Olympia Desserts and the Chocolate Cake of Exhaustion

I’m barely brushing my teeth in the morning when I start to think about what’s for dinner that night. Although this is surely the sign of a deeply rooted psychological problem, the socially acceptable term for it is “passion.”

– from Alex Witchel’s All Gone


Years ago when my daughters were a baby and a preschooler and they made me ever so weary, I would tell my friend Jesse, “I am too tired to do anything but bake chocolate cake.” Baking seems to relax me, or at least to relieve the feelings of “Easily Overwhelmed Syndrome,” a malady to which I am prone.   While a promising concoction spends time in the oven I can usually manage to clean up the kitchen, imposing some order on the mayhem that drove me, wild hair streaming, to the mixing bowl in the first place.

When it comes to cake, I am partial to chocolate, but only if it is mine. I never select the chocolate cake at a restaurant (with the exception of the chocolate-orange bundt cake at The Bread Peddler that is a dense, black, spell-casting creation that has caused people to migrate to this town). This preference isn’t due to any superior baking skills I possess, I just happen to have a dependable recipe I have retooled over the years until it is the platonic ideal. Chances are, the restaurant in question doesn’t possess this recipe, unless they have been snooping around my kitchen binders, in which case they need to be up front about it and just ask.

I don’t eat out often, but when I do, I always order dessert. Recently at the Iron Rabbit I had a blondie studded with maraschinos and dark chocolate, swathed in whipped cream and swimming in crème patissiere.  I refrained from kissing the waiter (I just went ahead and made out with the pastry chef). Another local favorite of mine is the banana cream pie at Acqua Via. You will swear you are on Gilligan’s Island (where did Ginger and Maryanne get all that whipped cream?  It’s unclear). The Dockside Bistro has tart key lime pie they serve seasonally. I love eating theirs and I like making my own, though mine never sets up, and ends up as Pie-In-A-Cup. I already mentioned The Bread Peddler, but it is worth mentioning twice.  And try not to hurl yourself through the sneeze guard.

The beauty of my chocolate cake is that you can frost it with any of the following: traditional powdered sugar icing, peanut butter frosting, chocolate ganache, whipped cream, fleur de sel caramel sauce from Trader Joe’s (because if you make your own you might end up like I did, in bandages) or a time consuming but wow-inducing chocolate frosting from Martha Stewart.

Most days, I am a two-tiered cake baker. But for an occasion, I will increase the recipe by 50% to add the crucial extra tier. It then sits atop the cake stand, proudly proclaiming, “Today is special.” It is the difference between lip balm and lipstick, on a date. The extra tier is the Revlon Russian Red; sometimes you need to go for broke. The last time I made this in three tiers was for one of my husband’s birthdays. I frosted it with the guests looking on in rapt, greedy attention. Slapping on the frosting took no skill (just some chutzpah perhaps), but they were transfixed because, as I am continually reminded, cake makes people happy. Cake says: today is special, and you are special.

The Perfect Chocolate Cake
(Derived from/vastly improved from the Hershey’s “Especially Dark” Chocolate Cake)

1 1/2 c sugar (preferably half of it brown sugar)
1 3/4 c all purpose flour
3/4 c dark cocoa (Green and Black’s is good, as is Hershey’s Special Dark)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, room temperature
1 c milk
1/2 cup melted butter (or half coconut oil, half butter)
2 tsp vanilla
almost 1 c boiling hot coffee (I prefer decaffeinated) topped off with a teaspoon or so of brandy to equal 1 c

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8 inch round baking pans (include parchment paper rounds in pans as well). Sift all dry ingredients together. Add eggs, milk, butter and vanilla and beat on medium speed 2 minutes. Stir in coffee until just mixed. Pour into prepared pans. Bake. These could take 35 minutes but I suggest you begin testing at 25 – depends on your oven. Mine is a cake immolating inferno, so I have to be cautious.

Go! Make someone feel special; and tell them I sent you.