While everyone else was grieving Tess, Ann made a chocolate cake, after all, it was her mother’s birthday. Birthdays were celebrated in her family, Tess made sure of it, before cancer began a tug of war, taking much of Tess and leaving some.
[Crumbs left to feed those who loved her: an occasional kiss, a smile, a half-hearted laugh, maybe, on a good day, a story that made sense; stories where time and place were accurate, not distorted by eighty-nine years of living. But, now, memories, people, places in time met as if in a bizarre dream, making sense only to Tess. And when her children said no Mom that doesn’t sound right, no I don’t remember it that way and I think you mean…, Tess became agitated and angry as if her children were trying to rewrite her stories. So they stopped correcting Tess, allowing her to hold onto the bits and pieces of her life as she saw them, painful, but a necessary mercy.]
Ann poured the chocolate batter into the prepared pans, moving the bowl slightly back and forth, watching the batter make ribbons and fold into itself. Tess was still alive, god damn it. A medical mystery! Some asshole somewhere would say, as if it were a good thing. [Why is defying odds when the end is known and hope is absent a good thing? Breath entering and exiting Tess’ lungs, a strong heart still beating despite her mind saying I want to die. Plastic rosary beads and a beat up bible offering nothing to her weary soul and failing mind…and yet she continues.] Ann couldn’t understand why her mother never sought treatment, allowing cancer to eat her breast while her family watched, and cried, and grieved. How selfish, Ann thought.
While the cakes rose in the oven, Ann cleaned the dishes. The breeze coming through the kitchen window was warm and humid. A drop of sweat slid down her breast dissolving into her t-shirt. A night swim would feel so good.
Tess set two towels on the kitchen table letting Ann know it was time to put on her bathing suit. Ann loved swimming at night with her mother, watching her float around the shallow end of the pool, making sure not to get her freshly permed hair wet. Tess’ huge smile made Ann’s heart weak. She loved her so it felt unbearable. Ann knew someday the weight of their love for would crush her. Ann swam around her mother, porpoising through the dark water while Tess watched. She turned onto her back and floated with her ears submerged, the sounds of the crickets and the bullfrogs muffled. Ann stared at the black sky and the overcast moon. And when Ann floated too far away from Tess, she could feel it without being told: “Don’t go so far away, old girl.”
The memory of swimming with her mother made Ann feel sick. If only she could do it all over again and be cared for by Tess, swallowed by her mother’s fierce love, and relinquish her newfound role as her mother’s caregiver. But there is no starting over, one more time or do overs.
The dish soap left tiny bubble mountains on Ann’s hands. She rinsed the soap off. The oven timer blasted its horrible beep. The cakes were ready, waiting for Ann to carry on.
Birthday Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting
Recipe barely adapted from Food and Wine’s Mom’s Chocolate Cake
Serves 8 to 10
Ingredients for cake:
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sugar
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Directions for cake:
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour two 8 by 1 ½ inch cake pans and line bottom of the pans with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ginger. Set aside.
Grab a medium saucepan and combine the sugar with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Pour into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the chocolate and butter and let sit. Stir once in a while until the butter and chocolate are melted and slightly cool. Add the vanilla and stir.
Using a paddle attachment beat the eggs on medium speed into the chocolate mixture until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat on medium speed until well combined and smooth. Pour the batter evenly into each cake pan. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans on a wire rack for about 25 minutes. Next, invert the cakes onto the wire rack and cool completely.
While the cakes cool, make your frosting.
Ingredients for Chocolate Frosting:
1 + 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 + ½ cups sugar
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 stick + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Direction for frosting:
In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. After it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally. Simmer until the liquid reduces slightly, about 5 or 6 minutes. Pour the liquid into a medium bowl. Add the chocolate, butter, vanilla, and salt. Let sit until the chocolate and butter are melted.
Place the bowl in a larger bowl of ice. Using a handheld electric mixer beat the frosting on medium speed, scraping the sides and the bottom a few times, until the frosting is very thick and glossy, about 10 minutes. (You can also use a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment. Be sure to surround the mixer with ice packs or a bowl of ice.) Use immediately.
Place one cake layer on a cake stand. Using a metal spatula spread 1/3 of the frosting over the cake. Place the second cake layer on top and frost the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Add fresh flowers to decorate, if desired. Store cake, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to use. Bring to room temperature before serving.
The cake will last stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Enjoy!
5 Must Make Chocolate Cake Links
The classic chocolate cake roll was on heavy rotation in my house growing up and I loved it. Check out Smitten Kitchen’s version of the classic recipe here.
A go-to flourless chocolate cake recipe is a must for any baker. Head to the Tartlette blog for a flourless chocolate cake served with a butter caramel sauce. Yes!
Overrun with zucchini? Make Zoe Bakes chocolate zucchini bundt cake.
Need a vegan option? Check out Food 52’s vegan chocolate cake.
My new favorite cake blog is Cake by Courtney. Her cakes are absolutely beautiful and look delicious. Check out her chocolate dulce de leche cake recipe when you need a special treat.