My routines ebb and flow regularly. You’ve heard that saying about change being the only constant? For me, I stick firmly to habits, repeating them again and again, until one day: poof! I switch them up entirely. (There is the exception of a few daily rhythms, in which I’ve rarely wavered over the years: I always exercise in the mornings (when possible). I always shower at night before putting on pajamas and having dinner (when possible). I read a book before falling asleep. I only stretch after a run, and never before.
I could track phases of my life by the little routines that marked each: The year living with my sister when we ate frozen grapes every single night for dessert. The post-college phase of drinking venti Starbucks lattes, three Splendas, every morning (thank god I’m still alive, and also not bankrupt). The months when I couldn’t fall asleep without finishing the New York Times crossword. The scrambled-eggs-with-ketchup-for-breakfast phase (I never promised I was sophisticated, guys).
Lately, here are a few regular happenings in my life, time and schedule permitting: breakfast at the little Australian cafe a few blocks north of my apartment—always soft scrambled eggs with sourdough toast and smashed avocado. They make their eggs in a pseudo-folded style, drizzled with fruity olive oil and topped with microgreens and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.
For dinner, if I haven’t planned something to cook, I fall back on this: seared salmon, crispy quinoa mixed with miso paste, and maitaike mushrooms cooked in coconut oil until the edges are lacy and crunchy. I start with the mushrooms, then add the salmon, then cooked quinoa with miso. This lets the mushrooms get extra golden, then the salmon cooks through, and the quinoa gets almost burnt but not quite. Just before it’s all finished, I toss a handful of greens over the top and let them wilt slightly. To finish, I drizzle a ranch-ish sauce over it (a blend of almond milk, soaked cashews, apple cider vinegar, fresh dill, fresh parsley, fresh chives, nutritional yeast, garlic, and a little lemon juice).
In the afternoons, I take the subway down to Houston Street and walk a few blocks to a quiet little cafe where I like to sit in the corner table, right by the window, and write for a few hours. There’s sparkling water on tap (win!) and very good matcha lattes and all sorts of good things to snack on. The table I like looks out onto Sullivan Street, where there is ample (and excellent) people-watching.
There’s a tiny restaurant across the street with tea lights strung up around the entrance. I like to watch as the brightness of the day grows smudged and dusky around the edges, melting into evening, and people duck into the restaurant to sip big glasses of white wine at the long, sleek marble bar.
A few doors up is an Italian bakery, and just north of that, is a Brazilian pastry shop that sells too many things I like. I usually stop in for their superlative pao de queijo, a tender and squishy bun made with tapioca flour and lots of cheese. Upon request, they’ll heat one up for you—I gingerly grab it from the cashier, trying not to burn my fingers, and eat it as I walk. Usually I’m in the mood for something savory when I pass by, but the other day I was drawn instead to a towering four-layer chocolate cake. It was sitting next to another layer cake, this one made of golden cake filled with passion fruit curd and swathed in a billowy coconut frosting and snowy drifts of toasted coconut. (More on that cake soon!)
But back to their chocolate cake! Their version is above-average, to say the least, and here’s why. It’s far less sweet than most chocolate cakes. Rather than detract from the dessert experience, you taste the chocolate much more deeply when it’s not hidden by too much sugar.
I’ve been playing around with ways to replicate that cake—tweaking chocolate cake recipes I know and love, dialing back the sugar and adding in other flavors to enhance the chocolate, like more salt and a little bit of rum or bourbon.
The result is a cake that’s pretty different from that Brazilian cake (that cake has a very rich and fudgy buttercream which isn’t really my jam), but has the same intensity of chocolate that I’d been trying to achieve.
One important trick I’ve discovered is to “bloom” your cocoa in a hot liquid before adding it to the batter. I find that this really helps to amplify the taste of the chocolate in the cake.
Dark Chocolate Cake with Ganache Frosting
Makes one 4-layer cake
For the cake
2/3 cup (57g) cocoa powder
1 cup (227g) hot strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup (99g) vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups (246g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (53g) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup (227g) buttermilk
1 teaspoon rum or bourbon (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
For the ganache frosting
16 ounces chopped dark chocolate
2 cups (16 ounces) heavy cream
pinch of kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a small bowl, dissolve cocoa powder in the hot coffee and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together oil and sugars until well-combined.
Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until fluffy (about 2 minutes).
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and espresso powder.
Add the cocoa/coffee mixture, buttermilk, vanilla, and rum or bourbon (if using), alternating with the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.
Divide the batter between two well-greased and parchment-lined 9” round cake pans. (One great tip I use often is to butter the pans, then dust them lightly with cocoa powder.)
Bake the cakes for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the tops spring back lightly when touched.
Remove from the oven and cool in the pans for 15 minutes before flipping onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
While the cakes cool, make the frosting. The frosting works best when you let it cool fully (or refrigerate it slightly), so I like to freeze my cakes for about an hour while the frosting cools—this makes it much easier to spread frosting on the cake layers. If you freeze them, slice them in half horizontally first (so you have four layers).
For the frosting, combine the chocolate and cream in a double boiler (or you can do this in the microwave). Heat until the cream just barely begins to simmer, then stir until the chocolate melts fully. Add the salt and mix well. Let cool fully (I often pop it in the refrigerator for a bit).
If you use the frosting while still warm, it’ll be thinner and more like a glaze, which is totally fine if that’s what you prefer!
If you haven’t already sliced the cakes in half horizontally into four layers, do so now. Then fill the layers with ganache frosting and spread a thin layer over the top of the cake, then serve.