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On Love, Joy — and Chocolate

When I really think about it there are these common themes: love, family, death, sex, reconciliation, food. All the rest is peripheral — even music, even writing. What drives us is relationships, both of the blood and of the body; the physical connection and emotional ties; the nourishment that slips down to our stomachs to fill and succor.

Today I listened to Mozart and once I pressed my face against the cold window of a plane and saw Greenland spread below me; strange to think that country was inhabited when Iceland was not (now it is all turned round). People say they were misnamed. All I saw of Greenland was the pack ice and so I imagined ships stranded there and in other ice floes, could see how Shackleton and his men nearly perished at sea caught and held fast in the frozen water. How they survived is a miracle. In this modern age we still explore though our boundaries are perhaps more spatial than seaworthy. We keep searching for that elusive newness, Manifest Destiny unfulfilled.

But what truly holds is that which is eternal and everyday: the turning in to each other in the middle of the night, burrowing under thick blankets during a cool July, a fire warm against your back when night comes down early, miles hiked out along a coastal trail, a good tomato sliced and savored, a sigh expelled on the first night of spring, dogs pushing their damp noses into your palm for no other reason than to remind you yes I am here, and I love you.

I am thinking of such things today because my friends are getting married later on — another reminder there still is love in the world despite market fluctuations and endless wars on continents I may never see. I hear there will be lots of food tonight — amazing food like falafel and salads and all the tahini you could ever hope to eat and a pumpkin wedding cake — and dancing and just celebrating life. We will toast and perhaps even sing a little and simply be.

Don’t postpone joy, my friend told me this summer as we drove the winding roads back from the beach, hurtling toward an unknown destination in more ways than one. To this very worthy statement I would add don’t postpone cake. Especially a flourless chocolate one.

I’ve always loved a chocolate cake sans the flour — it really cuts to the chase and reminds you that chocolate is really what it’s all about. Who needs all that floury nonsense when really what we’re hankering for is pure chocolate, condensed? A friend of mine is eating gluten-free these days and so for book group the other night — “love food” was the theme; is it everywhere these days? — I dug out an old recipe for a flourless chocolate cake. Now, if I’d had more time I think I would have tried to be a little more adventurous (added lavender, perhaps, or made a caramel sauce) but as I had to launder, pack, run, and mentally prepare to fly across the country, I stuck to the recipe (simple and sweet, as is often my wont).

Oh, please make this. It’s so easy and so delicious. Pretty much it’s butter and chocolate and a few eggs which really doesn’t sound so exotic but when given a good whirl in the oven everything distills down to the purest, richest, silkiest breath of chocolate you could ever imagine. I sprinkled a bit of sea salt over the top at the last minute and I’m so glad I did. During the endless search for perfect love or an elusive, uncharted territory the marriage of sweet and salty is one that endures — and makes you sit up and pay attention.

Some nights I imagine myself out on the ice in the midst of that creak and sway, the boom and rush. It is nearly silent there and stars burn bright ahead. The ship lists on its side. But I think I would strap on my snowshoes and head south, if I could. I would bridge the gap. I would forge on. I would take in all the joy this life holds, large and small.

I would bring cake.

Sea-salted Flourless Chocolate Cake, adapted from epicurious.com

4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling
1-2 Tb. sea salt

Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust.

Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate. Sprinkle the sea salt over the top.


  1. this is now makin the rounds …
    made it last night with some vanilla sorbet…
    and makin it again next week for a friend … yum… salt and chocolate

  2. Hi,
    I’m a vegan so this cake is not for me, but I’m so glad I discovered your site today – I love your writing and I’ll come back very often because not only you make food for the soul, but the way you express your thoughts and feelings about life and love and food, touches me deeply and makes me laugh with joy…..
    Thank you,

  3. Nicole, hi hi!! I don’t know why I’ve hardly commented here before. Must fix this.

    This post is gorgeous … your words totally sweep me away. They remind me a bit, too, of the book Away, by Amy Bloom, which I read last month. Have you read it? It was gorgeous, stunning, sad. A lot of the themes you speak about here are there.

    And this cake! My word! I’ll try it soon.

  4. I’ll be sure to try that one!
    … although I somehow can’t imagine the taste of salt on a chocolate cake – but I guess I’ll see!

  5. My 21st birthday cake, one of my favorite Nicole cooking memories. Love the addition of salt, how the palate matures so well with age…

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