Cake On a Plane

posted in: Day In The Life 35
That looks about right. Image: Wikipedia.



After the time away and the big announcements about graduation and Ken Burns (!), I’m feeling a desire for a good, old-fashioned PaperGirl post about something small but remarkable.

Do you feel me on this? I don’t want to do the pledge drive yet, I don’t want to make any grand proclamations, even though I have several to make. No, I just want to type up a standard-issue PaperGirl-Out-In-The-World observation, fold it into a digital paper airplane and sail it your way. Does that sound all right?

Let’s see, what have I got — ah, yes!

A couple weeks ago, flying home from Nebraska, I rubbed my eyes and pulled out my laptop. I was tired, but I had to read about Navajo blanket weaving for class. No sooner had I read the introduction did the most heavenly smell on the planet come wafting by my nose.

Fresh chocolate cake.

The sugary, buttery, cocoa-rich smell of a moist chocolate cake, thick with creamy frosting, was suddenly filling the air. The smell was definitely fresh chocolate cake and it was pungent, I’m telling you: This wasn’t some passenger’s cup of airplane hot chocolate I was smelling. The whole plane suddenly smelled like a magic chocolate cake bakery. But where? Why??

I sat up in my chair and craned my neck around to find the source. It was dim in the cabin, so I couldn’t see very well. I continued to followed my nose until I saw her.

There, in the seat kitty-corner from me, a lady was happily — okay, blissfully — eating forkfuls of chocolate cake from the plastic to-go container plunked on her tray table.

I loved her for eating this cake. The wedge was huge. The frosting was so thick I could see it pulling on the cake as she lifted big bites to her mouth. She was talking to someone next to her but I don’t know they were tag-teaming this cake. I think this was her deal. I think she and her friend (brother? husband? complete stranger?) were at a restaurant in Omaha and they looked at the time and it was like, “Nope, we don’t have time for dessert; gotta get to the airport.” And she was like, “Well, in that case, I’d like your biggest slice of chocolate cake to go.”

I watched the woman for a minute or too and it was great. But better than watching her was watching everyone else watch her. Let me tell you what brings people together: the smell of chocolate cake. All the people in our immediate vicinity had the same reaction that I had when they smelled that lady’s fabulous plane snack. They sat up. They inhaled deeply. They looked around like prarie dogs. They identified the cake person. And they watched her with a little envy but mostly happiness.

A person going to town on a gorgeous piece of chocolate cake?

Small but remarkable.


P.S. The font is darker now, yes? 😀

Mary’s Test Kitchen: Chocolate Cake + Chocolate Icing

posted in: Food 0
Isn't a real flower on a cake the best?
Isn’t a real flower on a cake the best?

I have just a few days left in Iowa. On Tuesday, I fly to California where I will be for almost a full week. Mom and I will be lecturing at the irresistible Meissner’s Sewing in Sacramento and that’s fun, but even funner is that my favorite aunt lives in Sacramento and I’ll be staying with her. We will drink pots of coffee and talk about bloodlines and Ferragamo footwear.

Before I leave, I have a lot of cooking to do. Mom and Mark have a kitchen far bigger than the one-bedroom apartment kitchens I’m used to, so whenever I’m home, I get to set up a mini-culinary school for myself. Within the past week, I’ve practiced marinating and grilling, I baked coconut-macadamia crisps, I’ve made succulent fruit salads with unexpected herbs (basil n’ sage!) and worked with some sauces. But what I made today may be the finest food I have ever produced in the test kitchen: I made a perfect chocolate cake. Would you like the recipe?

Note: I made enough changes to both the cake and the icing recipe I found that I’m calling it my own, but like a yoga pose or a quilt block, there ain’t nothin’ new under the sun. But I do feel proud about the bourbon I added when the recipe called for no such thing.

Mary’s Test Kitchen Chocolate Cake + Chocolate Icing

– 2 cups flour, sifted
– 2 cups sugar
– 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
– 2 tsp. baking powder [Note: there was no baking powder, so I did a cream of tartar/baking soda substitute. It’s 1:2 ratio and was this one of the secrets to the cake’s success?? Necessity? Mother? Invention? Could be.] – 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
– 1 tsp. salt
– 1 tsp. espresso powder
– 1 cup half-and-half
– 1/2 cup vegetable oil
– 2 eggs
– vanilla, which I never measure but just pour in
– a nice splash of Wild Turkey and then some more
– 1 cup boiling water

1. Put on an apron for heaven’s sake. Set the oven to 350-degrees. Butter and lightly flour two cake pans. When your mother’s dog looks up at you for a treat, say “Scram, kid. It ain’t gonna happen.”
2. Mix all the dry ingredients in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Start boiling the water.
3. Now put in the wet ingredients while the water is boiling. Be methodical about this — do I need to say more? I mean, do the oil. Then an egg. Then the other egg. I did the bourbon last.
4. Take that cup of boiling water and add it — slowly — to the batter as it’s mixing. This adds air bubbles. Reflect on how rad baking is.
5. Pour batter evenly into the two pans. Bake for about 35 minutes or till the knife comes out clean.
6. Take out the cake and cool it. I hate, hate waiting for anything to cool, so I put the cakes in the freezer and they cooled pretty fast.
7. Frost. Dust with cocoa powder. Go out into the garden and pluck a rosebud from the bush. Place atop. Receive hugs.


Caution: Get icing out of your field of vision immediately after making. Its power is total and will disable the part of your brain that says, “I can’t just eat spoons of icing out of a bowl.” 

2 (1.65 oz.) Trader Joe’s 72% cacao chocolate bars because they were in your luggage and looked better than the Baker’s chocolate in the cupboard
1 (14 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
Pinch of salt
Lots of vanilla

1. Focus. Say to yourself, “A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” Say it again.
2. Melt the sweetened condensed milk and the chocolate in a heavy saucepan. When you add the vanilla, it will probably catch on fire for a minute, which is awesome. Be careful, but enjoy the moment.
3. Add the salt.
4. Cool the Pot of Evil until you can’t stand it anymore and have to ice the cake.