Of course, it all started with the movie “Julie & Julia”, surely the year’s most gastronomically entertaining movie starring Saint Meryl. All that outrageous flirting with French food for two hours must have short-circuited my good judgement because as soon as I emerged from the cinema, I was suddenly seized by the urge to bake a chocolate cake.
Don’t ask me why a chocolate cake, because as far as I can remember, while there were any number of soles, chopped onions, lobsters and boeuf bourgignons, no actual cakes were involved in the movie.
On the way home, I stopped by Cold Storage and stocked up on the ingredients I thought might go into a chocolate cake. Chocolate was a given, but I spent a long time in the baking aisle trying to decide if it was plain or self-raising flour I needed. And then just when I had finished tossing a coin, I saw a row of all-purpose flour which confused me even further. I ended up buying all three on the assumption that it was better to be safe than sorry.
“You’re baking?” Saffy said when I arrived home with my grocery bags. “Do you even know how to bake?”
“I’m sure it’s very simple!” I said airily as I got onto the internet to look for recipes.
The River Café recipe got my attention if for no other reason than the fact that it was called ‘15-minute chocolate cake’.
“I like that it only takes 15 minutes to cook!” I told Saffy as she peered over my shoulder at the laptop.
“Do we even have a bain-marie?” she asked.
I paused. “The more important question, I think, is whether we even know what a bain-marie is?”
I think it would help at this point to note that I grew up in a household where the boys were not encouraged to step foot into the kitchen. To this day, I think my father only has a very vague idea of just where the kitchen is in our house. But I’m nothing if not an optimist. “How difficult can this be?” I asked Saffy. “You just follow the instructions!”
So, I calmly set a bowl on top of simmering water. All while wondering what ‘simmering water’ looked like. “I guess it means it’s not boiling,” Saffy hazarded. By now, and much against her better judgement, she was absolutely involved in the whole crazy project.
First, I mixed half a kilo of chocolate with nearly an entire block of butter.
“Oh my God, there’s so much butter in a chocolate cake?” Saffy breathed in horror. “Is that why it tastes so good?”
In a separate bowl, I whisked six eggs. (“Six!” Saffy shrieked. “This is a cholesterol nightmare!”) Or at least, I tried to whisk. Most of the eggs went spraying all over the walls.
At one point, I stared at the yellow mess in the bowl. “The recipe says firm peaks. Do these look like firm peaks to you?”
Saffy leaned in to look. “Does that sound rather sexual to you? Or is that the whole point of chocolate cake?”
I decided to wing it and began folding the eggs into the chocolate, while Saffy boiled a kettle of water.
“This is a really complicated recipe!” she complained as she watched me laboriously scrape the mixture into the cake tin, set it into another baking tray and then pour the hot water into the tray. “Are you sure we haven’t misread it?”
“Don’t stress me, Saf,” I instructed as I covered the tray with some tinfoil and popped the whole thing went into the hot oven. We closed the door with a satisfying thud, set the timer for 15 minutes and waited anxiously.
At one stage, Saffy said, “Seriously, wouldn’t it be easier to just call Awfully Chocolate and get one delivered?”
“We followed the recipe exactly!” I said. “It’s gotta work.”
And of course it didn’t work. This was why my mother never allowed boys in the kitchen. Something about our DNA completely ruins all food. Including chocolate cake. Because at the end of 15 minutes, we pulled the cake out and stared at it. After a while, Saffy said, “Is there supposed to be a thick layer of oil on the top? And why does it look like gravel?”
We drained the oil, cut a piece and tentatively had a bite. And spat it out.
As I tipped the whole sorry mess into the trash, Saffy reached for the phone and hit speed dial. “Hello, is that Awfully Chocolate?” she announced crisply before adding to me, “So much for Saint Meryl!”