Let them eat cake.
Yesterday I woke to an email from K., my boss. She had forwarded me a recipe for Chocolate Bourbon cake, found somewhere on the internet. K. does not cook, but she is full of ideas, usually for other people to execute, usually for her own pleasure. I don't mind, except when she dislikes the results, as with the lemon cake made with Meyer lemons brought back from San Francisco. (Too dense, too pebbly). There was that avocado ice cream, not quite successful, which still languishes in the freezer, furred over with ice crystals, and a cake made with yellow cake mix, chopped walnuts, and an unholy amount of rum, which failed to rescue it from disaster. There have been successes, of course, those brownies and chocolate chip cookies that have become a staple, but we (and by we, I mean she) are always looking for something new to try. And I am not good at cake. I need practice.
I rush home to find all the ingredients at hand: cocoa powder, cake flour, eggs, and, of course, bourbon. I remember another co-worker's advice regarding butter - beat the shit out of it - and remember to keep creaming the butter and sugar together until it becomes pale and fluffy, nearly white. The bourbon is whisked with the cocoa powder and instant coffee and hot water, and then added slowly to the butter, sugar, and eggs, alternating with flour, baking soda, salt, all those necessary things that go into a cake. The smell of coffee and chocolate and bourbon fills the kitchen, spreads to every corner of my apartment, like a fog. I drink some of the bourbon, and it is good stuff, warming my throat and my belly as I slide the cake into the oven, in its fancy bundt pan found at Williams Sonoma, on sale, months ago, and left to gather dust atop a bookcase.
The smells become warmer, more intense, as the cake bakes away and I lean back on the sofa with a small snifter (actually, a teacup bought for a dollar at Pier One Imports when I was a college student) of bourbon and I try to imagine how the cake will turn out, how it will go over with the crowd at work. If it will fall cleanly from the pan, or if I have failed yet again to properly butter and flour the cake pan. I vow to buy that stuff in a spray can for next time. And then the timer buzzes, and all those doubts and thoughts go away. There is only the cake, perfect, deep brown, rising to fill its curved dome carved with a sharply incised fleur de lis pattern that I admired in the store but cursed as I tried to rub softened butter into every crevice. It falls onto the rack with a gentle thump. I brush it with more bourbon, as directed, and let it cool. Later I will sprinkle it with powdered sugar, wrap it carefully in plastic, resist taking a first slice.
The next day, I take the cake to work. It looks beautiful, dark brown, with the sharp white of powdered sugar highlighting the carved design around the sides. K. is offered the first slice. She approves, and I let out a sigh of relief, take a slice for myself. It is good cake. I will make another one, just as soon as I buy another bottle of bourbon.