[Mint-chocolate cake, December 2008.]
Today: Cold sun. Wearing blue shirt. Old black shoes. Peanut butter and almond butter and boysenberry jam on toasted bread and darjeeling-honey tea. Coffee. My soft white scarf. Barley and kale and chickpeas and tomatoes. Lots of water but not enough yet. Yesterday: Worked on holiday cards. Mooned over Scotland. Went to the library. Wished for the ocean. Baked poppyseed bread, two batches. Wondered why the banana bread didn’t rise too much. Decided to make gingersnaps and lemon tea bread for holiday gifts. Contemplated getting a tiny Christmas tree.
I posted here every day in November (all 30 days of it!) and then there was Thanksgiving and after all that I must admit to feeling a little wiped out. This week I have been sleeping a lot and it’s great. I am reading a lot, too (just finished “The Secret Life of Bees,” “History of Love,” and “Away,” as well as delving into Ellen Gilchrist, the New Yorker food issue, and Vogue, which is my little secret fluff addiction. Except now maybe not-so-secret. Oops.). I am becoming very slightly addicted to cranberry juice. I am eating leftovers. I am running a bit, but slowly because last week I crammed in 24 miles. I am dreaming of things silly and sweet. And I baked a cake: chocolate, filled with mint butter cream and covered in a chocolate butter cream.
This cake … well, let’s just say it’s a little virtual thank-you to all of you who trudged along with me for those 30 days. Technically I baked it for my friend at work but it’s so good I couldn’t help sharing it and, yes, entreating you to bake it, too.
I’ve gotten into the habit of baking cakes (or cupcakes, or cookies) for my coworkers when their particular birthdays come ’round, and since yesterday was the birthday of my especial friend there I asked him what was his favorite cake. Mint! he replied. Mint? I asked. What exactly is a mint cake? Oh, well. I considered making chocolate cake layers infused with peppermint extract but thought that could be too overpowering (I was going for a more hint ‘o mint — a la Newman’s Own — than over-brewed peppermint tea), or perhaps I could have gathered up all the fresh mint leaves around and crushed them into a sort of green paste and spread that on top of a feather-light white cake … but then my coworker brought up the idea of mint frosting sandwiched between chocolate cake layers and topped with chocolate butter cream.
Think Thin Mints.
What I did was to bake a fairly simple three-layer sour cream chocolate cake and pack it with a mint butter cream. Then I covered the whole thing with my standard chocolate butter cream frosting and let it rest overnight in the fridge. Luckily it survived the bumpy bus ride down Geary into work, and we all lingered around the kitchen waiting for him to come in at 10 so we could dig in. I have to say: it was good. Just enough mint to leave a “refreshing!” (as some said) aftertaste, but certainly not overpowering. The three layers were dense yet not too heavy, and of course the chocolate frosting brought it all together just beautifully. I was a bit nervous the frosting would be too lumpy, as my hand mixer — which had survived several moves as well as a cross-country journey — died in the middle of it (I may have cursed). But it’s amazing what you can accomplish with a little elbow grease and a whisk.
Anyway, the birthday boy was happy and really that was the whole point. (I was happy, too, because I think it’s a great addition to my small repertoire of chocolate cakes and I realized it would be fantastic during this holiday season, perhaps with a scoop of peppermint ice cream alongside.)
Last night I dreamed it was summer and I was surfing, my face warm from the pleasant sun, the waves calm (note: I don’t surf. Yet.). I woke up wishing for days at the beach and reading to the sound of the water but instead had to pull up the covers in my chilly room. I blame the ads I saw yesterday in the Bart station; everywhere you looked there were photos of sparkling turquoise water, a canoe perched on a deserted sandy beach ready to be pushed into the warm sea, summer sun and green hills. And the Maldives! Non-stop flights on Emirates! Yes, please. Not to wish away this shining time of baked goods and potato pancakes and slanting fall light and poinsettia plants and holiday presents but, you know …
Well, back here in San Francisco December the lights are on all the trees up and down Fillmore and the Solstice dawns exactly two weeks from next Monday which — and I don’t know about you — is one of my very favorite days of the whole year because while it means winter is truly upon us it also means the days start their slow lengthening again and the spring time change is not too terribly far away. To sweeten these days of early dark, though, I have a slice of cake tucked away in my fridge to tide me over until strawberries swing back into season and I can take my book to the beach for a long afternoon in the sun.
Thin-Mint Chocolate Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cakepans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and grease the paper.
Whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Gradually beat in the water, vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely before filling and frosting.
Mint Butter cream
1 stick butter
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/8+ teaspoon all natural peppermint extract
Beat the butter until creamy and add the powdered sugar, milk, and peppermint extract, beat until combined and fluffy. Taste for peppermint and add more if you want it to be more intense.
Fill cake with the mint buttercream and frost and cover with a simple chocolate buttercream.