As Thanksgiving rolled around this year, I found myself at a loss on the dessert front, which is normally my creative arena. I love the flavors of the holiday season, but I crave novelty. Thankfully, I found inspiration in this chocolate cranberry pecan tart, but being stumped made me think. When does tradition lose its comfort and become boring and/or monotonous?
This cake was from one year ago. It's a belated post because I was busy living, busy saying yes to adventures that pushed me beyond my comfort levels. Belated because I chose to rest. Belated because I didn't quite have the right words yet, but everything comes at its due time. The due time for sharing this cake was one year later: a chocolate-hazelnut bookend. Revisiting these cake memories has been my way of reminiscing and celebrating Ben's special day until we can celebrate together.
Harmony- it's something I have been think about a lot lately. I wish I were preoccupied with harmony musically, but rather, I think about harmony in the sense of differences working together to create something richer, something stronger. I believe there is a sweet spot, a harmonious juncture where nature and modernity could coexist, like the harmony of a sweet and salty sprinkling on a dessert, this dessert- a Vegan Chocolate Tart with Salted Oat Crust.
I hung my head in disgust and shame despite the fresh baked smell of chocolate and peppermint. Every attempt to salvage the ugliness before me had failed. The expensive, pink artisanal marshmallows looked like melted mozzarella- good on a pizza, bad on a brownie, and the chocolate drizzle was more like a chocolate drench, muddying the already mystifying marshmallows.
The last feeble attempt- all natural sprinkles, as green as the many dollars needed to buy them, merely sank into the chocolate puddles. So alas, I left the warm brownies on the table, wrapped a bottle of wine and off we went to the Christmas Eve festivities. Failure has a way of kicking its boots around the kitchen every now and then.
This cake, however, was the redemption- a recipe seemingly designed to fail! How many times have I returned to the cooling rack in despair to see a sunken cake intended for layered glory. This chocolate cake recipe replies, “well, if there’s a chance it’s going to fall, why not just let it fall in the first place?” In general, this attitude might be a tad defeatist, but if you need an upswing, this might be the glass-half-full cake.
So nestle into those p.j.’s, ignore the cake on the cooling rack, and let those rich, chocolate layers just sink into crackly goodness. This was my sweet, chocolate redemption that turned Christmas Eve failure into Christmas Day success. The many happy mouths, with chocolate and jam still sticking to their lips, said this was my best cake to date!
Go out and fail!
Flourless Fallen Chocolate Peppermint Cake with Whipped Neufchâtel Topping
Adapted from Bon Appetit
About this Recipe: Cake can be made 1 day ahead. Cover in pan and store airtight at room temperature. The original recipe calls for a 9-inch springform pan. To make the layered version, I used a 6 and 7-inch pan. The 6-inch cake will require less baking time (~25-30 minutes), so keep an eye on it as it bakes.
If only it were possible to have conversations with myself, both past and future, without the burden of mental illness. When people utter the word “cool” in a sentence with my name (not a brag, more of a statement of disbelief), I wish I could bring young Quelcy into the fold, with her cumbersome backpack and pre-algebra stresses and general obsessive bookishness. “Hey you, LOOK! Someday, somehow, this will all pay off.” Similarly, I’d summon that Quelcy who worked a job she grew to abhor.
That Quelcy found a solace and creative outlet in baking, in trying new recipes and techniques, all while tinkering with a new camera. That Quelcy would walk into my dining room, judging the updates with her eyes (as always), and say, “Oh, you’ve paired down the collections a bit. Good for us, but why aren’t you hosting a brunch today?”
Current me would justify past Quelcy’s poignant observation. I’ve managed to steer myself to this magical overlap, where people pay me to play with food and flowers and gatherings, but somewhere in that process of leaving the job I hated, and fuzzing the line between work and play, I forgot to slate days to bake just for me or to host friends in my home just for fun. In short, I forgot that weekends even existed.
I was due for a reminder, so I treated myself to one of those expensive recipe compilation magazines, those textured pages just dripping with sweetness set against dark fabrics, etched slate and cold, crisp marble. Then I sank into my couch, nestled under the warmest of plaid blankets and made a weekend plan. In the simplest of approaches, I began with the first page, which just happened to boast many of my favorite flavors paired together: chocolate, pecan, bourbon and pie crust.
As winter finally made herself known, and the darkness set in oh so early, I sequestered myself, by my own freewill, in my kitchen, where I embraced the full process of baking and playing with food… simply because that’s what I really love to do, and I needed the reminder.
Even if you don’t play with food and flowers and gatherings for a living, the holiday season can taint baking and cooking with a hint of stress. Dinners and holiday parties put schedules and deadlines on creative outlets, and in the process, they can suck some of the joy from kitchen escapes.
Maybe there’s a future iteration of me, who could join current me and past me in the dining room, and hopefully tell us both that she figures it out, she finds more ways to balance paying bills with feeding our souls (after all, she will be the older, wiser one). In the meantime, I’m letting my inner crazy attempt to steer me toward more balance and simpler baking joys, and I hope you find the same outlets during the crazy of the holidays.
Here’s to [some semblance of] sanity!
Whole Grain Chocolate Pecan Tart with Bourbon Whipped Crème Fraîche
Adapted from Bon Appétit
About this Recipe: By reducing the sugar in the crust, using raw cane sugar, maple instead of processed sugar and corn syrup, and an extra dark chocolate, my adapted version allows you to enjoy the winning trifecta that is pecan, chocolate and bourbon without that “I feel my teeth rotting” sensation. In my zeal, I accidentally skipped adding chopped pecans to the filling, but I left that part in the instructions, so do as Bon Appétit says and not as I do. I was also a little over zealous with the chocolate (as per my usual). The Bourbon Crème Fraîche has a thick and fluffy texture, almost like a non-melting ice cream- win win!