From French to American. Films, tv series, books, news programs, politics and elections, board games, music and family vacations, a cultural back and forth like a ping pong game, the never-ending lazy tick tick tick of the small white ball flicking rhythmically back and forth across the table. Or the thunk thunk thunk of a tennis ball out in the scorching sun before we stop to catch our breath, pearls of sweat collecting on our brow.
Our constant, fluid switch from French to English and back again, even throwing in the occasional Italianism just to kick things up, baffles even the most cosmopolitan outside observer. Heads turn in our direction as we try to converse over a restaurant meal or stroll through the supermarket. One visit from a dog trainer, standing in the backyard in the center of our small family, observing our interaction with our pet as we tossed toys and called out commands: Sit! Couché! Vieni qua! His head whipping back and forth from one of us to the other, a pained, stunned look washed across his face as he asked “Can’t you speak to the dog in only one language?” Or mother and two young boys, one still in the stroller, standing in line at the checkout holding a normal, everyday conversation to pass the time; I notice all eyes turned upon us and I wonder what could possibly be wrong. Until I realize that as I spoke in English, one son answered only in French, the other only in Italian. Ah, such is life.
Intellectual flip-flops, cerebral seesaw, day in and day out we skip from French to American and back again with the ease and smoothness known only to multi-cultural families. No sweat, no thought, no biggie, just a simple way of life that seemed to come ready made, handed to us with the marriage certificate or that first bundle of joy. Over the years, we have collected jokes, objects of humor and discussion, historical tidbits, a veritable encyclopedia of cultural references that allow us to travel to France, then to America and back again with a natural fluidity that never seems to trip us up or make us stumble and fall in confusion.
So after a run in with an oh-so French Vanilla Custard Berry Tart, my son, who despises all things creamy, gooey or fruity in a dessert, clamored for one of his favorites, each more American than the next. “My turn!” he seemed to be saying, my little American. A simple pan of brownies or a coffee cake, if you please. Or, better yet, a chocolate layer cake. Comforted as he is by the same old familiar treats time and time again, we are often locking horns over my choices for baking. While I want to try out new recipes for posting on my blog, he just wants something to eat that he is sure he will love. Comfort on a plate. So a new recipe must be packaged to look like the old even though I know he is and has never been one to be easily fooled, if ever.
A week neck deep in the French elections and richly ensconced in everything French in the kitchen, the Beouf aux Carottes or a Cauliflower Potato Gratin, the Vanilla Custard Tart, the Tender Cooked Beef and Carrot Cannelloni and the Orange Cointreau Tiramisu, Simon requested an all-American Chocolate Layer Cake filled with his favorite Chocolate Buttercream. I turned to my mother’s 1973 Reader’s Digest Secrets of Better Cooking and found a Double-Rich Chocolate Cake. A bit cakier and fluffier than my favorite dense, moist, dark chocolate layer cake, it is nonetheless a wonderful cake, light and delicate, very chocolaty and the perfect backdrop to a rich cream filling. And, as all great American desserts, it is open to a little spontaneity, creativity and diversity by simply adding some ground cinnamon or some powdered instant espresso, replace the vanilla with orange or almond extract, grate in the zest of an orange, fill with any flavor buttercream or smear each layer with jelly or jam before piling on the whipped cream.
DOUBLE-RICH CHOCOLATE CAKE
From Reader’s Digest’s Secrets of Better Cooking
3 oz (90 g) unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups (260 g) sifted pastry or cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 ¼ cups (250 g) superfine sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup (250 ml) milk
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp orange extract, optional
1 single recipe of my Favorite Simple Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter and line two 8-inch (20/21-cm) cake pans with parchment paper.
Melt the chocolate either in the microwave or over a pot of gently simmering water just until melted. Remove from the heat, stir until smooth and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Sift the flour before measuring out the 2 cups (I stick my measuring cup right into the flour box or sit it on a large dinner plate and sift the flour directly into it, leveling it lightly with a knife) and then stir in the baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Cream the butter with the superfine sugar until well blended, light and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla and orange extracts.
Add the melted chocolate to the creamed butter, sugar and eggs and beat in to blend. Beat in the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the milk in two additions, beating just to blend after each addition.
Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or just until set in the center (I may have let mine go a few minutes too long). Remove from the oven to cooling racks, allow to cool in the pans for 10 or 15 minutes before running a thin-bladed knife around the edges to loosen the cake and turn out of the pans. Peel off the parchment paper and turn upright and allow to cool on the racks completely.
Set one layer of the cake on a serving platter, spread thickly with the Chocolate Buttercream, set the second layer on top and dust all over with powdered sugar before serving.