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December 1, 2020

AUSTIN | A Loaf of Chocolate Swirled Cake

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After the epic fail that was my carrot “soup,” all I needed was some good old fashioned comfort food. Surprisingly, between the three Moosewood cookbooks I own, there isn’t a single classic chocolate chip cookie recipe. Even though I wanted gooey, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chips to chase away the taste of dirty carrot water, I had to settle for the next best thing ー Chocolate Swirled Bread.

I’ve always been told that it’s important to define my terms, so I would like to do that before I begin. This is not bread. I think that once this is referred to as a bread, the lines of categorizing baked goods are blurred. Technically a bread is just something that’s mostly made up of flour and water and normally has some sort of leavening agent. However, that would make most baked goods some sort of bread. “Hi, yes, I would like a birthday bread, and do you think you could write ‘happy birthday’ on it in caraway seeds?” For this reason, I refuse to refer to this chocolate swirled cake as a “bread.”  

I felt confident enough to pull off what was essentially a pound cake, so I got cocky and decided to multi-task. Every Friday afternoon while we’re both cooking for our respective Shabbat meals, I’ll FaceTime my best friend. Before you think that this was some wholesome, Hallmark baking special, I should warn you that she is not the most proficient in the kitchen. Between the two of us, the only one who actually has some kitchen expertise is the one using a cookbook. She, on the other hand, was asking me for instructions on how to construct a deli roll because she refused to use a recipe. It was like a bad remake of Dumb & Dumber. 

In the eyes of my best friend, I am some sort of masterchef (that may be because I don’t let her read my column). Unfortunately, I let that get to my head and stopped paying attention to what I was doing. To absolutely no one’s surprise, this caused me to mess up on the first step, which was to make a “streusel crown” for the “bread.” 

The streusel crown was basically a crumb topping that sandwiched the actual batter of the cake. It was made from just some butter, sugar and flour tossed together. Since this was a mindless task, I turned my attention back to the FaceTime call. I’m standing there, moving my two forks on autopilot and trying to explain why you can’t put an aluminum tin in the microwave. Five minutes later, I discovered that my streusel had turned into a paste. Too lazy to start over and sure it still tasted fine, I decided to use it anyway. I spread half of the streusel on the bottom of the tin, put the cake mixture over it and then dollopped the remaining half on top in an attempt to make it look more aesthetically pleasing. Now the worst was behind me, and all I had to do was bake the cake. Shove it in the oven, set a timer, take it out in an hour ー impossible to mess up. My work was done.

I’m an absolute fiend for “The Great British Bake-Off.” There’s something about hearing the phrase “large nuts” in a British accent that just gets me. After binge-watching the newest season, I realized that Paul Hollywood (is that actually his last name?) doesn’t just provide me with an escape from my ever-growing pile of responsibilities, but teaches some pretty useful baking techniques. That’s when I realized the worst is still yet to come.

Forty minutes into my one hour timer, I started to smell the pound cake baking. The apartment was filled with the scent of cinnamon, caramelizing sugars and cocoa. I ran into the kitchen and opened the oven to check on it. There’s a very thin line between over baking and perfectly baking a cake à la Paul Hollywood, and spoiler alert: I crossed that line. I tapped the top to make sure that it was perfectly baked, scalded my hand on the hot sugars and decided it was time to come out of the oven. Except … that’s not what I did.

The timer said there were still another twenty minutes to go, and I desperately didn’t want to deviate from the recipe. Even though the top was perfectly baked, I figured the middle was still raw. It just didn’t make sense how the cake could only be two-thirds of the way through its allotted baking time and perfectly baked, so, naturally, I assumed my judgement was wrong. 

I wasn’t serving the pound cake until Saturday afternoon, so when I took it out of the oven I let it cool and then covered it. As soon as my knife cut through the streusel the next day, I knew that it was severely overbaked. The cake was dry and crumbly, but other than getting stuck in your throat, it tasted fine. It was almost reminiscent of a biscotti ー you just had to keep washing it down. 

This recipe was pretty typical; it wasn’t ground-breakingly unique or overly complicated. Although it definitely was not my favorite Moosewood Recipe thus far, I have to be thankful that it wasn’t a complete failure. I’m definitely going to regret saying this, but it was almost disappointing after all the excitement from the carrot soup catastrophe. It was, in short, a rather boring bread.

Sarah Austin is a sophomore in the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. She can be reached at [email protected].