Monday, April 6, 2009

Guided by Voices

Joan of Arc heard voices instructing her to save France.  My voices say, Go the the shoe store. Bake a cake.  Less noble commands, perhaps, but easier to accomplish and less likely to result in getting burned at the stake.

I don't usually hear let alone obey disembodied voices, but when the call came on Saturday, I heeded and drove to my favorite discount shoe dive in a trance.  And lo, as though waiting for me were these shoes. Not practical, but surprisingly comfortable for the kinky things they are, and on sale, too. The moral here is sometimes it's good to follow your impulse.

My other impulse has been chocolate cake.  Not to eat, to make.  In my March 24 post about almond cookies and calla lillies, I talk about life force, chi.  Chi is what it's all about.  So I always wonder about those crazy rich chocolate desserts that go by names like Death by Chocolate, Chocolate Apocalypto and End of Days Chocolate Cake. Magnesium-rich and loaded with happy-making theobromine, chocolate is the stuff of life.  If you do it right.

I wanted to do it right.  This involved a few sleepless nights creating a cake that lets the gorgeous goodness of chocolate shine through without overloading on the fat and processed sugar.  Beta versions were too austere.  It is one thing to hear disembodied voices urging you to buy a pair of 6-inch gladiator stilettos.  It is another for your food to scream VIRTUE at you.  It takes the fun out of things.  One cake went from fluffy and fresh-baked to stale and rock-hard in a matter of hours.  Another containing grated zucchini came out with green flecks -- eye-catching but potentially scary to children and alarming to adults.

There was the vegan issue, too.  I'm vegan.  I make vegan scones now and again for a treat. They're a treat for me.  But if you're not vegan, they might not be for you.  They're whole grain, fruit-filled, healthful and satisfying, but there's no getting 'round it, most vegan products don't have the moistness or of those made with dairy.  Creaming butter and sugar actually leavens baked goods.  Air gets incorporated into the fat and sugar, creating tiny bubbles that make the finished product light, not leaden.

I tried following a few recipes from vegan cookbooks.  At best, they reminded me of chocolate cake.  You know how some ads have voiceovers that say, They'll never guess it's low-fat or made with tofu?  Oh, yes, we will.  And then there's the icing issue.  It is technically possible to make vegan chocolate icing from nut butter, tofu, brown rice syrup and cocoa.  But it lacks immediate pleasure and need to be rolled around on the tongue a bit before the flavor comes through. You're eating chocolate cake, not savoring Chateau d'Yquem.  The experience should evoke ecstacy, not involve effort.  

This version of the cake came together without the urgency of the shoe-buying episode. The voices said, c'mon into the kitchen, let's have fun. I did their bidding as they told me the ingredients one by one.  Starting with butter.   Butter?  But this has to be vegan, I explained.
Sometimes, my voices said, you have to compromise.  Lighten up.

We worked a compromise.  The beauty here is in the mix, the goodness of fat-free yogurt and whole grains and almonds and the wonderful wickedness of butter and sugar and chocolate and coffee. The cake is topped with pure chocolate (because what pairs better with chocolate than more chocolate?).  It is not vegan, but it is healthier than many a chocolate cake and it is luscious.

Joan of Arc is a saint, and good for her.  I'd never make it to beatification.  On the other hand, thanks to my voices, I've got a decent chocolate cake recipe and these hot new stilettos.  

Chocolate Life Cake

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg white
1/2 cup almond flour (or 1/2 cup raw almonds, ground fine)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
3/4 cup plain fat-free yogurt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup coffee, cooled

For glaze: 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.  Lightly oil a 9" springform pan.

In a large bowl, cream butter until pale and fluffy.  Add sugars, egg white and vanilla and cream well.  Add almond flour, whole wheat flour, unbleached flour, baking powder and cocoa, stirring until combined.

In a small bowl, stir baking soda into yogurt.  The chemical reaction will cause the mixture to fizz up a little.  This is fun.  Add yogurt and coffee to batter.

Pour into springform and bake for 45 minutes, or until cake is fragrant and top springs back when touched.

Remove from oven and pour chocolate chips over top.  Wait about 3 minutes for the chocolate chips to soften, then spread a layer over top of cake.  Chocolate will harden as it cools, forming a glaze.  

You, too, can be guided by voices.  Here's the band Guided by Voices with "Teenage FBI"--  I love this song more than chocolate.


  1. hot sexy shoes and chocolate...its driving me insane....please mercy mercy