Whole Wheat Carob Apricot Cake with Chocolate Frosting & Chocolate Ganache

“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!

Whole Wheat Carob Apricot Cake with Chocolate Frosting & Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

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. 

Whole Wheat Carob Apricot Cake with Chocolate Frosting & Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

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. 

Whole Wheat Carob Apricot Cake with Chocolate Frosting & Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

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?

Whole Wheat Carob Apricot Cake with Chocolate Frosting & Chocolate Ganache // www.WithTheGrains.com

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. 

Quelcy Signature

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.

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Mini Mint Chocolate Layer Cakes for a Birthday Cake Tradition

Being the imaginative child I was, I appointed myself playwright and director, and each year, my best friend and I put on a Christmas “production” for our families, complete with a snack reception. (Oh the joys of ring bologna and cheese after giving your all on stage!) Though our families may have approached these plays with a little more hesitation (I did, after all, assign many of them roles as well), I thrived off the plays’ place in our holiday schedule. The plays became tradition, and that mattered.

Mini Mint Chocolate Layer Cakes for a Birthday Tradition // www.WithTheGrains.com

The happiness guru Gretchen Rubin emphasizes the need for tradition in her book The Happiness Project. On her blog, she explains, “Studies show that routines, rituals, and traditions are good for people’s physical and mental well-being. They help make life seem predictable, under control, and meaningful, and they provide family cohesiveness and predictability, which people—especially children—crave.”

Mini Mint Chocolate Layer Cakes for a Birthday Tradition // www.WithTheGrains.com

As an adult, long after the plays had faded away, I devised new traditions to give me that predictability and meaning Rubin describes. Starting at age 25, each year I would make one mini, layered birthday cake for each year of life. Why mini? There’s something extra memorable about mini cake details. Why so many? All the better to share! (50 is going to be one hell of a party!)

Mini Mint Chocolate Layer Cakes for a Birthday Tradition // www.WithTheGrains.com

These mini cakes have taken on many flavors and forms. They remind me of where I was, how I spent my birthday, and who helped me to eat all that cake. (They also document my progress as a photographer- eek!) This tradition gives me a plan for my birthday, even when everything else is frenzied, and a January birthday following the holiday haze always seems to be frenzied. However, last year I let stresses and frenzies get the best of me, and there were no mini cakes.

Mini Mint Chocolate Layer Cakes for a Birthday Tradition // www.WithTheGrains.com

Last year I was in the final weeks of a bad business relationship, but I didn’t yet know the end was in sight. I felt weak, voiceless, judged and confused. Wasn’t this what I wanted? I kept asking myself, “is this hard because this work is hard or because it’s not right?”

Mini Mint Chocolate Layer Cakes for a Birthday Tradition // www.WithTheGrains.com

Deep down I knew the answers, knew the discontent was significant, but I wasn’t quite ready to voice those gut feelings. I risked sabotaging my relationship with the Urban Farmer, I risked becoming a true bitch (not even in the unfair sense of a powerful woman either), and I risked spoiling the little joys I had come to cherish. So I quit.

Whole Wheat Mint Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache & Lingonberry Sauce // www.WithTheGrains.com
Once I had all my mini cake layers cut, there was still leftover sheet cake. In the spirit of “and one for good luck,” I used a larger sized biscuit cutter to create this medium-sized “mini” layer cake.

Though the Urban Farmer spoiled me properly last year, the absence of my tradition really weighed on me, as if I had let the painful business relationship take something all too personal from me. I learned a lot from that failed partnership, learned more about myself, learned to trust my instincts more, learned what true friendship looks and acts like. I needed the return of my mini cakes to celebrate how far I had come!

Whole Wheat Mint Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache & Lingonberry Sauce // www.WithTheGrains.com

This year, there were plenty of big projects and nagging items on my to-do list, but I turned a blind eye and turned on the oven. I ignored the snowpocalypse 2.0 weather predictions, and somehow, it all worked out. I filled my table with cakes and our home with friends.

A Winter Birthday Dessert Party // www.WithTheGrains.com
Julep is always in the shadows, in case I need a last-minute taste tester.

A Winter Birthday Dessert Party // www.WithTheGrains.com

Parlor Games // www.WithTheGrains.com

We relished my favorite things- wine, cheese, cake and a good parlor game. Round and round went the hat with scribbled names of obscure pop-culture references, religious figures and actors, and I returned to the living room stage once more.

Parlor Games // www.WithTheGrains.com

Competition and theatrics all in one, “Celebrity” is one of my favorite games and quickly becoming a tradition in the making.

Parlor Games // www.WithTheGrains.com

Parlor Games // www.WithTheGrains.com

These traditions, the intentional time taken away from work and obligations, finding the good eggs and holding them tight, laughing until it hurts- that all matters! And for this baker, mini layer cakes matter too. I’m ever grateful for my return to tradition.

What are your steadfast traditions?

Quelcy Signature

Whole Wheat Mint Chocolate Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache & Lingonberry Sauce

About This Recipe: No, I do not have 32 mini springform pans. I baked two, thin sheet cakes and used a biscuit cutter to create the mini layers (here’s the behind-the-scenes shot). If you want to follow my mini cake tradition and make A LOT of mini cakes, double the recipe below. If you’re simply fulfilling a whole-grain, mint-chocolate craving, follow the recipe and assembly instructions below for a variation on my Whole Wheat Chocolate Chestnut Layer Cake. Bake the cakes, then while the cakes cool, make the whipped cream. Allow the whipped cream to chill while making the ganache. 

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