“What do you want to do?” they asked, peering at me expectantly across the half-consumed cocktails and artisanal small plates. With only my “fancy” burger and tallow fat fries standing between me and this interrogation, I stared at them rather blankly, wishing for more layers of protection. Oh this question again! I felt young again- in a a bad way- all the anxieties and life questions of my mid-twenties emerging from some hidden recess of my body. I thought I had killed and buried those stressors? Apparently not!
What I want to do is “projects.” I want to change courses and follow whims and inspirations, but try explaining that to an esteemed film critic and a dedicated film festival director as they plead with you to devote your life to filmmaking! I was flattered and confused, surprised by how much the question left me stammering and surprised by how much that bothered me.
In high school, our teachers taught us to rack up the extracurriculars, earn perfect grades and contribute to humanity in some generous way. The end goal was college acceptance and eventually, a good job and happiness (probably in the form of a 2-car garage and a family). The end goals didn’t work for me, but throwing myself into various activities did! ‘What I want to do’ may never be a question I can answer succinctly but who I want to be? Maybe that’s a starting point that won’t leave me stammering.
Who I want to be is someone who pays it forward, who fills the world with beauty, who leaves a footprint- not the carbon kind, but the kind people commemorate. I want to be a person who feeds and nourishes people. I want to be a person who brightens days and helps those in need, who leaves a mark on friends, on my city, and hopefully, in a broader context. How do you relay that across an adult table of whiskey and patés?
If SEO weren’t a thing, the title of this post would be “The Pay It Forward Cake,” but then those creeping search engines would never bring humans to me. I baked this cake and gave it away. I can’t vouch for the flavor, the richness, the fruity notes of carob or the dark bittersweet bursts of ganache, but what I can vouch for is the way my friends’ eyes lit up when I appeared at their door with a surprise layered treat. I want to be the person who sweetens days and delivers surprises, so that’s what I’m doing for the moment.
Whole-Wheat Carob Apricot Cake
About this Recipe: For my layers, I used a 6″, 7″ and 9″ springform pans, but you could experiment with uniform layers. I used a soured whole milk for the cake as a way to waste less, but you can substitute regular whole milk or buttermilk. It’s helpful to have a lazy Susan for assembly but not necessary. If you’re newer to cake frosting, here’s a helpful tutorial from Martha Stewart.
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill)
1 cup carob powder
2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
5 large eggs, at room temperature (cage-free/local/organic)
1 cup organic evaporated cane sugar
1/2 cup organic soured whole milk (or regular whole milk, or buttermilk)
1/2 cup (1 stick) organic unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups organic apricot jam (or the fruit of your choice)
Chocolate Frosting (Recipe below)
Chocolate Ganache (Recipe below)
Fresh berries for garnish
Preheat oven to 350℉.
Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or a 6-inch and 7-inch springform pan to make a layer cake.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, carob powder, Chinese Five Spice, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat eggs and sugar on high until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
In a small saucepan, bring milk and butter to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla, and set aside.
With mixer on medium, gradually add flour mixture to egg mixture, and beat just until combined.
With mixer on low, add milk mixture in a steady stream and beat until combined.
Fold in the apricot jam.
Pour batter into pan(s). Bake until a cake tester or a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack, and cool for 10 minutes.
Run a knife around edge of pan, then remove the sides of the spingform pans. Let cool completely.
Meanwhile, prepare the frosting and ganache.
16 oz organic Neufchatel cheese
1 cup organic heavy whipping cream
1 cup pure cocoa powder
4 Tablespoons creamed honey
In the chilled bowl of a stand mixer, beat the Neufchatel cheese and heavy whipping cream until smooth. Add the cocoa powder and beat until incorporated. Add the honey, and beat until incorporated. Keep chilled until ready to use.
Dark Chocolate Ganache
Recipe from Martha Stewart
8 ounces dark chocolate chips (Guittard’s Extra Dark Chocolate Chips- 63%)
1 cup organic heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
Pour chocolate chips into a sauce pan. Set aside.
In a separate saucepan, bring cream just to a boil over medium-high heat.
Pour over chocolate, and add salt.
Let stand for 10 minutes (don’t stir- doing so will cool the ganache too quickly, making it grainy).
Stir with a whisk until smooth and shiny to break up any pieces and emulsify cream and chocolate.
Chocolate will often settle on the bottom or sides of the bowl. Scrape the dish with a rubber spatula to incorporate all of it.
Once cooled, use a lazy Susan and a serrated knife to split each cake in half horizontally (yielding two layers from each cake).
Place bottom layer on a cake plate or serving platter and spread frosting on top with an offset spatula. Top with second layer, and repeat until the top layer is frosted. Frost the sides of the cake, placing in the refrigerator or freezer in between applications if need be.
Drizzle with warm ganache, and top with fresh berries. Keep chilled until ready to serve.