I hope everyone had a rockin’* New Year’s Eve on Thursday night. The HH and I enjoyed a very relaxed, casual dinner at our place with my friend the Nutritionista and her husband (more Indian food, Caesar salad, and bubbly: the boys drank champagne; the gals had sparkling water and cranberry juice). Many thanks to you all for your lovely new year’s wishes! There’s no doubt that 2009 was made better for me because of all of you.
I’ve been doing some ruminating** about the year to come and, as usual, wrote up my 5-year plan (and will share some of the outcomes with y’all–a bit later). But for now, it’s time for that marble cake post I promised!
Although Chiffon Cake was her specialty, for special occasions (or if she just didn’t have enough eggs in the house), my mom would bake her favorite marble cake. It was a light, single layer in a square pan with a visible marbling pattern on top and running through each of the slices. Though I ate my fair share of the cake, I always wondered, why is she spoiling a great chocolate cake with so much vanilla?
Okay, I’ll concede that the dual flavors do render the cake prettier than an all-chocolate, monochromatic brown, what with those deep golden swirls intermingling throughout with the chocolate. Apart from the aesthetic appeal, though, I could never understand why someone would choose to eat a slice of cake that’s half vanilla when they could have one that was entirely chocolate. Just me, I guess.
As I got older, I learned that, in the world of favorite flavors, you’re either a chocolate person or a vanilla person. Sure, you can claim to like both, but when it comes right down to it, most people favor one over the other. Take my cousin Marketing Guru (MG), for instance. When my sisters and I were kids, we’d spend a few weeks every summer visiting my Boston cousins. One of the highlights was the drive along Route 9 to Friendly’s ice cream parlour (particularly exciting, since Friendly’s doesn’t exist in Canada), where we’d eye the mind-boggling array of flavors on the chalk board. Inevitably, the scene went something like this:
Server [leaning over the counter to see our six year-old faces]: Hi, there, kids, what can I get you today?
Ricki: What flavors do you have?
Server [reading the board]: Okay, well, let’s see; today we’ve got vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, butter crunch, purely pistachio, cookies ‘n cream, Vienna Mocha Chunk, fudge swirl, peanut butter chocolate cup, mint chocolate chip, cherry cheesecake, maple walnut, chocolate chip cookie dough, chocolate almond chip, Neopolitan, orange mango smoothie, butter pecan, cherry vanilla, black raspberry, coffee, peppermint stick and Royal Banana Split Sundae.
MG: I’ll have vanilla.
Ricki: I’ll have chocolate.
Okay, perhaps I exaggerate just a wee bit. Sometimes I took Double Chocolate or Chocolate Fudge and sometimes MG took French Vanilla.
I th0ught of MG and our ice cream forays after I’d baked up this marble cake. I mean, doesn’t MG deserve to love his vanilla as much as I love my chocolate? Maybe, I reasoned, vanilla serves an essential purpose for those of us who favor chocolate: unassuming vanilla serves to help us appreciate chocolate all the more, just as jalapenos help us appreciate the soothing cool of yogurt, just as camping in the rain helps us appreciate our snuggly beds at home, just as winter helps us appreciate the long, dry heat of summer (though to be honest, I don’t need any help appreciating summer, even if winter didn’t exist. I’m sure I would love summer even without the snow and sleet and ice and bone-chilling mornings and snow shovelling and fifteen layers of woolens and cars refusing to start and frozen toes inside clumsy boots. But you get the idea).
Since then, I’ve developed a newfound regard for vanilla and all that it stands for.
Hello, Vanilla. I’ve neglected you in the past, but now I realize how unfair I’ve been. We need you in our lives, Vanilla. After all, you function as an essential foil for chocolate, highlighting it wherever you go. You are the airy, radiant yang to chocolate’s brooding, dusky yin. Vanilla, I appreciate how your aromatic perfume sits in contrast to the tannic, bittersweet scent of chocolate in that marble cake. Your light, swirling curls and whorls of gold compel me to notice my favored flavor all the more intensely. With you, Vanilla, I appreciate the uniqueness of chocolate all the more.
Vanilla, I couldn’t do without you. Vanilla, You. Complete. Me.
Oops–got a little carried away there (apologies to Renee Zellweger). But vanilla does complete this marble cake, and I finally “get” the appeal of marble as opposed to all-chocolate. So bake some up for yourself, and enjoy a little slice of flavors in perfect harmony.
* That would be in the “lots of great music, fun, friends and family” sense of the word, not the “Dick Clark on TV” sense of the word.
**That would be in the “thinking long and hard” sense of the word, not the “eating like a cow” sense of the word.
[Until January 4th, you can also win a chocolate-based baking kit! Click here for more info and to enter.]
My Mother’s Marble Cake
This traditional marble cake provides a perfect balance between moist chocolate and vanilla batters. A perfect cake to serve to guests or with a steaming cup of tea for an afternoon break.
2 oz (55 g) fine quality unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I used Cocoa Camino)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) plain or vanilla soy, almond or rice milk
3/4 c (135 g) Sucanat or other unrefined evaporated cane juice
1/4 cup (60 ml) agave nectar, light or dark
3/4 c (180 ml) plain or vanilla almond, soy or rice milk
2 Tbsp (30 ml) finely ground flax seeds
1/3 cup (80 ml) sunflower or other light-tasting oil, preferably organic
1/4 cup (60 ml) unsweetened applesauce
1 Tbsp (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 tsp (5 ml) pure almond extract
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) apple cider vinegar
1-3/4 c (245 g) light spelt flour
1 Tbsp (30 ml) baking powder
1/8 tsp (.5 ml) baking soda
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line a 9×9″ (22.5 cm) square pan with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a small heavy-bottomed pot over lowest heat possible, heat the chocolate and 2 Tbsp milk, stirring constantly, until most of the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and continue to stir until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix together the Sucanat, agave nectar and milk; stir until Sucanat is mostly dissolved. Add the flax, oil, applesauce, vanilla, almond extract and apple cider vinegar and mix well.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir until well blended. Pour about half the batter into the prepared pan (it doesn’t have to be exact).
Stir about 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the remaining batter into the melted chocolate until combined, then scrape the chocolate mixture into the bowl and stir gently to create the chocolate batter.
Drizzle the chocolate batter over the vanilla in a haphazard pattern. Using a knife or small spatula, swirl the chocolate and vanilla batters a few times to create a marbled effect (I folded the batter over three or four times, as if folding in egg whites, then pulled the knife straight through the batter in the outline of a square, parallel to the sides of the pan). Avoid marbling too much, though, or the two batters will combine into one light chocolate cake!
Bake in preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through, until cake tests done in the center. Allow to cool at least 15 minutes before removing from pan. Makes 12-16 pieces. May be frozen.
Last Year at this Time: Chickpea Pancakes and Peas in a Creamy Curry Sauce
Two Years Ago: Pear and Ginger Mini-Loaves or Muffins