Valentine’s Day is upon us. We are surrounded by pink, red, chocolates and hearts and are being pushed into thinking how important all this is for our romantic relationship. Not that I have a problem with that. To me, any investment in your relationship is a worthwhile investment. It is very fulfilling to be in love. And the ultimate test of love is marriage.
I am a firm believer in the institution of marriage. No. I can think of one exception. Ok. Let’s say for the most part, I do believe in it quite strongly. There is a reason that after spending the initial years of our life with our parents, we head out into the world, in need of and in search of a partner. My belief is that upon reaching adulthood, one needs a companion above all other relationships. There is a reason that when Adam was lonely, God created Eve, his wife, and not a mother or a brother.
Ah marital bliss! Is it a reality, a possibility or a fantasy? Well, as a person who saw it in action day after day for about a quarter of a century, let me assure you that it is indeed a reality. I won’t be presumptuous enough to say that I have all the secrets of a blissful marriage, but I can tell you about a couple who did.
I was very fortunate to be raised by parents who, and while I know this is a sweeping statement, I still say it with conviction, were the happiest married couple in the world, up to the day when my father passed away.
My mother was always happy and smiling. My father, quietly content. We grew up in a very peaceful environment of complete harmony and understanding. In my naivety, I assumed that every family was like ours, but I later realized through conversations with school friends that my parents‘ relationship was truly exceptional.
After coming home from work, all they wanted to do was spend every minute with each other and with the family. They sat down (our seating was on the floor, Peshawari style), relaxed, had tea and told each other about their day. I sat through those sessions everyday for years, and I think that for the longest time I didn’t even realize what I was witnessing, but I always wanted to be there for it. Looking back, it makes me smile to remember the serenity, ease and contentment of the scene in the simple sharing of the events of the day. Stories accompanied by smiles, and occasionally by little attempts at one-upmanship in their respective work situations, their emotional accord bringing them together through this simple, daily ritual.
They would sit in the lawn, with my father carefully examining all the plants and discussing how he wanted to redo it next season. We would go for walks around the neighborhood, everyday when the weather permitted. On the weekends, they would go to the farmer’s market and get all the produce.
There was no rush. There was no hurry to be somewhere else or to do something else. The pace was slow, deliberate, and the state of mind was to fully take in and absorb every moment of the life that they had built together.
Whenever my mother went out, or when she and I went shopping, my father would be walking outside our house around the time we were expected back, waiting. Looking back, I can’t think of one good reason why we spent all those hours shopping when we could have spent them with him.
I think the part of their relationship that I have carried with me is that it gives me unspeakable joy to go through my day with my husband and to hear about his. I feel awed by the fact that this is something that we have in common with the Ultimate Married Couple. No detail is too big or too small. I want to hear about the Coke that he didn’t drink and I want to tell him about the pencil that I sharpened.
Our conversation might seem boring, pointless and useless, but it carries meaning for us. What he says matters not because of what he is saying, but because he is the one saying it, and vice versa. Every exchange of words doesn’t have to be about world peace and life changing events.
So, whether or not you celebrate Valentine’s Day, (my parents never did- I don’t think they even celebrated their anniversary in a big way) I think a marriage is really something worth celebrating, nurturing and investing in! And because chocolate has become a symbol of love and romance, I must share the Ultimate Chocolate Cake recipe, because chocolate cake does not get better than this! I first tried it for my husband’s birthday, and I have never looked back. I don’t think about any store bought chocolate cake anymore. I know I can make a better one, no question. It is chocolaty without being dense or one dimensional. It rises well, the crumb is moist and even, there is a depth of flavor, the sweetness is just right and the frosting is heavenly!
I have also made cupcakes from this recipe that you can see in my Chocolate Cupcakes and Black and White Cookies Post.
The secret lies in buttermilk and coffee, the buttermilk making it moist and the coffee adding another layer of flavor to the cake. Don’t worry, this is not a Coffee-Chocolate Cake. You will not be able to taste the coffee, but it tastes much better with it than without.
I just use instant coffee, and I don’t use vanilla extract. I have used orange zest in place of vanilla extract for the aroma and the lovely orange-chocolate flavor. Vanilla Extract can’t be found in my kitchen anymore, read why in my Vanilla Beans Post. To buy the vanilla beans that I get, click here.
If you can’t get your hands on buttermilk, then click to read Joy the Baker’s Post on Buttermilk Substitutes.
Ultimate Chocolate Cake! Adapted from Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake.
Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt (Use less than 1 tsp if using regular salt)
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract or 2 inches of a vanilla bean (click to buy)
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee (I use instant coffee)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans. (I use my bundt cake pan because it gives me the most consistent results.)
- Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
- In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. (It’s important to mix on low speed, otherwise the cake will become dense.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans (the batter will be quite runny) and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs. (Important- I don’t like testers to come out clean because that means that the cake is completely done, and has been drying out in the oven for who knows how long. Moist crumbs is perfect, because the centre will remain moist, and will be perfectly done by the time it cools.) Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
- Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.
The pictured frosting is a chocolate glaze. But now I use a frosting which tastes similar to chocolate mousse!
In the original recipe, you bring the cream to a simmer, pour over the chopped chocolate, let stand for a few minutes then process until smooth.
This needs to set, preferable overnight, to really reach the proper consistency of ganache frosting; if used immediately it will be like a glaze.
Now I have a quicker, easier solution for ready to use ganache frosting.
Ready-to-use Ganache Frosting
- 8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1-2 tbsp powdered sugar (optional- I don’t like bitter frosting)
Melt the chocolate in the microwave. Put the heavy cream, sugar and chocolate in a blender. Blend until desired consistency is reached! You can also use a whisk or an electric mixer. If you’re serving immediately, then mix until spreadable. If you’re going to refrigerate it for a few hours before serving, then don’t thicken it too much as it will further set in the fridge.
*If you are making two 8 inch rounds and frosting the entire cake then double this frosting recipe.
This method lets me control the consistency without having to wait for it to set. Everyone loves this frosting! But you could use the frosting of your choice- chocolate fudge, whipped cream, buttercream, cream cheese etc.
So try this recipe, and enjoy a piece with a cup of tea, over a nice, mellow chat with your sweetheart!
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- Is Vanilla Extract Halal? And How to Use Vanilla Beans.
- Chocolate Cupcakes and Black and White Cookies
- Apple Crumble