Celebrate Mother’s Day with my favorite chocolate cake, and learn how you can brighten Mother’s Day for other families by helping kids with cancer.
Fog happiness. That’s what Gretchen Rubin, in The Happiness Project, calls the good feelings you get from parenthood. I’m grateful to have read that, because sometimes it’s darn near impossible to describe the kind of happiness you get from brushing yogurt out of someone’s hair for the second time in one day, or from deciding not to tell a five-year old girl to “grow a pair and do it yourself,” or from being eternally cast as the muggle parent of Hermione Granger in a weeks-long Harry Potter enactment. Sometimes you just can’t find the words.
It’s called fog happiness because, like fog, it “surrounds you and transforms the atmosphere, but when you try to examine it, it vanishes.” In my own parenting experience, there have been occasional knock-it-out-of-the-park moments of joy: a birth, an atypically rousing chorus of a Laurie Berkner song, receiving this on an otherwise uneventful Wednesday afternoon:
Sometimes, just a game of peek-a-boo.
But mostly it’s the yogurt hair. In darker moments, I’d sometimes wondered how yogurt hair could be any kind of happiness at all, and whether it was hypocritical to name it so. It can’t do other parents any good to have me combing yogurt hair behind closed doors and telling them it’s the time of my life. Still, ask anyone and they’ll tell you. There is happiness in parenting, and it’s happiness of an immense magnitude, deep-rooted and high-soaring, both. It’s fog happiness. I’m so glad to know that now.
With Mother’s Day around the corner, it’s a good time to be thankful for the happiness we’ve got, however crazy-ass it may be. It’s also a great time to pay it forward to other families in need of a little extra crazy-ass happiness of their own.
My friends Phoebe and Cara of the delightful cooking blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen are hosting a virtual bake sale from now through Mother’s Day to raise money for The Valerie Fund, a not-for-profit organization that supports comprehensive health care of children with cancer and blood disorders. They’ve created a delicious-looking Peanut M&M Blondie and are selling it through Baking for Good to raise money for The Valerie Fund. Click here to check out the deliciousness, and please consider buying some blondies for a great cause.
And if you’d like a little brown-eyed girl to go with your blondie, have I got a chocolate cake for you. Along with thriving, healthy kids, every mom deserves a knockout chocolate cake recipe to serve them when the mood strikes. It took me years to find mine. Not uncharacteristically, it took exactly until I stopped thinking I was better than everyone else and opened my eyes and ears to popular wisdom. This cake is adapted from a 1999 issue of Gourmet, via epicurious.com’s most popular recipe of all time. Nearly 1,400 reviewers can’t be wrong.
The cake is moist and just the right amount dense, with a tender crumb. In the original recipe, it’s frosted with a rich ganache, but I like it better with a lightly sweet raspberry whipped cream, which also has the distinct benefit of being pink. With all that to offer, you never know. It might even make your Mother’s Day a break-through-the-fog event.
My Favorite Chocolate Cake
-serves 12, at least-
Adapted from Gourmet, March, 1999 via epicurious.com.
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I use Ghirardelli 60% chips to save on chopping)
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, NOT Dutch process (I use Hersheys)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
You will need: 2 10-inch cake pans, parchment paper.
1. Preheat the oven to 300° F. (Yup, just 300!) Lightly butter both pans or spray with cooking spray. Cut out two circles of parchment paper to cover the bottoms of the pans. Place them in the buttered pans and butter or spray those, too.
2. Combine the hot coffee with the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Let sit for a few minutes and then stir until the chocolate is completely melted.
3. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs until thickened a bit and lightened in color, about 4 minutes. Add the coffee-chocolate mixture, oil, buttermilk and vanilla and beat on low until well combined.
4. Into a large bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients all at once and mix on low just until well combined.
5. Pour half the batter into each pan and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, approximately 70 minutes. Let the cake cool completely in the pans on cooling racks. Then run a knife around the sides of each pan and turn out the layers. Remove the parchment. The cake is ready for frosting!
Raspberry Whipped Cream Frosting
-makes enough for one layer cake-
1 12-ounce package frozen raspberries
2/3 cup sugar, divided
2 cups heavy cream
1. In a small pot, combine the raspberries and 1/3 cup sugar. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the raspberries have broken down and the syrup has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Push the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer to remove seeds. You’ll inevitably lose a fair amount of the beautiful red pulp to a fine-mesh strainer, but keep pushing and stirring as long as you can stand it to extract as much as possible. You can do this step up to a few days in advance and keep the strained syrup in the fridge.
2. Just before you want to frost the cake, beat the heavy cream just shy of the soft peak stage with an electric mixer. Add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and beat to incorporate. Pour in the raspberry syrup and beat just a touch more.