A proper celebratory cake should consist of at LEAST three layers, am I right? Unless the two layers are really thick, or the one layer is a flourless chocolate cake, or an olive oil cake, or something else rustic (and probably foreign). That being said, this cake features three teeny-tiny layers, so maybe it’s only technically a one-and-a-half layers tall. But that’s neither here nor there. The official story is, I made a three-layer cake, and that’s that.
The occasion? My birthday! (I know, I know, who makes their own birthday cake? Hello, a food blogger, duh!) We celebrated on Saturday, therefore the cake was consumed that day. I had to hustle to complete it because my original idea for a twenty-something-layer crepe cake flopped (also, I discovered that Trader Joes’s powdered sugar is slightly gray-colored. Ever seen a gray glaze on a cake? Probably not, because it’s gross-looking.)
For those unfamiliar with the Brooklyn blackout cake, it’s Americana at its finest. Its name was coined during World War II—the most patriotic name possible for a chocolate cake with chocolate pudding frosting and a chocolate crumb exterior, right?—and for a few decades, it reigned as one of the most delicious, iconic food items in the New York area. Unfortunately, the bakery that invented the cake went out of business, and it vanished. Well, not quite. It’s still plenty nostalgia- and saliva-inducing, but the original recipe is, like all good things, cloaked in secrecy.
You’ll find versions of it here and there, back-engineered attempts at recapturing the chocolate on chocolate on chocolate magic. Strangely, my favorite rendition isn’t from a bakery in the borough in which its name was clinched, but rather, from a tiny Upper East Side bakery called Two Little Red Hens, which turns out such a DENSE and MOIST slice, that I can only eat half of it (granted, Chris and I always order a slice of cheesecake along with it).
While the cake was consumed in its entirety, I did manage to save a slice so you could see the layers within. For what it’s worth, I found it a bit flat-tasting, lacking in depth, the frosting especially. I was surprised, since it’s from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, but then again, I did learn recently that there is such thing as too much chocolate. If you make it, let me know what you think. I may have to adjust my chocolate expectations.
I love meat unabashedly. This isn’t to say I’m eating steak every night of the week. Like a lot of people, my diet is vegetarian for the greater part of the day, at least up until dinner. That’s when my inner carnivore comes out and craves the wholeness that meat provides. Call it my ultimate comfort food? (My mom used to joke that my love for meat was due to the fact that I was born in the year of the tiger—a Chinese zodiac thing) Chris and I like to consume it in slivers and bits, shredded sometimes, ground other times. Which is why tacos are my ideal food.
The best tacos I’ve ever had were, predictably, in Mexico. We’re so accustomed to loading them down with all kinds of goodies, but at base, they’re all about the meat (or vegetarian substitute), along with a few choice toppings: a smathering of cilantro, onions, salsa, a squirt of lime juice, and some radishes maybe. There’s something so well-rounded yet pure about the authentic taco. When we lived in San Francisco, our favorite taco truck dispensed tacos in very much the same way. I’d always dip into the tub of communal pickled jalapeno and carrots, but otherwise, the major decision revolved around choice of filling. My favorites: carnitas, al pastor, and lengua.
With such simplicity comes much responsibility. After all, when a food boils down to so few ingredients, all the elements have to shine. And in the case of these carnitas tacos, it’s all about the meat. My friend Vanessa, who’s three quarters Mexican, used to tell me about her dad’s famed carnitas, which he’d make every Christmas in a huge copper pot. “The key ingredient… is lard,” she’d say, with the flourish that the ellipsis is meant to convey. At the time, this sounded quite intimidating, much too daunting for the average home cook. I mean, who’s got lard sitting around on their counters?
Well, I will have you know that no lard was involved in the making of this recipe. And it is delicious. I made it about a year ago, choosing the non-lard route, and loved it. It’s a cinch to put together, yields a ton, and tastes pretty damn authentic (and I’ve had enough carnitas to know when I’ve nailed it). And when placed in a corn tortilla, all sorts of memories come rushing back to me. Just goes to show the conjuring powers of food—nostalgia in the best of ways.
I also wanted to take this opportunity to do something I’ve been meaning to do for some time: share wedding photos! I know I promised I would a long (long long) time ago, and since our wedding was recently featured on Wedding Chicks, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to also create a Flickr set to share more favorites. Check it out if you’re interested! (And Sarah, if you’re reading this, thank you so so so much again for documenting our wedding so beautifully!)
Valentine’s Day has long felt like an occasion for suckers, suckering poor couples out of paying exorbitant prices to observe their love for each other, that is. For a long time, Chris and I played into that game. And really, it’s not the consumers’ faults that their only recourse, should they decide to seek out a nice dinner, are restaurants that jack up their prices and force you to participate in the prix fixe menu concept.
A few years ago, we decided to start taking short trips as a way to escape those pressures. We’d drive to places a little out of the way, Bolinas for example when we were still living in San Francisco, and go to some dive-y restaurant that didn’t acknowledge the existence of Valentine’s Day. There, we’d enjoy a lowbrow dinner that was usually replete with multiple pints of cheap beer. It was a fine way to commemorate the occasion. Philistines! you must be thinking. But we loved it.
We were going to do the same this year, but memories of our visit to Montauk reminded us how our last-minute tendencies are not as forgiving out here. If we’d wanted to go somewhere, we probably should’ve thought about it earlier than yesterday.
That’s why we’ve decided to boycott the entire dining out experience and cook at home! I’m really excited. (The fact that this idea just occurred to us gives you an idea of how indoctrinated we are with the idea that eating out is the only way to do Valentine’s Day—how silly, right?)
I have all these ideas swarming in my head—these sliders, for instance, which have been on my mind for a good half year, and Momofuku-style pork buns. I’m still narrowing down the list, but one thing’s for certain: dessert will most certainly be Evelyn Sharpe’s chocolate cake.
This recipe is officially titled Evelyn Sharpe’s French Chocolate Cake. But because I don’t see what’s so French about this cake, I decided to omit that part of the title so as not to confuse you like it confused me. (Edit: a nice commenter informed me that this cake is how chocolate cakes are like in France—much denser and chocolatey-er cakes than American cakes—making it very much French-style. Thanks for clearing that up Tessa!) Other than that, it’s pretty much perfect the way it’s written. It’s so dense with chocolate that it’s fudgy and indulgent, but it doesn’t feel heavy or overly-sweet (there’s only half a tablespoon of sugar in the entire thing!). I also threw in a huge pinch of Maldon salt, so occasionally a piece surfaces and sends a little jolt of sublime through your taste buds. And, the recipe, halved, results in the perfect amount of cake for two people, enough to fit a 6-inch pan. It’s lovely. I’m planning on serving it with freshly whipped cream, a little creme fraiche folded in for good, tart measure.
You can read about the background behind the cake in the original article by (THE) Amanda Hesser. Basically, Evelyn Sharpe’s identity is unknown, so please don’t ask me who she is. But I’m sure she was some woman; I can almost imagine her whipping out this most special of cakes with aplomb whenever the occasion called for it.
Happy Valentine’s Day, all of you! (And I hope secret admirers surface, for those this might apply to! The intrigue of the day used to be my favorite part when I was a teenager—oh the raging hormones.)