Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Originally I was going to go on and on to you about how this cake became my redemption after over two weeks of continuous baking disasters - three episodes of Japanese cotton cheesecake flop (literally, the cakes collapsed in all three attempts) and another bad day where I managed to split my butter while trying to make my mother's layered cake. Yesterday changed that, so this will be a dedication, while lined with sadness it is laden with much hope and prayer from my aching heart. Apologies in advance for all the grimness but while life is great, there are inevitable times when things go down (falling cakes pun not intended).
Barely two days into my new job I was informed of my ex-boss's stroke and subsequent critical condition as she was leading an implementation project team in China, at a factory three to four hours away from Shanghai - where I would've been as well had I not recently moved on to a better opportunity. Collapsed, found unconscious in the hotel room, out for hours, blood clots, fluid retention, lung infection, two-thirds brain damage - all these words and phrases hit me like a ton of bricks as I tried to come to terms with it all. Helpless and devastated, all I could do was to get periodical updates from contactable ex-colleagues on site and here in Singapore.
She likes my baked goods and constantly looked forward to my bringing them to work. She would be the first to notice a container of cocoa brownies or cakes sitting on my desk and would ask me if I made them myself. Upon hearing the answer yes, she would enthusiastically distribute the loot to the rest of the team. A caring and ever so thoughtful person, she drove me home on my first day of work after a late conference call. Aside from food and work, we were able to freely discuss at length about education, challenges with her children and a myriad of other topics in our daily lives.
Soft-spoken but by no means weak, I've enjoyed working with her and am always touched by her seemingly small but kind gestures. On my last day at work she was away traveling, yet she tried calling me all the way from Shanghai and didn't give up trying after she couldn't hear me due to some line disruptions. Prior to that, even with her busy schedule on the one day she was back from China she went out during lunch to get me a card and a farewell gift - she hardly lunches out herself. The gift was a colorful coffee mug with a matching little stuffed bunny. She collapsed the day I started drinking coffee from her mug.
The last bake I brought to work was a cheesecake for her - because she loves cheesecakes...
... but by the grace of almighty God that will not be the last cake from me to her.
Despite the barrage of bad news, as I'm writing this her heartbeat is getting more regular and her blood pressure stabilizing. If all goes well she'll be flown back here tomorrow morning. I hope to take a peek at her before leaving for Hong Kong on Friday. Fully aware of the worst-case scenarios and while there are no certainties of anything else at this point; her loved ones, colleagues and I continue to hope for the best for her under the current dire circumstances.
LK, stay strong and come back in one piece, I know you're a fighter. I'm trying hard to be tough and haven't yet shed a single tear for you as the battle is not over. I'm waiting to cook and bake for you again, very soon.
Everyday Chocolate Cake
Adapted barely from Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen, original recipe from Allysa Torey's At Home with Magnolia
Note: Since I'm using the Dutch processed Valrhona cocoa, the following recipe is as per Deb's updated version. Do check her post for leavening agent measurements if using natural cocoa powder.
The cake is just slightly dry on the crumb when the center is just done, however the entire cake is soft, slightly crumbly and shouldn't be dense as some reviewers of this recipe found.
- 1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup (6 7/8 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup (2 5/8 ounces) Dutch cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 325°F (I set my convection on at 150°C).
Grease and lightly flour a 9×5x3-inch loaf pan, or spray it with a butter-flour spray. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat well, then the buttermilk and vanilla. At this point my batter looked like a mound of split brown butter (after the buttermilk went in) and if yours looks the same, don't panic. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt together right into the batter. Stir together with a spatula until well-blended, taking care not to overmix. Scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes (mine took 70), or until a tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for about 10 to 15 minutes. After that you may cool it out of the pan. Once cool dust the (cracked) top with some icing sugar. Serve as is or with whipped cream/vanilla ice cream and some fresh berries - I recommend both experiences, both of which will bring you to chocolate cake heaven.
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