It had been too long, and he had missed making music, so the Urban Farmer strummed his guitar at the dining room table, where I worked on something far less poetic. His fingers and his voice learned their way through the latest Billy Bragg song. My Farmer’s smoother voice joined the deeper, raspier words of the recording. He played and repeated, played and repeated, but the poignant lyrics merited the repetition:
Deep down in the underground, atoms spinning round and round. Scientists monitor readings. Searching for the Holy Grail, the particle or at least the tale of the one who gives the universe its meaning. But what if there’s nothing, no big answer to find? What if we’re just passing through time?
Aside from a stint of piano lessons and a brief spell in the middle school orchestra, the only music these hands play is on Spotify. I’ve always been fascinated by words, writing and literature. Guiding a thought from mind to paper in a compelling way is challenging enough. These minds, who combine thought-provoking concepts with pleasing rhythms, harmonies and all the finer details of music making that escape me, these brilliant minds leave me awed and inspired like a child watching a magic routine for the very first time. A lack of technical understanding and raw talent might explain why many attribute these music maker’s talents to a higher power. Magic. God. Gumption. Who knows? It all leaves me pleasantly transfixed and inspired.
Music may not be my conduit for expression, but the baking and sharing of food is one of the ways I translate the stories in my head into something real. Some people regard baking as I regard music. It seems magical, daunting, impossible, the equivalent of a chemistry experiment, or maybe even divinely inspired. There is a lot of magic to this process of transforming disparate pantry items into inspired layers of wholesome decadence, but at a fundamental level, music and baking stem from a willingness to try.
Time and technique are required for full mastery, but to start, if you can reach the pedals or read the directions, you can make the layer cake. Whereas early tinkering might make for unpleasant melodies, a baking mistake here and there can still yield deliciousness. I may never find my voice through song, or strings, or keys. However, sharing these sentiments, these food inspired stories, and these images is the way I share my voice, and this tale tastes of chocolate, gingerbread and the most memorable moments of the holidays.
Whole Wheat Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake with Spiced Buttercream
Gingerbread Spice Mixture
1 1/2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 Tablespoon freshly ground cardamom
2 teaspoons mace
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons allspice
For the Spice Mixture:
Use a small whisk or fork to combine all the spices together in a jar.
2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup pure cocoa powder
2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons of the gingerbread spice mixture (see above)
4 organic/cage-free eggs (at room temperature)
1 cup organic light brown sugar
1 cup unsulphured molasses
1 teaspoon pure orange extract
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh, grated ginger
1 cup organic, unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup organic heavy cream (room temperature)
1 1/4 cup organic whole milk (room temperature)
For the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch and a 6-inch spring-form cake pan, and set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and gingerbread spice.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the molasses, orange extract and ginger, and mix until fully combined.
In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add in the cream and milk, and heat until just incorporated. Remove from heat.
In alternating additions, pour the dry ingredients and butter mixture into the egg mixture,.
Split the batter evenly between the three cake pans.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Let the cakes cool for at least 15 minutes before removing them from the pan. Use a serrated knife and a lazy Susan to cut each cake in half to form the 4 layers.
Spiced Buttercream Frosting
1 cup organic unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups organic powdered sugar
8 oz organic Neufchatel cheese
1-2 teaspoons gingerbread spice mix
For the Frosting:
Beat the butter and cream cheese until pale and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar in 2-3 additions. Add the gingerbread spice, and mix until incorporated.
Place the base layer of cake on your serving plate. Spread a heaping amount of frosting on the cake surface. Use an offset spatula and a lazy Susan to evenly spread the icing. Top with the next layer of cake and continue to ice until all layers are set.
Garnish with fresh mint and cranberries.
May your songs and sweets be inspired!