The thing about cake is, it's bittersweet. This is the centripetal cake of birthdays, of homecomings and goings. Layered. Frosted. Cut and laid on its side. It’s full of meaning, but saccharine sweet. That is to say, something is always lost in the utter joy of cake, its insufferable celebration swallows disparity.
This blog is a little like cake. Who's to say that this is truth? It's certainly not all of the truth. Life hits the internet and is sweet, whole and designed.
My family’s joke is that my aunt gets cake from a bakery in Boston’s Chinatown where they don’t speak very much English, so no matter what frosting-inscribed message you ask for, you always get, simply, “Happy.” Imagine, a cake that asks so little of the moment and yet, so much – just happy.
Never have I had a cake that quite delivered on that word, happy. It makes me wonder. What is it that we want to give others when we make food for them? Is it happiness? Or nourishment? Or pleasure? Moreover, what are we asking for when we make and give food? Food in return? Control? Praise? Recognition of enacted womanhood?
Can I ever just bake a cake? Even if I’m the only one who eats it, is it already for someone else? When I chronicle some of the food I make and eat, is it like giving it to you? Are we responsible to each other?
Do I owe an explanation when I choose to write in the denigrated gendered genre of confessional food writing? Do you owe me the understanding that I am something more than woman - baker, feeder, caretaker of man?
It's with these questions that I give you cake.
Chocolate Layer Cake with Raspberries
for slow meditation on the nature of gender
The génoise cake is adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking With Julia.
3 tablespoons hot clarified unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Fit the bottom of two 4-inch cake pans with parchment paper and set aside. Pour the hot clarified butter into a bowl with the vanilla and also set that aside. Also, sift the flour and cocoa powder when you measure them, and then sift them together a few times, too.
In the bowl of a heavy duty mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar together. (You could also do this all by hand in a heatproof bowl.) Set the bowl over another bowl of simmering water on the stove. Whisk constantly until the eggs are warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the heat and, working with the mixer's whisk attachment, beat the eggs on high speed until they're cool, have tripled in volume, and hold a ribbon when you lift the whisk.
Sift one third of the dry ingredients over the eggs and gently fold it in with a rubber spatula. Then add the rest of the dry ingredients and do the same. Spoon one cup of this into the hot butter and vanilla mixture. Stir this around, then add it back to the bowl of batter. Gently fold this all together.
Pour the batter into the two prepared cake tins and bake them for about 20 minutes. While they cool, whip 2 parts heavy cream and 1 part sugar together to make whipped cream. Then, make this chocolate ganache frosting recipe from Smitten Kitchen.
½ pound semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 stick unsalted butter
In a small saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking until melted. Cut the butter into pieces and add it to the frosting, whisking until smooth. Transfer frosting to a bowl resting in an ice water bath and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable.
Take the cake layers out of their tins when they have completely cooled. Put one cake on a plate. Spread chestnut puree (you can get this at It's Only Natural - so good on toast) over the top, then follow with the whipped cream. Place the second cake on top. Now spread the ganache frosting over the top and sides of the cake with a spatula. Arrange raspberries around the top, and dust with confectioners' sugar.