Joan of Arc heard voices instructing her to save France. My voices say, Go 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 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 leaven 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 needs 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 ecstasy, 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.