Well, today has been a little blue. And rather than retreat into the blueness of it, I thought it might be comforting to be here and write to you, whoever and wherever you are. I thought why not spend a few brief moments talking about something bright? Maybe it will brighten your day. And in any event, the exercise of sitting to put pen to paper—so to speak—often feels just as cathartic as a brisk morning run or a hot shower at night.
So let’s do it! Let’s talk about a few really lovely things. Here’s a list of what is sparking good vibes for me lately.
The song “Tough” by Lewis Capaldi which is wildly catchy but also makes my heart seize a little at the words. (In a good way! It’s emotional! Catching feelings, guys!)
Fresh mint and citrus. Trust me here—the next time you go to eat an orange or a grapefruit, take a little extra time and slice it into segments and sprinkle some chopped fresh mint over it. (And if you want to really up the ante, snack-wise, steal the template of my current obsession: the La Brea fruit salad at west-bourne in Soho. Swirl some tahini and honey into thick Greek yogurt or labne. Drizzle a good, fruity olive oil over it, top with sliced citrus, and fresh mint.
That still hush that settles over the apartment right at dusk. The syrupy-looking light slants in through the windows and it feels like the world is pausing to take a deep breath before stepping from day into night. I like showering right at that time, and putting on pajamas in my bedroom upstairs as the sky darkens. Dinner is waiting downstairs, and the bed is made just so, and things feel nicely calm.
Avocados. No explanation needed.
The sound of my sister laughing.
Not having to put on warm winter boots to walk outside!
These lines of poetry:
Sometimes I spend half a day feeling for bones
in my body, humming a half-forgotten
ballad on a park bench a long ways from home.
The body remembers the berry bushes
heavy with sweetness shivering in a lonely woods,
but I doubt it knows words live longer [Yusef Komunyakaa]
These ones too:
So we stop at the side of the road, and there is the
largest tree and a long kiss with the hazard lights
Everything is the beginning of something. A sycamore
seed, a windshield fogging up. The first fist of rain
down. [Andrew Michael Roberts]
Oh, and chocolate cake.
Sorry, did I mention the chocolate cake?
About the cake…not to bore you but I have some strong feelings about chocolate cake. Specifically, I find most “classic chocolate” layer cake recipes yield an insipid chocolate flavor (yeah, fighting words!); I can’t figure out exactly why, but I suspect it has something to do with most of them using oil and coffee rather than butter or milk.
Regardless, there are a lot of less-than-great chocolate cake recipes out there. And I don’t want you to waste your time on them! Days like today call for a serious chocolate fix and for that, nothing will satisfy quite like the O.G. chocolate cake: the Brooklyn Blackout Cake. (Okay, except maybe this flourless one which is 100% foolproof and everyone should make it.)
You don’t have to take my word for it! Even Thomas Keller loves it—he just opened his newest restaurant (the first in years) called TAK in New York—and they serve a version of this cake on their dessert menu.
I discovered the Brooklyn Blackout Cake when I started working at King Arthur Flour; their recipe for it is perfect, in my opinion. The cake comes from the legendary Ebinger’s Bakery in Brooklyn, which sadly no longer exists. The recipe features two deeply chocolatey cake layers, a thick chocolate pudding filling, a fudgy ganache frosting, and then a generous coating of chocolate cake crumbs.
You practically need to lie down just after reading that description.
Let it be known that this cake takes a little time and effort. For one, you must make the filling a day in advance to give it enough time to set up and thicken. But it is very worth it! I’ve heard a lot of readers through King Arthur complain that their pudding filling didn’t thicken enough even with the overnight rest, making it too soft to act as a filling. I’ve never had that issue myself, but I’ve included a little note in the recipe in case you do! If that happens, fold a blend of 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese and 1/4 cup Greek yogurt into the filling, then chill it for 20 minutes. It’ll lighten up the color, but it’ll also stabilize it significantly.
Okay, shall we get on with it already?
**Note: If you’re a reader, you’ll notice that I almost always call for espresso powder in chocolate recipes. Know that this is always optional—it simply enhances the chocolate flavor, so I always add a pinch, especially if I’m not using the best quality chocolate. But it’ll be wonderful without it if you don’t have any!
Brooklyn Blackout Cake
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
For the filling
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 2 tablespoons Kahlua (this is a good idea)
*1/4 cup mascarpone + 1/4 cup Greek yogurt, if needed to thicken filling
For the cake
2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup dark cocoa powder (I use this one)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups water
For the frosting
1 1/2 cups chopped dark chocolate (or chips)
3/4 cup heavy cream
The day before you bake, make the filling: Combine the chocolate chips, salt, sugar, and espresso powder in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the egg and pulse a few more times.
Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan over medium heat; bring the cream to a boil (this is crucial!). Working carefully, slowly pour the hot cream into the food processor with the processor running. Add the vanilla, and pulse until smooth. Scrape the filling into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap (pressing onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming), and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, bake the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease two 8” round cake pans.
In a stand mixer, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, oil, and vanilla and mix until the batter is smooth. Add the water and mix to combine.
Pour the thin cake batter into your prepared pans and bake for 35 to 45 minutes.
When ready, remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes before flipping out onto a rack to finish cooling fully.
While the cakes cool, make the frosting: Heat the chocolate and cream together until the cream just begins to simmer. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Refrigerate the frosting while you start to assemble the cake.
Using a long serrated knife, level the tops of the cakes and save the extra cake scraps from doing so.
Take the chilled filling out of the refrigerator and pile it onto one cake layer, then top with the second cake layer.
Using the chilled frosting, frost the top and sides of the cake.
Crumble up the cake scraps (I usually do this by pulsing them in a food processor once or twice), then using your hands, gently press the cake crumbs around the outside of the cake.