Admittedly, it was a little awkward when I brought
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my neighbor the funny-looking wedge of chocolate cake
“It’s chocolate cake,” I said, handing her the container. “I’ve been recipe testing and thought you might want some. But truly, don’t feel like you have to take it.”
Of course, she did, because she’s wonderfully sweet. She thanked me, promised to share it with her hubby, and closed the door. Mind and heart racing, I returned to my apartment
Not long ago, I moved from a tree-lined neighborhood near ISU’s campus to the 18th floor of a building in downtown Des Moines. I’m slowly feeling my way through the new social norms
Some people never seem to mind when I ask questions of them in the elevator. “Great shoes, where did you get them? You smell so pretty, what’s your signature perfume?” And if I’m lucky, there’s a fluffy puppy to pet
“What’s his name?”
For others, it seems, politeness means staying in your lane and leaving others alone. Acknowledgment is the slightest of nods from a distance. I’ve heard of people going years (yes, years!)
without talking to their neighbors
Maybe it’s because of the way I was raised. I grew up on a farm in northwest Iowa. Everyone knew everyone. We gathered together for potlucks on Sundays and the Fourth of July. Favorite recipes collected in church cookbooks. Casseroles brought to someone in need
Or maybe it’s because I’ve lived in neighborhoods with a strong sense of community. At the time they didn’t seem like anything special, just simply the way things were. Food was always being shared.
There were block parties on Halloween. Every spring, I’d order at least fifteen boxes of Girl Scout cookies from the neighborhood kids. In the winter, my neighbor shoveled my snow, and in return, I’d feed their kitties when they were out of town — Sunday night pizza parties only four houses down.
The friend who perfected homemade bread (that was an extra tasty year in the neighborhood)
Even though I’m fiercely protective of the bubble I’ve worked so hard to create, my soul still longs for a sense of community. I can’t shake the need to help and be helped by the people around me. It’s a feeling that orients and grounds me
So a few weeks ago, I stopped worrying about social etiquette and made the smallest of attempts to feel like I was connected to another person. I propped open my door when I was cooking dinner
At first, nobody knew quite what to do with this strange turn of events. That is until good smells started wafting down the hall, and the puppies who live next door figured out I’ve got a treat jar
I’ve started making friends
I’ve discovered the lawyer at the end of the hall runs marathons, and his wife is a prize-winning rose gardener. Someone in the building works as a food stylist for a popular magazine (fingers crossed for an introduction). The lovely woman three doors down volunteers at the local zoo, and now ..
I’ve got a new dream job
One day, I hope I can trust someone with a spare set of keys, or ask them to check on the kitties if I’m gone. But in the meantime, I’ll gladly be known as the woman cooking dinner with her door slightly ajar, and stopping by with some extra chocolate cake
I wanted to post this early enough that you’ll have time to track down the ingredients. In case you’re looking for a fun idea to bring to a Halloween party, which I highly recommend
A chocolate cake from the Together cookbook, a collection of family recipes from The Hub Community Kitchen. A community kitchen in Al-Manaar, a mosque close to the Grenfell community in west London. A kitchen that was opened after the Grenfell Tower fire, offering women who had been displaced, and the community around them, a space to cook for their families
“Their roles as matriarchs united them across their cultures; the kitchen provided an opportunity to cook what they knew and to taste the memory of home, albeit homes some had recently lost” ~ HRH The Dutchess of Sussex | Together Cookbook
I couldn’t think of a recipe more fitting
The chocolate factor is deep and strong. The cake itself is rich, moist, and tender. It’s exactly what you want when you’re craving a homemade chocolate cake .. an ace in that regard.
I love a beautiful, frosted, homemade cake like no one else, but don’t bake them very often. Because, cake. If it’s there, I find myself nibbling on it nearly all day. More often than not, I’ll throw together quick and easy loaf cakes (like this or this) and call it a day.
But the story behind the recipe makes a cake like this one, all the more special. And well worth the extra effort.
The frosting is Heidi Swanson’s. It’s billowy, sweet, chocolate-filled, and compelling. You’ll want to put it on the cake, and everything else edible in your life. I also found myself dipping berries into it, and orange segments, and maybe even, my fingers.
The Chocolate Cake That Is Spooky Levels of Good
- Chocolate Cake
- 4 ½ oz dark chocolate, chopped fine
- 3 Tbsp whole milk
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- 3 Tbsp cocoa powder
- 10 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temp
- ¾ cup natural sugar (Sugar in the Raw or turbinado)
- 3 eggs
- Chocolate Buttermilk Frosting
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- ¼ cup natural cocoa powder (not dutched)
- 2 Tbsp buttermilk
- For Decorating
- chocolate cookies, crushed
- pretzel sticks
- candy pumpkins
- Milano cookies
- chocolate poky
- gummy worms
- Chocolate Cake
- Preheat oven to 300° F
- Butter an 8" cake pan and line it with parchment paper
- Place the chocolate and milk in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of barely simmering water, ensuring that the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water
- Once melted, let cool slightly
- Sift the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together before setting aside
- Beat the butter until soft
- Add the sugar and beat until creamy and light
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition
- Using a rubber spatula, fold in the melted chocolate and then the flour and cocoa mixture until just combined, without overworking the batter
- Pour into the prepared pan, smooth the top and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean
- Let cool completely in the pan, before turning it out
- Chocolate Buttermilk Frosting
- In the meantime, make the icing by whisking together the powdered sugar, cocoa, and buttermilk. Really go at it for at least a minute.
- The icing should end up smooth and creamy looking, adjust with a touch of powdered sugar or a few extra drops of buttermilk if you want to tweak the consistency at all.
- When the cake is completely cool, run the icing around the top and sides with an offset spatula and decorate