Wednesday, 27 June 2012

To thine own chocolate be true

I decided to finish the cake on a Demon Day.  Most people call it PMS or hormonal days. For me it's a Demon Day because when hormones, the housewife itch and my dramatic Sicilian tendencies mix, my husband hides in the lounge watching Formula 1 at unnecessarily loud levels.  If he has to cross my line of sight, he does it quietly like a mouse trying to get across the room with a sleeping cat (tail twitching) laying right in front of the mouse hole.  He's smart.  He's adapted.  It was the perfect day to make chocolate ganache from scratch. 

Let's back up.  The reason I decided to finish this particular cake on this particular day is because of our wedding.  On our wedding day I didn't get to eat my wedding cake.  I had the two ceremonial bites during the cake cutting portion of the evening (and also managed to drop one of those bites down my cleavage, a moment forever captured on the wedding video. Our vows didn't make it on film, but the classy cake cleavage was captured in full Technicolor with accompanying narration).  By the time I made it back to my table, the piece of cake waiting for me had been cleared.  

Last year for our first anniversary I made a small replica of our wedding cake.  I figured we had redone our wedding photos, redone our honeymoon, why not redo the cake fiasco.  I was also a little sad that, again, I would miss out on my wedding cake since the top tier was in a freezer in Cleveland and we were in London.  Dammit! I was going to have some cake!!! Last year it went relatively swimmingly, the frosting was a bit crumby, but it was brilliant. And so large and rich we had to cut it up into chunks to freeze.  We ate the last bit a few weeks ago.  

So as this anniversary approached, I prepared to do it again.  The actual baking went fine.  I make it a few days early as it only gets better with age.  It was the assembly that went tits up. In fact I woke up that day with sore tits, I should have known it wasn't the day to mess with chocolate and cream.  

I retrieved the fancy French chocolate I decided on for the ganache and got to work. Breaking it up with my mezzaluna knife, I was feeling very smug and assured in my ability to make this concoction from scratch and memory. The melting and gently folding begins and right away something is wrong.  The chocolate is melting in a gritty fashion.  Hmm, well, it is French, maybe it melts gritty and then emulsifies in to a beautiful smooth ribbon. 

No, it starts to release oil.  Oil!  What the F**k!!  All my domestic bliss and superiority begins to disappear and I start to feel the ugly cry bubbling up.  I take a few deep breaths trying to contain the completely irrational crying jag that is about to start.  It's just chocolate.  I sprinkle in a little powdered sugar thinking it is like whipping up double cream. Nope.  More oil is released.  Maybe a little raw cocoa powder.  Nope.  It begins to look more and more like something you would find in a diaper than in a beautiful chocolate stout cake.


At this point I start to think about how everything I attempt recently has failed and this is just one more thing to add to the list. This isn't really true, I have actually been having a run of good fortune, but what is a meltdown without letting those irrational hormones take the wheel?! With that ride comes some tears.  Why not? At this point I have lost all sense of reason. 

 F**k it!!

I pour out some of the oil in our kitchen sink,  praying it won't make that particular fixture any worse and let the chocolate slide (slide, like a big oily sh*t) into the glass measuring cup and then into the fridge thinking maybe it will cool and solidify into something usable, but at this point, pretty sure it is just going to be a cold lump of sh*t.  

I retreat to the bathroom to try and get a hold of myself before I lose it and start throwing stuff around the kitchen.  Pete is still sequestered in the lounge with one ear pricked for the pounding footsteps of his wife on the stairs so he can jump to and be the supporting husband.  He's already attempted the half hug, 'there, there' move which only makes me more frustrated because it is just pointing out that I have become completely irrational when I really just want to ignore that fact.  

Back to the fridge.  The chocolate sh*t has released more oil which is now cooling in a halo of yellow fat.  F**K!!!  

After throwing some utensils around in the sink I decide to head out to the offie and see if they have anything to offer to fix this situation.  I am routinely surprised by their offerings so I am moderately sure they will have something.  

Not today.  Today is not the day.  They have cake mix, but no frosting.  They have everything you might need to concoct an elaborate Indian feast, or just a meal with every known legume, but these Turkish brothers have nothing in the way of cocoa solids or even Betty Crocker frosting.  They have the fancy paste food colouring and three different kinds of yeast, but no baking chocolate. 

They do have Nutella.  I grab a small jar, the Sunday paper and at the last minute some chocolate bars from the candy rack.  

I hand over the change and walk outside.  The sky opens up and I walk the 500 yards back to the flat in pouring rain, dropping everything at least once.  I slam our front door with an expletive and the sun bursts forth.  

Back down to the kitchen I root around in the baking cabinet and find a small bag of baking chocolate that is probably past its 'best by' date, but what the hell, and break that up with the cheap chocolate bars I bought on impulse.  I'm going to give it one more go before I resort to the Nutella.  That's when I discover I have a huge glob of oily chocolate on the collar of my sweater and the inside of the apron.  Another glob on my neck.  

That's it.  Just pile it all on.  

At some point I have the fleeting thought, again, that this is just indicative of the past year, but, again, actually it isn't. There is a limit to the melodramatic. (Progress!) And again, I remind myself that while this past year hasn't been the best of my life, it hasn't been one f**k up after another either, even if it feels like it in this moment.  

I check the chocolate sh*t in the fridge one last time in a desperate hope.  It has released even more oil.  Where is it all coming from?  What kind of chocolate is this?  

With all patience and sense leaving me, I throw the cheap chocolate and the old chocolate into the pot with a bit of double cream and dare it to burn.  Just give me an excuse to really lose it.  As I move it gently around the pot (because even in my distress, I somehow have the patience to treat the chocolate with care) it becomes a beautiful smooth ganache.

That puts me in my place.  Who did I think I was, showing off with fancy French baking chocolate? 

I spoon the beautiful brown silk on the first layer, slice off the top of the second layer and suddenly all is right with the world (or so it seems after devouring the largish piece I sliced off).  I still have the buttercream to throw on and if last year is any clue, it won't be pretty, but it's out of a tub so at least I don't have to worry about it separating or going runny.  I don't have enough for a pure white coating but I have a new palette knife so at least it will be evenly spread.  And really, half the reason I am doing this is to have an excuse to use the palette knife. 

Three hours from the start and the cake is done and sitting under a tent of cling film.  I read the morning paper, Pete escaped the worst of the meltdown and the sun is shining.  

A few years ago I wouldn't be able to tell you the difference between chocolate ganache and chocolate frosting.  I had a better chance of correctly identifying an obscure wrench than a palette or mezzaluna knife, let alone know how to use either.  

Lately I have been in a rut.  In writing, in life, in cooking.  Flying on auto and too distracted to do the work and remember what it was I really enjoyed about cooking, loving, writing.  

The cake was fabulous. 
From beginning to end.  


  1. Oh honey. I know this wasn't meant to be funny but by the time I got to the part where you were on your way back form the shop in the rain, I was snorting out of my nose.

    I understand ruts. I do. Still, be kind to yourself. You're the only you you've got.