No Muss No Fuss Chocolate Sheet Cake + 5 Spring Cake Links

“Hold your breath…good.”

“Breathe.”

“Doing ok Ann?”

Not really. Four MRIs in a year, same result, still no answers.

“I’m good.”

“Ok, almost done. You’re doing great.”

Ann forced her eyes closed.  Staring at the white ceiling just a foot from her nose was more than she could handle at 6am on a Tuesday morning.  Maybe it was the exhaustion from the 4:30am wake-up time or the restless sleep she just endured but Ann found herself wishing for her mother. Tess would provide comfort once she endured her own anxiety.  Medical issues were avoided by Tess. And Tess tended to assume the worst. “It’s probably cancer Ann.”  “Why bother with the testing?” “ You don’t want to know what they will come back with.”  “You’re a damn fool, Ann.”

Jesus Tess not now.

Now was not the time to think of her mother. As much as Ann loved Tess, she found her difficult when she was alive and even more so now that she was dead.  Three years had passed, and the grief eased but a day didn’t go by when Tess didn’t come to Ann either in a memory or a dream. At times it was a relief to see her or hear her or remember her.  Yet other times memories and dreams of Tess left Ann frustrated like a child seeking an answer to a question when the answer is not known.  Ann understood grief changed forms.  Now she understood.  Whether what she felt was love, resentment, hate, or annoyance towards her mother it was all just grief. Grief, it turned never really ended. It wasn’t something to get over or bypass.  Grief demanded attention like a needy lover.  It required the bereaved to hold on with ripped bloody hands hoping at some point the pain would ease.  And it did and then left what remains.

Ann pushed Tess out of her mind.  Tess would be back but for now, Ann would silence her. Ann felt her wedding rings vibrate as the machine churned out images of her insides.  She thought of the day that lay ahead- school drop-offs and pick-ups, sports, follow-up phone calls and looked forward to being busy.  Maybe if there was time, she would bake a chocolate cake.  She had been craving chocolate lately.

No Muss No Fuss Chocolate Cake

Recipe adapted from my grandmother’s chocolate cake recipe and Hershey’s

Serves 12-16

Ingredients for cake:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon espresso powder- optional

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup hot water

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Grease a 9x13x2 inch baking pan with baking spray.  Set aside.

Using a large bowl whisk together the dry ingredients until well combined. Add oil, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla to the dry ingredients. Stir together until combined.  Add hot water and stir until completely blended.  Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Tap on the counter a couple of times to remove air bubbles.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  Cool completely in the pan on the wire rack before frosting.  Once cool, frost the cake and decorate with sprinkles if desired.  Leftover cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.  Enjoy!

Ingredients for vanilla buttercream frosting:

11 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon heavy cream

Directions:

Sift confectioner’s sugar into a large bowl or a large piece of parchment paper and set aside.  Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment beat butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Turn the mixer off and add the confectioner’s sugar.  Beat on a low speed then increase the speed slowly as sugar blends with the butter.   Once the sugar is incorporated add the vanilla, salt, and heavy cream.  Beat on medium-high speed for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy.  Frost the cake as desired.

5 Cake Links

A cake for rhubarb lovers.

Angel food cake with a twist.

Lemon lovers here is your cake.

An olive oil and ricotta cake that screams spring.

If you make only one cake this spring make this cake. It is delicious!

Egg Yolk Cake + 5 Vintage Cake Links

“Nostalgia, to me, is not the emotion that follows longing for something you lost. It’s the feeling that overcomes you when some minor vanished beauty of the world is restored…the ache that arises from the consciousness of lost connection.” Michael Chabon

Ann called the number, a number she knew as well as her birth date or social security number, knowing no one was on the other end to pickup. She called often maybe out of habit, maybe hoping for a different result. Was she going crazy? Perhaps. The last few years had taken bites out of her leaving open wounds easily irritated by everyday happenings. In the last few months Ann noticed a callous forming over those wounds. She had become accustomed to feeling untethered since Tess’s passing. She longed for her and yet she felt free. The freedom came from the lack of familial obligations to the family she was born into. Tess insisted the family gather, celebrate everything, talk to each other weekly all while the latest elephant in the room went unmentioned. Until it was mentioned. Then the fireworks and what a beautiful display. Anger, resentment, accusations, and insults hidden behind the initial phrase “to be honest with you” exploding over a dinner of spaghetti, meatballs, garlic bread, and Chianti wine. It wasn’t pretty but it was entertaining. Entertaining as a child but less so as an adult when suddenly you were included in the boxing match.

“To be honest with you” is a phrase Ann despised though she had used it herself at times in the company of her family. What an idiotic phrase. Should I assume you are lying to me if you don’t first preface your next statement with “to be honest with you?” As Ann aged she felt less tolerance for the bull shit of others and her own especially. She could no longer tolerate not being completely aligned with herself, whatever form that self took these days. When she found herself apologizing for the slightest infraction she mocked herself for doing so. When Ann played the role of people pleaser she felt her skin itch as if it were about to peel and molt exposing a new self. A self she both feared and welcomed at the same time.

Does age or loss change a woman? Is one a stronger force than the other? Lately, Ann thought of these questions often. The loss of her mother, the love of her life, had devastated her. In the dark moments of grief she feared she would not recover. Now she knew better. Loss like age will leave its marks. Beautiful, unique marks.

As the plane crept into the sky, as the wheels found their place again, and the plane’s wing sliced a cloud Ann felt nothing but relief to leave home. For the first time in forty three years she could leave Boston with no guilt or worry over Tess. She was free, finally. Ann would continue to care for her children and husband. She would continue to care for her father as she promised Tess. Maybe his sobriety would take this time. Maybe it was a foolish hope. She would maintain friendships worth maintaining and feel no guilt for those lost. She would dial Tess’s number knowing no one was there to pick up. It wasn’t crazy. It was misplaced love.

Ann realized the ache she felt was nostalgia. Nostalgia for Tess and all that she brought to Ann’s world. A pink day lily. Pistachio ice cream. A night swim. So many things brought to light again bringing joy to Ann and a reminder that Tess is gone.

Egg Yolk Cake

Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook

Serves 8-10

Ingredients:

2 + ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 + 2/3 cups sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup of unsalted butter

1 + ¼ cups of milk (any kind)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

5 egg yolks, unbeaten

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease and flour Bundt pan thoroughly otherwise the cake will stick.  I use baking spray when I am feeling lazy, and it works well.

Add the dry ingredients to your mixer bowl and whisk until combined.  Add the butter and beat on low to medium speed until just starting to blend.  Next, pour in half of the milk and the vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat on medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes.  Pour in remaining milk.  Add egg yolks.  Beat on medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes.  Using a spatula gently mix the batter scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated.  Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan.  Bake until golden brown or when a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  Check the cake after 35 minutes and adjust baking time as needed. 

Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before inverting the Bundt pan.  Allow the cake to cool completely before serving.  Store cake at room temperature in an air-tight container.  Leftover cake will last 2 to 3 days.  Enjoy!

**This cake is excellent alone but also delicious with fresh fruit and whipped cream, fresh strawberry sauce, or ice cream.**

5 Vintage Cake Links

Chocolate mayonnaise cake

Banana Cake

Applesauce Cake

Whipped Cream Cake

Lady Baltimore Cake