Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chocolate Cake: A Recluse's Return

I’ve missed this blog like a little kid loves birthday cake. Sorry 50 for butchering your go-to rap lyric, but I couldn’t resist.

The past month and a half has been one where I’ve baked a tasty buttercream chocolate cake for my grandpa’s 89th birthday (a success!), so-so lowfat brownies from a mix (not recommended), several chicken pot pies from scratch (I now know how to make a killer pie dough), tried-and-true yogurt biscuits (they’re hard to screw up, folks), a failed attempt at home-cut sweet potato fries (too much egg white in the batter; I shall return to this recipe), and eaten several delicious rounds of Dave’s homemade bread and lentil soup (thank you, Shane, for the artisan bread cookbook, and Dave for perfuming the house with homemade bread and simmering onions).

To be blunt, I’ve been a bit uninspired lately and my baking and writing routine has, regrettably, dovetailed with my funk.
Maybe it’s because I spent half of January in Phoenix taking care of my grandma for 8 days (note to self: consume plenty of calcium now because your 70s beckon and osteopina runs in the family) and then 4 days in Miami for work (hello Greek and Cuban street food). Or maybe I haven’t felt like writing since Dave got laid off in early January—I want to be an affirming, kind cheerleader, someone who stands by her partner when the going gets tough. We’re hanging in there, but to be honest, writing odes to pastry and cake seemed a little frivolous until Dave reminded me yesterday that you need to write, Kella. It’s important, he said.

So here I am: Writing about chocolate cake and the economic downturn.

And while the two don’t go hand-in-hand, I think they should. I teach a course at a local community college about the do-it-yourself ethic, and when times are tough, that’s exactly what people do (and have always done)—they create what they need, often from scratch.

Yesterday at lunch in Columbia, Missouri, my best buddy Jenna reminded me of this self-sufficiency latent in all of us. She told me how she did a clothing swap with her photographer friends since money is tight and most of her creative collective has been laid off. Dave gave me the coolest Valentine’s present a girl could want: conversation hearts en español and the sweetest card a girl could want. My sister Jenna (same name, different girl) also got laid off two weeks ago, and yet she’s pretty upbeat about the situation. She thinks it’s the universe’s way of reminding her to get busy doing what she’s passionate about, and to do so now, and not later.

So, of course, I am inspired by my friends and family who are reinventing themselves and learning new tricks in the process.

And while chocolate cake isn’t as daring as my darling or two Jennas, I think it’s a traditional dessert that doesn’t cost that much to make and still receives oohs and ahhs when someone special needs a little boost of love.

So, what are you waiting for? Rekindle a forgotten passion or bolster a struggling loved one with a slice of chocolate cake, a cold glass of milk and an encouraging hug.

Chocolate Buttercream Cake
Recipe by Ina Garten (my unofficial patron saint of baking)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Preparation time: About 2 hours

Cake Ingredients
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup good cocoa powder (let me recommend Missouri-made cocoa, Askinosie)
1 ½ tsps baking soda
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2 tsps pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk at room temperature
½ cup sour cream at room temperature

Chocolate Buttercream Ingredients
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
½ cup egg whites (3 extra-large eggs) at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of cream of tartar
½ tsp salt
1 lb unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tsps pure vanilla extract
2 tbsps dark rum (I prefer Myer’s dark rum)

Cake recipe: click here please because I'm tired of typing.

Hugs, high fives, and keep trying,

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