Wednesday night: Last bite of the Flourless Chocolate Cake that I had received in a Grand Rapids, MI care package a la Andi. This precociously gluten-free delicacy has defied the “Three Day Life Span” precedent set by two consecutive tupperwares of oatmeal raisin cookies that had been intended to get me through October. Why you ask?
It all began once upon a December… *Cue dramatic music from Fox Animation Studios’ Anastasia*
I don’t know whether it was choir practice, Christmas shopping, doctors appointments, or work that engaged my parents that day, but it was an extensive enough activity that elementary school Claire was placed in the care of her aunt for its duration. However, when she arrived at her aunt’s condo, it was not her aunt who embraced her but the warm, comforting smell of winter cooking, hugging her with a strength that challenged the limitations associated with galley kitchens. Suddenly, she was no longer girl but divining rod as her nose carried her tumbling hurriedly up the stairs, forgetting even the tantalizing bowl of spice drops that always awaited her on the entry-way table, so determined was she to locate the origin of that fantastic scent.
Just as her peering eyes had absorbed all that they could from the murky black glass of the oven door and was about to employ her hands to finish the investigation, her aunt caught up with her,
“Do you want to help me make a cake for Christmas brunch?”
A few minutes later the niece was basking in the glory of her recent liberation from the one-step stool that had previously enabled her to meet the counter’s tall terms. She smiled at the familiarity with which her wool-socked feet happily interrupted the cool continuum of the kitchen’s tile floor and her long gold hair battled against one of the old elastics her aunt always had on hand to thwart the greedy flames emitting from the stove top. But all of these comfortable rituals of her aunt’s kitchen were muddled by one perplexing fact: It wasn’t a cake, at least, like any of the cakes that had come wafting passionately out of the oven at her house. All of those had begun with a knife and a measuring cup used in careful tedium to measure out a minimum of two cups of flour. Even that aberrant Angel Food Cake made for Grandpa’s birthday, which had strawberries instead of sprinkles and whipped cream instead of icing, began with flour.
She had discovered a new dessert.
Not only did this cake mysteriously lack flour, it also required the addition of some peculiar new ingredient called Kahlua. The single teaspoon’s sampling administered in confidence by her giggling aunt as if she had acquired a bottle of Mary Poppin’s medicine, seemed to indicate that it was some kind of pleasant-to-drink vanilla, while the aunt’s refusal to allow any further taste tests seemed to indicate that it was only for adults. So, though she did not particularly enjoy her little sip of it, the forbidden terms of the taste test proved that Kahlua was what transformed the chocolate chips, butter, sugar, normal vanilla, and lack of flour into a unique enough batter to justify naming the cake Chocolate Sin. (Being so informed, the niece then took it upon herself to discover a way to adequately honor the special ingredient, which is why a few weeks later two homemade fleece cats, Kahlua and Cinnamon, joined the family of stuffed animals that populated her bed.)
All secrets revealed, the muddy batter was complete. Together they poured it carefully but nevertheless messily into a single round cake pan and together they opened the oven door. So concentrated was the niece by the time she helped her aunt carefully slide the suspicious non-cake across the opened oven’s hot threshold and on to the middle rack that she had completely forgotten that the very same oven had only a few minutes before been a source of frustration as it expertly obfuscated the view of the delicious macaroni casserole whose odors had so persuasively demanded her presence in the kitchen. But when the oven door was once again closed with the alien cake trapped inside, her eyes were free to dart immediately to the stove top where the white porcelain dish with the blue flowers cradled potluck’s favorite guest.
Moments later, she sat wordlessly gobbling up her one course feast with the kind of technical expertise that possessed only by those who have recently sat around a Thanksgiving table. Taking advantage of her niece’s gluttonous immersion, the aunt quietly slipped the just-done Chocolate Sin out of its captivity in the scorching oven depths, whisked it behind closed pantry doors into a cool dark corner, and proceeded to wash dishes with an excess of lusty dish soap in order to baffle her niece’s acute Thanksgiving senses as possible.
It worked. The niece happily finished her meal, licking her lips in satisfaction as she continued on helping her aunt clean up the kitchen. Only occasionally would her eyes glance at the dark oven door that concealed the Chocolate Sin. Before she could get anxious enough about the state of the cake to take matters into her own hands and expose the oven’s lack of contents, her parents were there to pick her up. Like opening presents, tasting the strange cake would have to wait until Christmas.
That Christmas, waking up, opening presents, getting dressed, and driving were all a blur. Time began again when they arrived at the home where the annual church Christmas brunch was held. When they stepped into the cozy kitchen where one group gathered to discuss their favorite Scandinavian Christmas cookies while another stood discussing the proper method of mulling cider and another, seen as vague shapes through smoky glass sides of the double-sided fireplace that interrupted one of the kitchen walls, could be heard loudly at someone’s holiday mishap. Amid all of this, her aunt presented our Chocolate Sin, an unusual addition to the sugar cookie angels and spritz cookie camels that inhabited the quilt covered buffet table, but it was an immediate sensation.
That Christmas, the cozy little ranch home was brimmed with a congregation of devoted Lutherans powerful eager for Sin, but none as eager as the niece. She went with her aunt into the laundry room away from the rest of the party so that they could cut the cake. After endless hours of anticipation, she watched as her aunt fought against the dented surface of the washing machine to cut the precious dessert. Her aunt cut it into a scant twelve pieces to be clamored over in the next room. But before they delivered it, her aunt took out the messiest slice, the hostess piece, and gave it to the niece to eat…
It didn’t taste like sin at all, not cake either. It tasted like hugs and spice drops and feet on linoleum and hair forced back and Mary Poppins’ medicine and dark oven doors…
It tasted like heaven.
It doesn’t happen often that I come across a Flourless Chocolate Cake. I’ve never made it myself. I don’t even think I have a recipe. But, sometimes–when I’m bon voyaging my boyfriend to Europe on the night before my eighteenth birthday or opening a surprise care package from Michigan between paragraphs of a difficult paper–it shows up, and, for a moment, I’m the hungry little niece assisting her aunt in the cramped galley kitchen again.