This past year for my birthday, Mary gave me two books: one, her favorite book, a memoir called Girl Meets God. The other, a cookbook called Bread!, filled with tasty and “uncomplicated” recipes for a bread machine. (Apparently Kathryn Hawkins and I have different understandings of the word “uncomplicated.” For her, it involves several specific types of flour and beaten egg glaze. For me, it involves none of those things.) For the past year or so, Mary has been dropping some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) hints that she thinks the book I write should be a combination memoir and cookbook. This is my attempt to do just that. Plus, maybe for Christmas this year I’ll get something other than a cookbook.
I’ve been spending more time flipping through the pages of my cookbooks lately. I look at the photographs and lists of ingredients and think about what it’d be like to cook each of these things and then have people over to devour them with me. I think of the smells that would come from the kitchen, all appetizing of course, and decide that tonight I’ll successfully complete at least one of these intricate dishes. It doesn’t faze me when I remember that my kitchen is only big enough for two people to be in there at a time or that when the oven is on the temperature in the house goes up 10 degrees. I’ve dealt with this for four years and improvised successfully, plugging my hand mixer into the surge protector in the living room or sitting on the floor in front of the sofa, mincing garlic. Unintimidated by the intricacies of the recipe I’m about to attempt from the aforementioned Bread! cookbook, I begin melting the butter and chocolate together for the dark chocolate cake I plan to cook in my bread maker. This particular recipe calls for no flour, instead relying on brown sugar and 7 ounces of dark chocolate. Even though I’ve read this recipe several times throughout the day, it isn’t until I’m lining the bread pan with my newly-obtained parchment paper that I realize the last instruction is to set the bread machine to the “bake” setting for 50 minutes. My machine, made in 1992, does not have such a setting. It has “dark,” “medium,” “light,” and “manual.” As I’ve played with this contraption before, I know what the first three settings do. “Maybe the manual setting is like the ‘bake’ setting that I need” I think. In my one brilliant move of the night, I decide to plug in the machine and test this theory before I go any further with making the batter. I select the “manual” setting and push “run” and my bread maker does what it does best: the little kneading blade on the bottom starts spinning to mix the invisible dough together and I realize that this recipe, along with about 15 others in the book, will not get made in my machine.
By this point I’ve already decided that I’ll be eating something chocolaty and delicious while I sit on the couch with my friends, so I begin looking up other recipes for chocolate cake. My phone has an app aptly titled “Recipes” so I start there. The second entry, “French Chocolate Cake,” was submitted by Whitman’s. You know, the chocolate company. I figure they must have some understand of how to make chocolate cake, so I pick this recipe. Before tonight I had never seen a recipe that called for 14 tablespoons of butter and one cup of flour. 14 tablespoons. Almost a cup of butter. Am I the only one who thinks this ratio is off? I’ve never made cake from scratch before but I can’t make myself put that much butter (or all 7 ounces of chocolate) into the mix, so I melt 1/2 cup butter with 4 1/2 ounces of Green and Black’s 70% Dark Chocolate in a saucepan on my stove until the mixture is smooth. I then turn my attention to the task of whipping eggs and sugar together until fluffy. It hasn’t told me to separate the eggs but since I can vividly remember whipping both egg whites and egg yolks until fluffy individually, I assume I could do both together. Thinking about it now, it seems weird that I’d need to whip these things before adding in the other ingredients, but I didn’t question the sanctity of the Whitman’s recipe. Instead, I followed the directions to the best of my ability (though I did add in slightly more flour – the ratio was just too odd to me not to) and found my mixer stuck in the whipped chocolaty blob. Now I understand the need for 14 tablespoons of butter: it’s to prevent your hand mixer from breaking apart in the mixing process. I finally got it all into the pan, baked it and magically pulled from the oven…brownies. Not the chocolate cake my recipe promised. I had somehow made brownies.
I have learned a few things through this experience. 1. Whitman’s clearly has no business baking or telling others how to make chocolate cake. 2. One needs both baking soda and baking powder to help a cake rise and be fluffy. 3. This particular recipe cooks oddly and the edges are dry, almost to the point of turning into biscotti. 4. As long as it tastes good, we’ll eat whatever each of us makes on girls’ night, regardless of the name.