Sunday, December 14, 2008
Last night was our first snow of the season. It was also my first attempt at baking a chocolate truffle layer cake. This year has been a big ball of firsts, and now that it’s coming to a close, it only seems appropriate to end with a few more.
Mark turned the big 4-0 this week. I was more excited for it than he was. Forever the optimist and the one wise enough to mention that ‘life is what you make it’ - even he thought the number to be daunting, strange and not quite something to jump up and down about. As for me, I thought it was terribly cool to have my sophisticated older and wiser guy (who looks not his age and acts definitely not his age… but in a good way) turn 40. To mark the occasion, I did nothing other than turn to chocolate. Not only because Mark is obsessed with chocolate in any form, but because it seemed the most decadent, rich and celebratory of all the things I could fathom to mark a milestone. Besides, chocolate makes people happy… and if you’re going to be depressed about your age you might as well stuff your face with butter cream frosting and have a beer.
When we woke up this morning it was freezing. The clouds were in a strange state of in-between, their high and wispy thinness showing patches of black, opening up to the sky and letting the sun shine through. The wind was whipping around, blowing the bamboo in the front yard all over the place. I knew it was cold, because the linoleum on the kitchen floor is always a fairly accurate thermometer of the chill outside our front door. I put on my slippers, Mark put a blanket around his ‘jamas, and we made coffee. Mark drank his hot in front of the computer while I let my go cold – I had to finish the birthday cake.
I wanted to try out a recipe for ‘Mile-High Chocolate Cake’ that I found on gourmet.com. Mark mentioned at one point that a chocolate truffle cake would be yummy, so I found a recipe for chocolate truffles (also something I had never tackled before) and hoped that the two would come together nicely in a decadent, orgasmic marriage of rich dark chocolatey-ness that would put him into a solid age-amnesia-causing sugar coma. Well, one could only hope.
The recipe was a lot of fun, even if I didn’t have the correct cake pans and disgustedly refused to use 6 sticks of butter for the frosting (ok, I used 5). I’m just not used to going whole-hog on the decadent dessert front. I’m more the girl who shows up at the dessert and cocktails party with the carrot cake made with whole wheat pastry flour and honey. I’m my mother’s daughter, what can I say? It’s my first truly decadent dessert, made with all the ingredients that usually send a shiver up my spine. White all-purpose flour? Check. White sugar? Check. Heavy whipping cream? Check. Mind you, all ingredients were totally organic. A girl has her principles, you know.
After my morning of fussy cake preparations, licking chocolate spoons before 11am and drinking cold coffee, I felt fairly satisfied in my work. I put on my running tights and fleece headband and went for a run in the whipping cold air. The sea water crashed on Alki beach, and the shores at Lincoln Park were cluttered with huge logs washed in from logging on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s amazing to see the force of the water on days like today. The cold wind working alongside the waves, reminding you where you are and where you come from.
That night we went out to dinner, to 35th Street Bistro in Fremont. It’s become Mark’s favorite place for a burger, and mine for the wine and the carefully and mindfully prepared food. We sat in front of the large front window, tables lit by candlelight, and told each other how lucky we were to have the other as a partner in life. The words weren’t this direct, but in so many other words and sweet smiles we both understood. Small snowflakes began to fall outside, in front of street lamps and onto the sidewalk. The small flakes turned to large ones, and pretty soon all the diners in the house were looking out the window, smiling and pointing because snowfalls in Seattle don’t happen every day.
By the time we got home the ground was covered in a thin, wet layer of white stuff. It felt sort of magical, since neither of us are used to very much snow anymore. The bamboo trees off our front porch were leaning all the way over to the ground, weighed down by wet snow. We both thought it a novelty, a cozy snowstorm… and chocolate birthday cake!
With a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream alongside, the cake turned out pretty well, even though it was more like a milk chocolate cake than a dark chocolate cake. The truffles made up for the richness, and I would classify those as a definite success.
Mark didn’t seem too critical. Of course I wouldn’t know exactly because his mouth was too full to answer my inquiries of what needed a little more of this or that. He just kept taking the truffles and smashing each one into the top of his layer cake, cackling a mischievous ha ha HA! each time. Well, some things deserve few words I guess.
We’ve weathered this year much like the beaches at Lincoln Park. We’ve taken the waves and let them crash against us, changing our sands in the process, but never letting them wear us away completely. Driftwood washes against our shores, and we don’t know what for. The wind turns cold and we don’t know when it will turn warm and soft again. This year we hung tight, stuck together and we’re still not going to let too many firsts rock us from our foundation, though the sands seem to be shifting underneath.
As the snow falls outside the bamboo hut, we look outside and know that the first snow of the season will be the last in our little place. We can only look forward, no matter how scary or beautiful or unbelievable it may seem, even with the number 40 attached.
Adapted from a recipe from Ina Garten from the Food Network 2008
Makes about 20 – 25 truffles, depending on size
These are decadent, sweet and rich but not overwhelmingly so. You can omit the coffee and simply use cocoa for rolling, or you can get creative and add cinnamon, cloves or ginger too. Truffles are fun for flavor experimentation. Try adding peppermint essence instead of the vanilla for the holidays, or add whiskey or a flavored liqueur to really get a surprised reaction. Have fun!
1/2 pound good dark chocolate such as Green & Black’s organic 70%
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoons Grand Marnier, optional, add if you like orange flavor
1 tablespoon prepared coffee
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
2 teaspoons confectioner’s sugar (omit if you end up using a 60% chocolate or less)
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 teaspoons finely ground coffee beans (espresso ground)
1 teaspoon confectioner’s sugar
Chop the chocolates finely with a sharp knife. Place them in a heat-proof mixing bowl.
Heat the cream in a small saucepan until just before it boils. Turn off the heat and pour the cream into the bowl with chocolate. With a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the Grand Marnier, if using, coffee, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour or refrigerate for 10-15 minutes until it sets into a stiff ‘dough’.
With 2 teaspoons, spoon round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, until firm. Roll each dollop of chocolate in your hands to roughly make a round ball. Roll in the rolling mixture until coated. These will keep refrigerated for weeks, but serve at room temperature.