Let’s talk about firsts today, and beginnings, and the delicious unknown of a toe dipped into something new. We can talk about how this is the first time that I’ve found a simple chocolate frosting I really love. Actually, we will talk about that in a minute. Before though, can I get out some of my thoughts here about beginnings? Sometimes words are ready—poised on my tongue, scrambling to line up just behind my fingertips, asking...no begging to be written—and so I am going to tip them out of me onto this page.
Yesterday I woke up early, so much so that the sun hadn’t risen. The world was silent and still, but the air was warm and there was that vague, invisible sense of things awakening—like I could tell the birds on our street were about to start their morning symphony, and the dark surface of the water off the dock was trembling in anticipation of being touched by light. I drove the four miles, sleepy and yawning, to the gym (can I call it a gym? It’s not. It’s just a stripped-down basement and loft full of kettlebells and weights and bands where this goddess of a woman whips our muscles into a frenzy for 45 minutes. I’d call her a trainer but she’s so empowering and amazing that that probably doesn’t do it justice. Girl crush ramble over, sorry!).
I walked in, waved hi to Katie (the aforementioned trainer/goddess) and a few others I’ve gotten to know through these classes. She threw out some gym lingo (a medium kettle, black band, a sand ball) and I nodded and went to pick everything up to get started. Aside from demonstrating how TRULY COOL AND CONFIDENT of a gym-goer I am now (okay, I kid! I kid, but it is exciting since the weights section of the gym used to mystify me as a lifelong runner/outdoor sports-type of human), this reminded me how a mere two months ago I would have (and did) stare at her. A kettle? Like...a tea kettle? Can we sit and just drink turmeric lattes and call it working out? I didn’t know how to prep a dumbbell, or how to swing a kettlebell, or frankly what a sand ball was. But I’ve gotten into the routine now.
I remember the first class I came to. I arrived 10 minutes early like the dweeb that I can be, and killed time buying a bottle of water next door. I didn’t know where to stand or who to talk to. But now I do—I love the classes and the little community Katie has created. I like the burn the day after in my muscles—especially muscles I barely knew existed.
But mostly it makes me marvel at how lovely it is that in life, we keep getting to have firsts and beginnings. We get to have that feeling where we try something new, and we have no idea what comes next. Maybe it’ll be something that becomes a part of our daily lives. Maybe it won’t. But there’s an intriguing mystery to not knowing. Like how I can remember walking onto my college campus for the first time—years later, I picture myself walking that exact same route, comfortably and at home, every step as familiar as my own self. But to get somewhere familiar, you always start at the unknown.
It’s true with people too: friends, colleagues, people we fall in love with. This poem by Tim Seibles demonstrates it beautifully, that sensation of a first thing, that you so quickly internalize as part of your own life, but you can remember that it wasn’t always so:
So much like sequins the sunlight on this river. Something like that kiss— remember? Fourth of July, with the moon down early the air moved as if it were thinking, as if it had begun to understand how hard it is to feel at home in the world, but that night she found a place just above your shoulder and pressed her lips there. Soft rain had called off the fireworks: the sky was quiet, but back on Earth two boys cruised by on bikes trying out bad words. You turned to reach her mouth, at last, with yours after weeks of long walks, talking about former loves gone awry— how the soul finally falls down and gets up alone once more finding the city strange, the streets unmarked. Every time you meet someone it’s hard not to wonder who they’ve been—one story breaking so much into the next: memory engraves its hesitations— but that night you found yourself unafraid. Do you remember what the wind told the trees about her brown hair?— how the cool dark turned around: that first kiss, long as a river. Didn’t it seem like you already loved her? Off the sidewalk: a small pond, the tall cattails, all those sleepy koi coloring the water.
But enough poetry, let’s get down to the cake. Which, I suppose, is just another form of poetry.
I’ve long searched for a chocolate frosting that actually tastes of chocolate, not just straight sugar or butter. The only ones that fit the bill tend to be intensely chocolate, like a ganache or a super decadent dark chocolate frosting. I wanted a fluffy, light, almost mousse-like frosting that wasn’t bitter or dark, but just tasted…chocolate-y. Like chocolate pudding meets buttercream meets seven minute frosting. And here you have it!
I’ve paired it with a simple chocolate cake but it would go beautifully with a vanilla cake, yellow sponge cake, or perhaps a peanut butter cake? Should I try that? Is there another flavor you all would like to see? Let me know! I mean…if you twist my arm to bake more cakes, I shall oblige, because I’m nice like that.
Chocolate Cake with Whipped Chocolate Frosting
Makes one four-layer 8” cake
For the cake
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup hot brewed coffee
For the frosting
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups butter, at cool room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350°. Line two 8” round cake pans (make sure they are at least 2” deep) with parchment and grease the sides and the parchment.
In a stand mixer, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder (if using) together. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing at low speed, then add the coffee carefully, mixing until the batter just comes together.
Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and about for 30-35 minutes (start checking at 30—the cake is ready when it springs back lightly to the touch). Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 20 minutes before turning out to finish cooling completely on a wire rack. *I like to freeze my cake layers before frosting to make it neater and easier to frost!
To make the frosting, whisk together the flour and milk in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it starts to thicken, then remove from the heat and set aside to let cool. Make sure it fully cools to room temperature—if it’s too warm, it’ll melt the butter and make the entire frosting too greasy. Stir in the vanilla.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt for about 5 minutes until very pale and fluffy. Add the cooled milk mixture and beat using the whisk attachment until the frosting is pale and whipped-looking.
Slice the two cooled cake layers in half horizontally. Spread a layer of frosting between each, stacking as you go, then frost the top and sides before serving.