Nostalgia and Wanderlust might be romances cut from the same cloth. Lured by the city I love and the acclaimed director on the bill, I made the effort to see Midnight in Paris in the theater. The scenes absorbed me. In an effort to recall and revel in my time in Paris, I thought of the routes between the landmarks and locations featured in the film. My mind so thoroughly journeyed to Paris, I was disoriented and disappointed to discover Pittsburgh again upon leaving the theater.
Like me, the film’s protagonist, Gil, is enthralled by Paris. He openly fantasizes about living in the Paris of his dreams- 1920s Paris, when Hemingway, Dalí, Buñuel and Man Ray shared deep thoughts over strong drinks, late into the night.
Gil’s antithesis in the film, shoots down his nostalgic daydreams, “Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is Golden Age Thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”
Though the grass may be greener back in time (sadly, this may literally be true) and the city in the distance may appeal more, there’s something to be said for looking to the past for inspiration and guidance. If looking back in time means respecting the land, respecting each other and engaging more, then why not look to a different time? The advantage of the present is we can pull inspiration from so many pasts and cull together many a lesson learned, but only if we look.
I was reminded to look toward the past when Heather asked me, “if you could go back to any era, which would you choose?” For her, like Gil, the answer was easy- the 1920s, when ladies dressed exquisitely, smoked and drank rebelliously, and danced into the night. When she asked me to bake her a birthday cake, her request was an unusual one, but one I really enjoyed. In lieu of a flavor preference, she threw a concept at me- “a cake with a flapper attitude would be ideal- social justice, freedom, fun, and stylish (red lips and dancing hips!).”
If Heather really could go back in time for her birthday, I imagined the parties she’d attend. I imagined her sitting at her vanity, drinking, smoking, putting on makeup and pearls, while chatting with a close friend. I imagined the excitement of selecting the perfect ensemble and the simplicity of a tiny clutch or purse with no need for bulky cell phones. She’d be dancing until her high-heeled feet ached with joy. Photographers would snap her in black and white, and she’d wait, with anticipation, to see the results. Her birthday cake emerged from these visions because cakes, like nostalgia, should inspire our imaginations and transport us!
There’s nothing wrong with a little Golden Age Thinking and romantic musings every now and then. Where did I finally decide I would go? I’ll save that for another cake and time.
Here’s to Heather & Conceptual Cakes Requests!
p.s: However, if I were to travel in time to the 1920s, I imagine I would look like this.
Whole Wheat Red Wine & Raspberry Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache & Chocolate Feathers
About This Recipe: Adding red wine to this whole-wheat chocolate cake was a nod to the lush side of the 1920s. It adds a subtle flavor and moistness to the crumb. This recipe bakes one 7-inch cake, which you can separate into two layers and divide with raspberry jam for a touch of rouge. If you want to make the Chocolate Feathers, follow this tutorial. I made a very reduced simple syrup to help adhere them to the cake, as well as propping them in small slits I cut in the cake’s surface. I made the top design with a paper doily and powdered sugar.
Whole Wheat Red Wine & Raspberry Chocolate Cake
2 cups organic whole-wheat pastry flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill)
3/4 cup unsweetened, pure cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks organic, unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups organic raw cane sugar
2 large eggs (organic/cage-free)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups dry red wine
organic raspberry jam (or Bonne Maman for a scrumptious nod to the French)
organic powdered sugar (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 7-inch springform pan.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and the sugar, at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated.
Add the vanilla and beat for 2 minutes longer.
Working in two batches, alternately fold in the dry ingredients and the wine, until just incorporated.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto a plate; let cool completely.
Use a lazy Susan and a bread knife to slice the cake into two horizontal layers.
Place the base layer on a serving plate. Spread raspberry jam over the surface, and top with the remaining layer of cake.
Top with chocolate ganache.
Dark Chocolate Ganache
8 ounces extra dark chocolate, chopped fine or in chip form (such as Guittard Extra Dark Chips)
8 ounces (1 cup) organic heavy cream
1 Tablespoon Port Wine
Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl.
Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan, until it just begins to simmer; be careful not to allow cream to boil over.
Pour the cream over the chocolate, and whisk until completely melted and smooth.
To top the cake, pour into the center of the cake, and let the chocolate drip over the sides. Using a lazy Susan, turn slowly, and use an offset spatula to spread the chocolate evenly over the surface and sides.
Allow the ganache to set.
Powdered Sugar Garnish
If you want to make a powdered sugar pattern on the surface, wait until the ganache has begun to set, but is not completely hardened. Place a paper doily on the surface and sprinkle with powdered sugar, making sure the sugar has filled in the holes in the design. Lift the doily slowly and carefully, and voila!