While you see a lot of sweets in this space, lately there is also a lot more cooking in general. I've been eating out less, opting to test something out in my own kitchen rather than dropping $$$ at the nearby Jimmy John's. One ongoing experiment has been mastering the boule from the cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which has been both a deeply rewarding experience (fresh bread, yo) and, at times, a frustrating one. Particularly one time, where I forgot to preheat the oven and the bread overproofed, then in my haste to get that sucker in a hot oven I overlooked the important step of flouring your dough and slashing it for the steam to escape, only to realize I missed this key step fifteen minutes later. So what did I do? Sent a frustrated text to Andrew (lots of crying emojis) and in the heat of all my flustered emotions, I took the bread out of the oven... and threw it in the trash. Gone. At first, seconds of relief that I had "solved" the situation. And moments later came the shame that I had wasted what could have been perfectly good food.
Andrew came over later that evening and asked what I ended up doing with the loaf. Embarrassed, I nodded towards the trash, mumbled something about how it wasn't going to be perfect, so I didn't see the point in keeping it. He sighed, then laughed.
"Erica, sometimes imperfect can be just as good."
Damn, he's got a point. If I had let my perfectionist tendencies go at that moment, I might have had some fresh bread to share that night. Perhaps not as beautiful, but I'm 99% positive that it would have been just as delicious. And beyond bread, it's a philosophy for life. Rarely does life look as perfect as the Instagram. But it doesn't make the experiences less valuable, the memories less precious.
In fact, it can make for even more hilarious stories. My mind drifts back to when our parents took us to Disney World over spring break, back when we were awkward preteens with chubby cheeks and hairy eyebrows. It was a typical happy family vacation, documenting every second with our little point and shoot camera. Then on our final day, my dad deletes all the pictures on accident. Every single one. To which mom did not take too well initially - our drive home was in stony silence for the first few hours. It felt like the perfect family vacation had vanished along with the photos. But fast forward to the six of us eating french silk pie at a random Perkins off the highway, and we realized that even without the pictures, we had made some great memories. Especially the one where dad deleted all the pictures. Heh.
I love telling that story. I love how imperfect that trip was, how it makes the vacation even more memorable. And so today I want to remind you (and myself) that it's okay when things don't work out just exactly the way you want it. Because there's an immeasurable value in the mistakes we make. In the kinks along the way. Embrace it.
I tell this story today because actually, this cake is imperfect. As soon as I pulled them out of the oven, I realized I completely forgot the oil, and I was mortified. Like the bread, there was a text to Andrew (more crying emojis)... and then I tasted it. And it tasted... great. The cake retained its moisture, and the flavors were unchanged from what I had envisioned. So I went with it, and the result is this: a dark chocolate cake with the warmth of cardamom and filled with lightly spiced jammy figs, with an airy swiss meringue buttercream to keep things from being too heavy. It's a cake for fall, a cake for celebrations, and funnily enough, a minimally fat-less cake. So your friends have no excuse.
Chocolate cardamom cake with fig preserve filling, adapted from Magnolia Bakery's chocolate cake
For the cake, makes a 2 layer 8-9 inch round cake
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup dark cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon cardamom
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil (optional)
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
- Fig jam, I used Bonne Maman!
- Buttercream, recipe below
For the buttercream
- 5 egg whites
- 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon cardamom
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the cake
Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees. Line and grease 2 8-9 inch pans, set aside.
Whisk sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cardamom in a large bowl until combined. Set aside
Whisk together eggs, milk, oil (if using) and vanilla in a medium bowl. Whisk the egg mixture into the sugar-flour mixture until combined (you can do this by hand with a whisk and lots of muscle). Add the boiling water and mix until just combined. The batter will be watery!
Pour into your tins and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick placed in the center of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove them from the pan and let them cool completely before frosting the cake. At this point I usually freeze my cakes to make frosting them even easier, just wrap the cakes in some plastic wrap and stick 'em in the freezer.
For the frosting
- Cut your butter into cubes if you haven't already.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites and sugar until well combined.
- Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water, and whisk continuously until the sugar dissolves into the egg whites (about 5-7 minutes).
- Fit the bowl into your stand mixer and whisk (using the whisk attachment) on high speed until the bottom of the bowl becomes room temperature (about 7-10 minutes). You'll see it look like marshmallow - this is the meringue!
- Switch to the paddle attachment and on low speed, add in the butter cube by cube, waiting for the cube of butter to incorporate before adding the next one. Once all the cubes are added, switch to medium speed and beat until the frosting becomes light and fluffy. If the mixture looks too watery, stick the bowl in the fridge for 15 minutes and then beat it - sometimes your frosting can get too hot and needs to chill out a little or else it won't hold together (it happens).
- Add the cardamom and vanilla and beat until combined. If not using right away, I like to put it in the fridge to keep it solid, then will beat with a spatula to make it spreadable again when it's time to frost the cakes.
For the assembly
- Frost the cakes how you would like, placing fig jam in the center of the cakes and then covering it in your cardamom frosting. I chose to do it naked style, then added flowers, but you can really do whatever you want here! The cake is your oyster?
- Enjoy with lots of friends!