There were times when I was pregnant with Belle, when I was alone in the house and all was still outside. I would lie down on the couch hands cupped around my hard belly. I would breathe in and out as purposeful as possible. I would wait and attempt patience. And, I would wonder who this little person would be.
Then with a wallop, Belle would kick with all her might at anything in her way with an impressive lack of rhythm. Then, she would gurgle and swim casually brushing her hands across my belly in broad gestures.
Four years later, I wished I had written down who I thought that little person was. I am fairly certain whatever I thought was nothing like the true Belle. She has a finely attuned design sense. She would have you know, stripes work well with hearts but not polka dots, and not all pinks match. She loves all things dolly—prams, changing tables, and bottles. But at the same time she can build a mean tower. Mostly, she reminds me every day how important observation and curiosity are in feeding the human soul. She smells everything from food to scarves. She wonders about clouds, snow, heaven and God.
Every day is an investigation for her. Dessert is one of her particular specialties. Why is it that some cakes aren’t chocolate? Why is it that some cakes are deficient in frosting? Why are some cakes only one layer?
Belle’s love of chocolate is something that I anticipated bodily during pregnancy. I was not much of a sweet person until Belle resided within me. During my pregnancy, I would fanaticize about decadent chocolate cupcakes. Now, Belle is a woman who relishes the idea of visiting her grandparents, in the magical land of Cincinnati, where cupcakes are alright for breakfast.
This summer we experimented with the ideal chocolate cake. While I have more experience tasting chocolate cake, I think Belle has a natural insight. We make an ideal team. We tasted cakes. I talked, perhaps idly, about the required a balance between sweetness and bitterness; moistness and denseness. Though, Belle really summed it up, “it has to be super chocolate and good.”
Our first try at this cake was one that was basically a large brownie. When topped with cocoa butter cream, Belle was very satisfied.
When birthday time came around yesterday, I turned to this cake. Parenting is something that is harder when you pay attention to what you are doing. I probably should have just made the cake that she liked, but instead I decided to increase the buttermilk so that I would have a moister cake-like result. After all, sometimes a mother has to make decisions for their children.
I also decided to use three frostings, because sometimes a mother gets to break the rules. First I separated the two layers with marshmallow butter cream , added a crumb coat and then some with vanilla butter cream, and then frosted with cocoa-cream cheese butter cream. The result was a cake that would make your dentist call you to set up an appointment.
As we cut the cake, I waited to hear her observations. She sat down to her slice with almost religious fervor. She eschewed the paper napkin so that she might lick the frosting from her fingers. She then requested seconds and thirds (though both requests were denied.) And, then she played.
In the last four years, one of the few things I have learned about parenting is that often it is the quiet off-minutes, when socks are being pulled up or blocks being picked up that your children share. Today, when the house was quiet, and Belle and I were cleaning up her room, she said to me, “There was much more frosting on that cake. I am glad.”
4 oz cream cheese, softened
4 T butter, softened
1 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
In the microwave, melt 1/4 cup chocolate chips (or a little more)
Into the bowl of the stand mixer, add:
1 cup buttermilk
1 T instant coffee granules
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp cider vinger
melted chocolate chips
In a bowl, combine:
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 tsp salt
Add dry ingredients to wet, in 1/2 cup intervals, blending as you go.
Bake in 2-9 inch pans that have been greased and floured (or cocoaed) at 350 for 25-30 minutes.
I got a little mystical/ alchemistry-like with the frostings, so no recipes here…all I can say is that for the cream cheese frosting, I used 4 oz butter (soften), 4 oz cream cheese (softened), splash of coffee, and then added cocoa and powdered sugar with wild abandon. The others were a little of a blur.