.

When I visited Mara and CJR at their home (their first one, not the new fabulous one) last year, Mara baked me a cake. It was what I have always dreamed a chocolate layer cake could be. Mara is a very good baker, so I had no way of knowing if its excellence would be easy for me to repeat. I finally attempted it this past weekend for Mom's birthday. It was pretty easy and amazingly good. It looks like the Duncan Hines cake on the box , but actually tastes good, moist and rich.

Mom's Chocolate Cake
Food and Wine, March 1990

2 c all purpose flour
2 t baking powder
2 t baking soda
1 t salt
2 c sugar
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
6 T butter
1 t vanilla extract
2 eggs lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8 x 1.5 round cake pans. Line bottoms with wax paper (I used parchment paper).

2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt. Set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar with 2 c water. Bring to a boil over high heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Add chocolate and butter and let sit, stirring occasionally, until melted and slightly cooled. Stir in vanilla. Or if you're me, forget to do this part. Whoops.

4. Beat the eggs into the chocolate mixture using hand mixer until combined.

5. Add dry ingredients all at once and beat at medium speed until smooth (It will be liquidy).

6. Divide batter evenly between pans and bake for about 25 minutes or until the top springs back when pressed or a cake tester comes out clean.

7. Cool cakes in their pans on a rack for 25 minutes, then invert onto the rack to cool completely.

Chocolate frosting:

1 1/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cup sugar
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 stick and 2T butter
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1. In a medium saucepan (you can use the one from the cake), bring sugar and cream to a boil over moderately high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally until liquid reduces slightly, about 6 minutes. Pour mixture into medium bowl and add chocolate, butter, vanilla and salt. Let stand stirring occasionally until butter and chocolate are melted.

2. Set the bowl in a large bowl of ice water. Using a handheld mixer, beat frosting on medium speed scraping the sides occasionally with a rubber spatula until thick and glossy, about 5 minutes. Use at once.

3. Put frosting on top of the first layer, cover one cake layer with the second. Then frost entire outside of cake.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


personal growth is good, if it's of the metaphorical kind. when it's a literal, physical growth, you go to the doctor. here i am, post-surgery, and lovin' my growth-free life. my first meal was a chocolate milkshake, and as i slurped i wondered "why the taboo against milkshakes for dinner?" it felt so darn good, i'll definitely be doing it again.

the growth i love the most is the growth of good stuff by the farmers who supply my CSA. tonight i made string bean salad with the lovely yellow beans i got last week.

string bean salad

trim ends off of raw beans
boil water, heavily salted
cook beans for 4-5 minutes

in a small bowl, mix a few glugs olive oil, a few glugs white wine vinegar and a tbsp of dijon mustard
salt and pepper the mixture and add a pinch or two of dried tarragon

dump in the warm beans and toss, using tongs
enjoy immediately, although also good after a few days in the fridge, i bet.