C is for Cake
When I was growing up, my mother would make each member of my family whatever they wanted for a birthday dinner. My brother mixed it up, choosing something different most years, but I stayed with a fairly predictable rut. While certain things changed, I almost always had artichokes with melted butter and German chocolate cake covered with coconut.
I'm not sure what it is about German chocolate cake for me. Those who know me well can tell you that I use coconut for everything. I fry chicken in the oil (with a separate jar for my skin) and I stir coconut sugar into my tea, along with canned coconut milk. I seek out coconut on menus and sprinkle it into cookie dough and rice pudding. Perhaps that's why I'm so drawn to this particular cake.
Recently, I discovered that this cake isn't German at all, but rather named after a man named Sam German, who created a baking chocolate at Baker's Chocolate Company (which turned out to be an inspiration for this delightful cake, submitted by a Texas housewife to the Dallas Morning Star in 1957).
Still, it has returned to our table every February for many years, until it was overtaken by a delicious fruit tart which warrants it's own special pan.
A couple of Septembers ago, I was on a business trip at the end of my employment in a job I hated. I was planning to quit as soon as we returned from Denver, but no one knew it yet. I just had to get through that one weekend.
I was depressed and preparing for poverty. I didn't have another job lined up, and I was scared, but so tired. I knew that I had to jump, that it would be best for me in the long run.
That year, the Pumpkin Spice Latte made her debut a hint earlier than I'd remembered in years past. In fact, even though it was hot, I ran from our hotel across the street to Starbucks several times a day, volunteering to get coffee for my team as often as I could. I drank them hot and iced, soaking in the scent and taste of fall, getting ready to eschew coffee out in the days to come.
One of the days of the trade show, I snuck to Starbucks for lunch. I ordered one of those pretzels with stone ground mustard, and three cake pops in different flavors. I sat on the deck in the sun and ate all three of them, one after another, until I felt sick. The sweetness did nothing to lift my mood. At the end, the cake stuck in my throat. I could see the end in sight, but it felt so far away.
For my birthday, I flew around the world to foster a connection which turned out to be weaker than I had thought. This, and some other ingredients, added up to me baking my own birthday cake in another country, with a European cookbook, using a scale to measure ingredients for the first time, amidst protests that I do not bake.
When my hostess asked me what type of cake I would like to make, I told her German chocolate. She looked through her recipe books to find something that might approximate my American delicacy.
In the end, I made small chocolate cakes with white coconut icing, made mostly with powdered sugar. They came out dry, but edible. I ate them for breakfast for the duration of my stay (until they became too hard and we had to throw them away).
After that, nothing sounded better than a fruit tart. That was what I asked for when I celebrated my birthday with my family, upon my return to the States.
This summer, I was in a wedding where they served pie, ordering only one small cake for the bride and groom to cut. I normally avoid wedding cake, but the bride told me it was lavender, and my ears perked up. I didn't like to ask for a bite of the bridal cake, but she saved me the trouble. "You have to try it," she said.
I like to think that I was into lavender baked goods before they were cool. Either way, I'm glad for the uptick in lavender-flavored things. I cut a piece of the cake, sitting alone at the head table as the bride and groom visited and danced. I plopped it on a napkin and took a bite.
It was the perfect consistency, and deeply lavender in character. I could have done without the swathes of thick pink ombre frosting, but the cake itself was heaven. It capped off a joyful wedding, against a sunset backdrop. It matched my comfortable bridesmaid dress, and the belonging the bride radiated, and the gentle cool of the evening.
Next year, maybe I'll transfer my allegiance to lavender cake, and celebrate my birthday with echoes of laughter and light, mixed with unbreakable vows against a sunset sky.
This post is the third installment of a new series I'm beginning, one for each letter of the alphabet. These posts will be in order, about whatever strikes my fancy, posted each Monday.