One was T.R.’s birthday cake, the same cake I have baked for each family birthday for years, since I finally settled the question in my own mind as to which was my favorite chocolate cake. It is made with cocoa powder and corn oil, a sprinkling of chocolate chips on each layer. Nothing complex—an easy recipe I can make quickly. The only trick I learned from it was one of the first cracks in my absolute faith in the writers of recipes. The frosting calls for about half as much milk as is really needed to make it spreadable. I learned this from tearing up early versions of the cake with my stubborn spatula.
The other cake was a complicated monster. First, I made the ganache for the filling. It had to chill before I could spread it between the layers of cake. I toasted some almonds. Then I baked the almond cake layers, thick batter that had to be smoothed out to the edges of my new silicon baking pans. I remembered that I needed to lift the pans with two hands to keep them level as I slid them into the oven lest the pans flex their lovely rubbery beings and dump batter onto the open oven door.
While the layers solidified in the heat, I stirred the toasted almonds into amber syrup and poured out the resulting praline on a lined baking sheet. I scrubbed the saucepan in hot hot hot water to remove the sugary residue.
I mixed mascarpone and whipping cream and sugar and vanilla to make frosting. I chopped the cooled praline into pieces. I spread the ganache between the cake layers and the frosting over all. I pressed pieces of praline around the bottom edge of the cake, scattered them over the top.
I melted chocolate and swooped out ribbons of it on another lined baking sheet. More praline sprinkled down. I drizzled some of the chocolate over the cake. Later, when the chocolate on the sheet had chilled, I broke it in pieces and slid the pieces edgewise on the top of the cake like crests.
I ate pieces of both cakes, but what fed me was the baking.