EVENT: French Bistro Birthday Buffet
TYPE: Celebrating 26 years of Cara
DISH: Gâteau au Chocolat Fondant (direct translation: really rich and delicious chocolate torte)
It’s Cara’s birthday today, everyone! (cue applause from our studio audience).
A few weeks ago, she faced the usual birthday dilemma: how do I get all my friends, and just my friends, into one room where everyone can drink and be merry, and possibly eat cake, and still talk to one another without going hoarse. Naturally, we added the controversial subject to our weekly meeting agenda, and discussed the possibilities over burgers at Freeman’s, where we’ve been temporarily holding office hours.
This year, Caitlyn and I neglected our usual birthday party routine at my apartment, and since it had been a while since my neighbors shook their fists in my face, I offered this model to Cara. She agreed that a big dinner was just the thing, so we decided on a bistro buffet menu, complete with ratatouille, crusty bread, and the beef stew Cara has been craving ever since the first 100 degree day in July. Since Cara and Alex were going to be unpacking down to the minute she had to put on her party dress, I happy obliged to take care of the cooking of this birthday feast. But there was no mention of baking, and no decision about the cake.
Cara sent me an email a few days later with the link to a chocolate cake recipe by Orangette, and asked if I had room in my freezer –the beauty of this cake was that she could make it in advance, pre-move. Last year, I had turned a blind eye and let Cara bake her own birthday cake, which is probably why the bad habit stuck. But this year, I wasn’t going to let that slide.
“You’ll BAKE for me?” wrote my sweeter half, when I insisted. “That is love.”
And it is. But not because of this cake. Even for a non-baker such as myself, this round pan of chocolate goodness isn’t such a big deal. Now, a cake made out of actual oranges (or orangettes)? That might be the kind of cake I would make only out of love and, probably, only for Cara.
The Orangette has some history in our quarter-life cooking hearts. Over a year ago, when Cara was just a ripe 24, we snuck out of work early to meet with the first agent that had shown interest in turning our blog into a book. After an hour-long conversation, we left her office feeling giddy and excited about the future of BGSK. Right before we got in the elevator, Cara handed me a copy of Molly Weisberg’s book, A Homemade Life, with the inscription “Phoeb, here’s to BGSK. Love, your favorite blogger, C.”
A few months later, by Cara’s 25th birthday party, I had quit my job, and Cara had given notice at hers. Two weeks later, we had a book deal. And we’ve spent the better part of the year navigating our business, friendship, and sanity in an effort to write it. I think we came out on top on most counts, though perhaps the sanity part was more in question on my end.
It’s been quite a year. And it’s with incredible pride, gratitude, and humility that I bake this cake for my dear friend, who’s held my hand through all the book ups and downs and life craziness, and offered hours of therapy when the craziness was coming mainly from me. It’s a cake with a cracked top, and rich interior—imperfect and lop-sided as I am, but containing just as much love.
From my kitchen, wishing the lovely C a happy birthday, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Gâteau au Chocolat Fondant
Adapted from Orangette
7 ounces good quality dark chocolate
7 ounces unsalted butter (the nice French kind if you can afford it, such as Lurpak or Beurre d’Isigny), cut into ½-inch cubes
1 1/3 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the base of the pan with parchment, and butter the parchment too.
Finely chop the chocolate and melt it gently with the butter in the microwave, stirring regularly until fully melted. Add the sugar to the chocolate-butter mixture, stirring well, and set aside to cool for a few moments. Then add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition. Add the flour and stir until incorporated.
Pour batter into the buttered cake pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the center of the cake looks set and the top is shiny and a bit crackly-looking. (You’ll know it’s done when it jiggles only slightly, if at all.) Let the cake cool in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes; then carefully turn the cake out of the pan and revert it, so that the crackly side is facing upward. Allow to cool completely. The cake will deflate slightly as it cools.
Serve in wedges at room temperature, dusted with confectioners sugar if you like, or topped with a dollop of whipped cream.