If there is one thing you should learn from this post, it’s that a good peanut butter frosting can hide a multitude of sins.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated Paul’s 30th birthday, and it was terrific. Five of us went out for sushi at one of our favorite restaurants (Kamei Sushi & Grill), where we drank sake and ate sushi and sukiyaki. Afterward, we headed back to Paul’s house to eat cake and play Scrabble. I hear that after I went to bed (such an old lady I am!), there was Scotch-drinking, a fun game of 4D Connect Four, and a pizza-sized cookie. And the next morning, Paul made his signature vegan migas for breakfast, we watched China, IL (so funny, but definitely an adults-only cartoon!), and Paul had a slice of cake for breakfast dessert.
After the birthday weekend, Paul and I stayed at his sister’s house for a night, where there was plenty of Halloween candy left for the taking. Every time he would eat a piece, he would sort of stare at me with this funny look on his face. It was inscrutable to me at first, the way he would catch my eye and hold it, like we were playing a game of chicken and he was daring me to look away. Suddenly, the name for his expression popped into my head: defiance. He was looking at me defiantly, and why was that? “You’re judging me,” he said, only half joking. “You’re judging me for eating junk food.” Then he stuffed another piece of candy in his mouth.
To which I replied with laughter, “No, I’m not! I’m the one who baked you a birthday cake, remember?”
As a couple, Paul and I have a very happy relationship with food. We both love to eat. For the first time ever, I’m dating someone who prefers to eat vegetarian food, and I have to say, it is awesome. I love being able to try everything we order when we eat out, and I love that Paul is open to eating just about anything I cook at home. We eat a lot of Asian and Middle Eastern food; we like exotic tastes and interesting textures. The main difference between us? One of us lost 100 pounds and would like to keep his newly remodeled body in good shape.
Paul lost those 100 pounds before he and I ever met, so I have only known him in his sleeker form. As his new girlfriend, I didn’t know what to expect. Did he adhere to a strict diet? Was he nervous about keeping the weight off? Would the constant parade of cookies dancing out of my oven bother him? Would my fast metabolism make him envious?
Would he expect me to change my cooking and eating habits for him?
My worries, it turned out, were just worries. While Paul pays attention to how his clothes fit, he is hardly fanatical about his diet. I like to cook healthfully because it’s my preference. That means when we eat together, our meals are filled with vegetables and spices and protein. We eat very well. And occasionally, we eat cake together. Early on, when I was still feeling cautious about food with him, I told Paul that I couldn’t and wouldn’t be the food police in our relationship. If he wanted to eat sweets or shall we say, less nutritious food, it was his choice. I was not in charge of his eating habits. And along with that, I don’t judge him based on his food choices. Which is why his defiant candy consumption was so funny, so very Paul. Realistically, some of the weight he lost might come back. I hope it doesn’t, for practical reasons like the tuxedo that he had custom-made for his ballroom dance competitions.
It’s always the tuxedo that makes him nervous about weight gain. But me? I am trying not to be nervous about change in general. There is a lot I’m anxious about these days, but Paul’s weight is not one of them.
So with chocolate and love I baked Paul a cake for his birthday. It gave me a great excuse to dust off an old recipe that I’d loved once before, but this time we tried something new: a handful of chocolate chips tossed into the batter before baking. It seemed like a great idea. My Bundt pan disagreed: I had to pry my lovely cake out of the pan. The chocolate chips had sunk to the bottom of the pan and glued themselves to it. Normally, it’s easy to slip this cake out of its pan, but because the batter is thin, the chocolate chips didn’t stay suspended in batter. They became little chocolate pebbles in a sea of cake batter, sinking to the bottom of the seafloor.
I was so sad to see my ugly deformed cake. On top of that, I felt a little panicky about presenting it to other people. That’s when I had the brilliant idea to just use the peanut butter glaze to hide the destruction. I had already planned to glaze the cake, but now it felt essential. After the cake cooled, I whipped up a simple peanut butter glaze and spooned it generously over the top, like winter snow drifting over mountainsides. It was quite lovely, if I do say so myself.
And to top it all off, I sprinkled some more chocolate chips. Festive and a bit rustic, that cake was. And despite the mishaps, it was delicious and appreciated. Even the bits that stuck to the pan were devoured by me. Cook’s treat! As my mom always says, the broken cookies don’t have any calories. That’s also true for the bits of cake that stick to the pan.
Happy baking, friends.
Black Mocha Cake with Peanut Butter Glaze or Paul’s Birthday Cake
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts and Nigella Express
Serves a small crowd (12-16, according to the book authors)
Be not alarmed by my mishap above. Like I said, the first time I made this cake, everything went beautifully. The only suggestion I would make is that if you bake it as a Bundt cake, it takes closer to 45-55 minutes, not the 30-35 minutes that the authors suggest. Testing this cake for doneness with a butter knife is a reliable method here.
For the cake:
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup peanut oil
1 cup fresh strong coffee at room temperature
1 cup soymilk (or buttermilk or yogurt)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1) Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Grease a Bundt pan thoroughly.
2) In a large mixing bowl, stir together the cocoa powder, sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another mixing bowl, beat together the oil, coffee, soymilk, eggs, and vanilla.
3) Add half of the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until smooth. Repeat with the remaining half.
4) Pour the batter into the prepared pan. (The batter will be thin here.) Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a butter knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.
5) Let the cake cool in its pan on a wire rack, then place a plate on top of the pan, invert the pan, and gently shake the cake out of its pan. If it won’t come out, run a butter knife around the edges to loosen it and try to shake it out onto a plate. It should slide out pretty easily.
For the peanut butter glaze:
1/2 cup soymilk
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (natural brands are fine here)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
A handful of chocolate chips
1) In a small saucepan, heat the soymilk, peanut butter, and sugar over low heat. Stir frequently. Don’t be alarmed when the mixture looks grainy; the glaze will come together with time.
2) Stir until the glaze has a smooth, creamy texture. Take it off the heat, add the vanilla, and spoon it over the cooled cake. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the glaze to decorate the cake. A quick word about the chocolate chips: mine bloomed (turned unevenly beige-ish) after they were on the cake, probably from the heat of the glaze. If you want, you can wait for the glaze to cool and then sprinkle on the chips to avoid chocolate bloom. Blooming doesn’t affect the taste, but it does look a bit less attractive.