Sunday, March 24, 2013

Fallen Chocolate Cake

Not many posts ago, I told you about my 23rd birthday cake. I explained to you that a baker (or at least this baker) prefers to make her own birthday cake, because it's a gift to herself; because she finds catharsis in the process; because she's a little bit controlling. You watched as I greedily snatched the cake duty, and all the love that goes into it, from those in my life who would have liked to bake my birthday treat.

Well, folks: a year has passed. The Earth has completed yet another revolution. I am twenty-four, and just as greedy as ever.

I was under the assumption that Megan making her own birthday cake was an established tradition after one year. I had already taken it for granted. So when I casually mentioned to my sister what I was considering for this year's cake, I did not expect the startled response that I got.

"You're going to make your own birthday cake?"

"I did last year."

"You should let someone else make it."

That "someone else" was in front of me, nodding expectantly with wide eyes and a goofy smile. It was hard to tell which of us wanted it more. So I wavered, ever so slightly:

"I don't know. Maybe..."

Over the next week she wore me down, until I finally relented. She would make my cake.

Regret inevitably followed. I felt like I'd let myself down, like I'd surrendered when I ought to have stood my ground. Days later, Caitlin gave me a chance to take back the cake.

"If you really want to make your cake, I could wait to --"


The cake was mine again! And this time I wasn't letting go.

I think we're well past that time when a cake with no flour is considered wanting; we are all well aware of what magic can happen when gluten isn't around. But flourless chocolate cake is something else entirely. It has disassociated itself from the broad category of flourless baked goods - that is, baked goods that are customarily made with flour, but can exist in almost identical form without flour - and it has become its very own category. Really, it shouldn't even be called cake

Cake, in its most familiar form, is light and spongey. It becomes so by way of several chemical and physical processes, but it's the gluten from flour that is largely responsible for giving a cake structure as it expands. Without flour, the cake needs support from other ingredients. For this one, it's the eggs that do the heavy lifting. Whole eggs and egg yolks introduce protein into the batter, creating a similar, albeit weaker, structural network. Then egg whites are whipped and folded in to incorporate air, the physical leavener. That, plus steam, is what makes this cake rise. And rise it did.

Out of the oven, the cake's delicate surface had risen above the rest of it, creating a slivered portal into its dark netherworld. 

Then, true to its name, it fell.

The result is an intensely moist, dense vehicle for a rich chocolate taste that's both sweet and dark. Cake just doesn't seem to do it justice. I'd call it more of a brownie-torte. Top it with a smooth pile of mascarpone whipped cream, and you might even toss cheesecake into the mix. Who's to say, really?

I wanted so badly to get this shot in the light of day. But unless I decided to have a birthday lunch instead of dinner, I would have to accept a lamplit cake.
A lesson on life: opt for living it properly over capturing it properly.

And now, a lesson on mascarpone.


Add it to your whipped cream whenever possible, especially if it's going to top a dessert that has a strong presence to begin with. It makes the whipped cream thicker, creamier, and just a little bit sweeter.


Bring what's left of it to work the next day and, in lieu of a proper lunch, eat it with crackers and raspberry jam, thinking blithely that you've got it all figured out. You don't. You will feel disgusting later, and over the next 24 hours you will gag whenever you think of it, unable to shake the cloying taste memory.

I'm sorry to have ended with that; I feel it was my duty as someone who has learned the hard way. Just know this: when used correctly, mascarpone will take you to a very happy place. When used in due fashion, it is worthy of you, your family, and your birthday cake.