Monday, December 3, 2012

Last Week's Cake

I must admit, after a long, challenging Monday, it's hard to remember the pure elation that went into making this cake last Thursday night. Isn't it funny how far we swing during the course of just one week? My cycle typically begins with a fabulous "the world is a good place to be" type of feeling on Friday, an energetic, hopeful lilt on Saturday, a sleepy, slightly moody Sunday followed by a bad night of sleep, followed by a rough Monday at work. As the week goes on, I usually remember how to fall asleep before 1 a.m. I might turn off the TV at night and do something, think something, make something, see someone, and by the time Thursday arrives, I am a fully formed, nearly hopeful person again, ready to enjoy my weekend. Thursday is one of the better days, I think, right on the cusp of greatness. And this last Thursday was one of the best. On the docket after work, I had already planned to make a birthday cake for my sweetheart--and I do love devoting an entire night, at home alone, to baking. But then, as we were finishing dinner and I was hunting for my sifter and marveling at how I had managed to buy duplicate bags of confectioner's sugar and cocoa powder when I already had plenty of both at home, we got a phone call. First Robb's phone rang and he missed it, then my phone rang and I missed it, and then we both looked at our phones and saw that our friend Ryan had called. "Baby!" I yelled out, and Robb beat me to calling Ryan back. Our friend Jess, Ryan's wife, had gone into labor. 

Ryan came over and dropped off his little King Charles pup, Mister, and uttered something joyful and slightly panicked like "I'm gonna be a!"Mister sulked on the couch. (He can't stand our dog Camper...too licky, too sniffy, too jabby in his giant eyeballs.) And then before I knew it, Ryan was off to the hospital and Robb was off to work and there I was with two mismatched dogs and an ambitious cake to bake.
I had forgotten to look up any cake recipes that day, so I did a quick search on my phone for a recipe in the grocery store. One of the first ones that came up was from Ina Garten--Beatty's Chocolate Cake--and when in doubt, always go with the Ina Garten recipe. There is a reason her cookbooks sell better than anyone else's. Her food is no fuss brilliant, her instructions could not be clearer. And you don't even mind doing annoying things like buttering the cake pan, then placing your parchment paper in the pan, then buttering it again and flouring. You know there is a good reason she's telling you to do it and you just do it. 
While Mister stared at the door, pouting, and Camper chewed on the loudest of his squeaky toys, I did things like mix up this sinister butter-cream frosting, all the time my brain jumping around erratically, one second marveling at how my dear friend Jess was going to be a mom, and the next wondering if a from-scratch Caesar salad would be a good side dish for Robb's birthday dinner the following night.
While we waited for the cakes to cool, the dogs fought for prime real estate on my lap. Mister, who has the genetic edge of being an actual lap dog, won most rounds. 
And of course, because it was Ina, the cakes came right out of the pan, almost disturbingly moist and fluffy. (Could it have been the buttermilk? Or the bit of vegetable oil? What makes this cake so superior?) Because Robb loves chocolate and cherries, I found myself straining a can of cherry-pie filling--I spread the cherry liquid onto the middle layer of the lake, and the cherries themselves would go on top later.
Before long, I had a happy little cake on my hands. Yes, this cake would do just fine. It was adequately frosted, only a bit lopsided. But I started to think about those cherries and got nervous...wouldn't they roll right off the top?
Indeed, they would! Those cherries needed a blockade of sorts. A spiky blockade--the very best kind. And soon enough I found myself getting out the pastry bags and the pastry tips and scooping gobs of extra frosting into the bag. Note to people as daft as I am--make sure to put that pastry tip in the bag before you fill it with frosting. (This is how, at one point, I found myself with chocolate frosting up to my elbow, attempting to wrestle a pastry tip into the point of a full bag of frosting...not as delicious as you might think.)
The party? It was full of wine and my favorite people and a kazoo sing-a-long and a damn fine Caesar salad if I may say so myself. The cake? Bright and happy, intense and gooey (the cup of espresso she tells you to add to the batter is absolutely crucial). And the photo Jess sent us as we were wrapping up dinner? The best thing ever. Little Wren Devlin. Happy birthday to her brand new sweet soul, and to Robb's sweet soul, too. It was a great birthday weekend indeed.
And now, because it's Monday and a girl's got to do something sometimes to improve her mood after a long day, I am going to go eat some of that cake.


  1. ahhh love her name! And love that cake :) I wish i was having a slice of that right now.

  2. I love that shiny, glistening cake!!! And that AMAZING baby! Man, Jess and Ryan produce a good-looking infant. (Although honestly, my favorite picture in this bunch might be your legs and the two doggies. So sweet!)

    It's Tuesday. I hope your week is starting to get back on track.

  3. You are such a fine writer, Liana! I love reading about the moments in your life.

  4. How do I not know about this cake already? My maiden name is Beatty and my husband is a chocoholic. Now I'm dying to know which Beatty Ina got this recipe from, and after watching her video I now know that it came from "Michael's Grandmother". But who is Michael? If it is my cousin Michael, then this recipe could be from MY grandmother! (Although I'm pretty sure my cousin isn't friends with Ina Garten.)

    p.s. I've always loved the name Wren.

    1. Maureen, I'm dying to know...did you ever figure out if you are related to Ina Garten's fabulous chocolate cake? Hoping so! (And until I hear from you, I'm going to assume so.)

  5. What a lovely looking cake. Ina really does know her stuff. I ran across your blog because I was marveling at the awesome stuff that is honeyed goat cheese, and was wondering if anyone had ever turned it into a cheesecake or other dessert. Turns out, you had! I really enjoy your writing style and just wanted to say I'm a new fan. :)

    1. Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for your sweet note, and I could not agree more about the amazingness of honeyed goat cheese and Ina Garten. Looks like we are kindred spirits! Thanks again for stopping by. :)