Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Birthday Cake. Or, An Ode to Beach Night

How I wish I’d asked Clay to take a photo of it. The cake was beautiful, if I do say so myself. I made it for a Beach Night gathering last Wednesday, where, besides the usual joys of Beach Night, we also celebrated the birthdays of two of our members, E’s and mine.

What is Beach Night, you ask? Well, I'm gonna tell you. Beach Night is a long-standing summer tradition among a group of friends who live up here in this most beautiful of places called The North Coast. We meet on the beach on Wednesday evenings to relax, talk, let the kids run around, have a beer or glass of wine and share dinner. Blankets laden with food are spread out on the sand. A cooking fire is built. Each family brings a dish to share and something to grill. It being strictly potluck, we never know what will be offered. Sometimes we get a delicious dessert. Sometimes we have a plethora of salads and sometimes no salad at all. It’s all part of the fun. After the grilling is finished and dinner consumed, we stoke up the fire, gather ‘round it, and for a while longer continue to bask in the pleasure of our camaraderie, lulled into a quiet appreciation of where we live by the soothing sounds of the ocean waves and the beauty of the setting sun. It’s quite a wonderful thing.

At the end of this past summer, not wanting to give up our weekly gatherings, we decided to keep the tradition going by having each family, in turn, host dinner at their house on a Wednesday night. Sometimes we’ll meet as often as once a week, sometimes a few weeks will go by, but we’ve managed to keep it going and we’re all very pleased it has worked out so well.

Back to last Wednesday. It being the middle of a rainy, windy, muddy, sometimes power-less (as in no electricity), and all together dismal winter, it seems that many of us were of the same mind when we prepared our food to share. I made a white bean and Italian sausage stew with skillet cornbread, D made an Anasazi bean and chorizo stew and blue cornbread, A made two pans of custard cornbread, G made a chili enchilada casserole and Mexican rice with wonderfully hot jalapenos and olives, and E made a hearty pizza. No salads. We laughed over the three different cornbreads and the variation-on-a-theme bean stews. Good, solid, high carb, winter fare. All accompanied by our favorite red wines, of course.

Then came the birthday cake, which is really why I started this post. Dense, bittersweet chocolate; three 8-inch layers worth. Each layer filled with crushed, sweetened raspberries and ever-so-slightly sweetened whipped cream. Frosted with more whipped cream and topped with shavings of bitter-sweet chocolate, it was a sight to behold and, oh my, it was delicious! The recipe for the batter may be found in the February 2006 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

I followed the recipe as written, lowering the brown sugar content from 1 ¾ cups to 1 ½ cups. No low-carb substitutions were made; both the cake and the occasion called for the real thing. Because of the density of the chocolate layers, I decided to lighten up the overall effect by using raspberries and whipped cream. The original recipe calls for a vanilla cream filling and chocolate ganache frosting, but that's another cake for another time.

Topped by flaming rainbow-colored candles, the cake made its entrance into our softly lit dining room to the sounds of the Happy Birthday song. As it was served and the first bites taken, the room grew quiet. And then came that other sound which is so near and dear to my heart: “oooooohhh, yum!

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