While waiting with unreasonable anticipation for Fuller House to hit our streaming channels, the Urban Farmer and I have nestled into Mozart in the Jungle. It’s over-the-top in its portrayal of a free spirit, the “chemistry” feels forced, and if I hear Lola Kirke giggle impishly one more time, I might be forced to call it quits on this binge effort. Yet somehow watching Gael García Bernal with hippy hair is enough to merit the lost winter hours, and critiques aside, the show did leave me with one golden nugget.
The prodigy conductor, Rodrigo (Bernal) encourages the symphony director (Bernadette Peters) to sing publicly. After she dismisses her vocal talents as “amateur,” he admonishes, “You say that as if it was a dirty word or something, but ‘amateur’ comes from the Latin word amare, which means love- to do things for the love of it.” In a show about an orchestra, this, my friends, provided the most music to my ears!
Most of my early to mid-twenties were filled with a crippling doubt as I tried to pinpoint my passion, my purpose, my place on this massive spinning globe, etc- that typical cocktail of honor roll meets intense university collides with real world. I felt an immense pressure to find and stick to something with the devoutness of a nun. As the rocks gradually diluted that stress cocktail, I began to embrace this fact about myself- I don’t want to be an expert.
I don’t want to be an expert. I don’t have one single passion. I do not seek precision. I want to bake, but I don’t want to understand every single chemical reaction and perfect every process. I don’t want to repeat recipes. I want to be a photographer, but I don’t want to invest in lighting and elaborate setups. I want to draw and silkscreen and play with flowers, and restoring the passion within the word “amateur” frees so much pressure from these activities.
So be an amateur cook and make horrible mistakes. Buy a camera, take pictures, take ugly pictures and keep taking pictures! Be an amateur baker, and share your layers of cake with those around you. Some of the best recipes come from amateurs- the grandmothers, mothers and dads who vaguely followed instructions, heaped spoonfuls, threw ingredients together and made it work because their hearts were in it.
Fittingly, this recipe was adapted from my new favorite read, Sift Magazine, which I can’t stop raving about (no, they are not sponsoring my fanaticism- I wish!). Its beautiful pages are all about celebrating the love of baking, in other words, they celebrate the amateurs!
p.s: If juggling multiple passions and curiosities rings a bell, I recommend this TED Talk for more inspiration- “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling”
Whole Wheat Chocolate Layer Cake with Chestnut Filling & Dark Chocolate Ganache
Recipe adapted from Sift Magazine (Holiday 2015)/King Arthur Flour
About This Recipe: You’ll need a large sheet pan (18”x13”) to bake this spongey, chocolate cake, which is then simply cut into fourths and stacked with layers of delicious chestnut cream as a filler. I found chestnut cream at Whole Foods, as well as my local grocery chain, but if you can’t find it, you can substitute Nutella for the filling.
Whole Wheat Chocolate Sheet Cake
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (such as this King Arthur Flour)
1 cup pure cocoa
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups organic buttermilk, at room temperature
1/2 cup olive oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature (organic/cage-free)
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup hot water
Dark Chocolate Ganache
2/3 cup extra dark chocolate chips (such as Guittard’s)
1/3 cup organic heavy cream
For the Cake
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a half-sheet pan (18”x13”), line with parchment paper, then butter the parchment.
Sift the cake flour and cocoa powder into a large bowl. Do not skip this step!
Add the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and whisk to combine.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla.
Briefly stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones to incorporate.
Add the hot water and mix just until combined. Do not over mix.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread into the corners. Bake until puffed and a toothpick comes out clean, about 12-14 minutes.
For the Filling
Melt the chocolate over a double broiler. Stir until smooth, then remove from the heat.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the chestnut puree, butter, sugar, and salt until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and beat until combined.
For the Ganache
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.
Using a serrated knife, cut the cake crosswise into 4 equal pieces. Carefully transfer 1 piece to a serving tray and spread evenly with a third of the chestnut filling (about 1 scant cup). Repeat with remaining 3 layers.
Pour ganache over the top of the cake and spread to cover. Garnish with slivered almonds.
Chill for 30 minutes. If not serving immediately, let the cake rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.