There's almost nothing that makes me feel more at peace than the almost visible glow that pervades my home after people come over and allow me to feed them. I'm glad you could take a short break from seating charts to join the annual Fall Equinox dinner Chez Boo.
Of course, given everyone's wild schedules at the moment, there wasn't time for a big feast. This year's table sported black plums, chevre, hummus, crackers, and glasses of prosecco. But I still
wanted to make something particular to the occasion.
Wine Harvest Floor Picnic Setup, Urban Pagan Style.
Right up front I want to say that the cake was not my idea. This year, I chose to celebrate the Fall Equinox, also known as the Wine Harvest, by stealing a recipe from a food blog we love. I feel ok about it because the author admits to taking the recipe from a reader, and after all Pete Seeger called stealing the "Folk Process", and, whatever, this cake is really special.
At the wine harvest, we honor the notion of fermentation... the last stage before decay, before out with the old and in with the new. We drink in the lessons learned from the old year before the new is quite upon us, blah, blah, spiritual justification for booze in your dessert.
The truth is that Wine Cake has been on my mind since the summer, when our friend Titania (aka Mrs.Mighty Hunter) brought her sensational, signature "Aunt Marilyn's Wine Cake" to our waterfront picnic and I pretty much consumed the whole thing over the course of the afternoon.
Aunt Marilyn, you saucy minx. Trust me, there is no one who would not love this if you brought it over to their house; I dont care if they plant-sit for Michael Pollan.
Dangerously light AND moist AND crumby AND not too sweet AND kind of boozy but just a little, like maybe there was a glass of wine sitting near your cake. We're not talking tiramisu here. You're not going to get tipsy - - but it's there to lend an innocent, retro confection a kind of adult wink. It was everything I felt that summer day - sunshiny, casual, laid-back and just a little bit up to no good.
Although I had to respect Mrs. MH's wish to not betray Aunt Marilyn's recipe, I did pester her for some key ingredients and then googled recipes to match. (It's the FOLK PROCESS.) It seems that the traditional 'wine cake' involves yellow or white cake mix (MIX), instant vanilla pudding (INSTANT PUDDING), eggs, vegetable oil, and white wine. Delicious. Believe it. Resist the urge to fancy it up in any way as I believe it would ruin the charming, wonderfully unpretentious end result. I think this recipe would probably come close.
Fast-forward to this week, when I see this recipe online and find that I cannot get myself to the store fast enough for red wine and cocoa powder. Because if Aunt Marilyn totally nailed my summer afternoon, devil-may-care, I'm-0ff-to-the-O'Neill-conference mindset in July, only this deep, dark, For-Serious
Red Wine Chocolate Cake
- could capture where I'm at now as we slide into Fall.
Sparing the details, it's been a rough week. Disappointment. Loss. Heartbreak. Chagrin. Nouns like that.
There are times when you really learn the meaning of powerlessness. As in, sometimes s*t really does just happen and there's nothing you can do about it. Bad things happen to good people. Bad news comes without warning. You can't always get what you want, and you can't always keep what you think you have. One minute everyone's basking in the beautiful summer; the next minute it's, well, over.
At times like this, it's possible to go to a really dark place.
If you're lucky, it'll look like this:
Fall Equinox Red Wine Chocolate Cake via Smitten Kitchen
This dark, refined (yet fluffy!) chocolate cake does not involve mix or pudding (remember, we're going for beautiful gothic melancholy here). However, it is still an EASY one-bowl affair that takes only 25 minutes in the oven. You have GOT to make this, heartbreak or no. (You'll see that Smitten Kitchen's version calls for a mascarpone cream topping; I prefer without. To each her own.)
6 tbsp butter
3/4 C packed dark brown sugar
1/4 C white sugar
1 egg + 1 yolk (I only had one egg and it was still delicious)
3/4 C red wine (I used Cupcake Vineyards' "Red Velvet"... pretty much because of the name)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 C + 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 C dutch cocoa powder (I went with Hershey's Unsweetened)
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon (I might actually have liked less)
Preheat to 325. Spray 9-in. round cake pan with baking spray (or line with parchment... ? I used Pam...) In a large bowl, cream the butter. Add the sugars and beat til fluffy. Add egg and yolk and beat well, then red wine and vanilla. Add all dry ingredients right in the same bowl (you can sift them if you're more patient than me, or have a sifter). Mix til 3/4 combined then fold the rest in gently. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 25-30 min or until a cake tester comes out clean. "The top of the cake should be shiny and smooth, like a puddle of chocolate."(SK). (If you're making the topping, do it while the cake is baking.) Let cool 10 min. Eat. It looks very pretty dusted with confectioner's sugar.
This cake, like the human spirit, is very resilient. Like, say, if you forget to add the chocolate, and have to stir it in at the last minute. Still good!