“All of them, having suffered through periods of restrictions, practiced that ancestral cooking of hard times knows as la Cuisine de Misère to millions of French women. Practicing la Cuisine de Misère meant cooking something with nothing. It meant adouber a tiny piece of meat with more vegetables, more dumplings, more sauce to make sure that it would stretch to feed a whole family; it meant making a couple of eggs or a piece of cheese multiply into a pie to feed six people; it meant all kinds of calculations going on under those tiny white lace bonnets, so that it would taste good and cost close to nothing.” (Madeleine Kamman, When French Women Cook (1976), 21)
“Once during the last war [ . . . ] when rationing of sugar and butter had been in effect just long enough to throw all the earnest young housewives into a proper tizzy, my grandmother sat knitting and listening to a small excited group of them discuss with proper pride their various ways of making cake economically. Each felt that her own discovery was the best, of course, an insisted that brown sugar or molasses-with-soda was much better than white, or that if you used enough spices you could substitute bacon fat for butter, or that eggs were quite unnecessary.” (MFK Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf (1954), 10)
The works of MFK Fisher and Madeleine Kamman are worthy of reading simply for the pure pleasure of enjoying thoughts expressed in such wonderfully written prose. The delightful, and often poignant, imagery and impressions conveyed through such delightful writing as found in these works, however, in no way diminishes the ideas Fisher and Kamman impart about the importance of food to the human life and spirit quite beyond its impact on human health. I mention these specific works in this blog post that concerns a deliciously dense, rich, chocolate-y gluten-free cappuccino cake because of the stark clash of human-food philosophy and values represented by Kamman and Fisher, and the more contemporary (and mistaken) human-food philosophy and values represented by a couple who attended the family gathering at which I recently served this cake as dessert.
Fisher and Kamman write about food, but their emphasis is really on people and the role food plays in our lives. The view of food that permeates these two works is that food is intrinsically a part of the celebration of human life: in good times and in bad, in richer times and in poorer. Few, if any, of the people about whom these women write are people of generous economic means; most of the people are on tight, or severely restricted budgets. Yet these people of meager means still manage to find ways of making even their ordinary daily meals enjoyable. At no point do either Kamman or Fisher concern themselves or their readers with the health properties of food alone; rather, they concentrate on its quality of flavor and the joy it brings to a common dinner or a holiday celebration. In fact, the only foods these women discourage people from eating are foods that are either poorly prepared, or prepared with inferior ingredients when superior ingredients are available. Kamman’s French women, used to planning and cooking meals during times of economic hardship and scarcity, still strive to make the dishes they prepare taste good, no matter the measures they must take to stretch their meals. Fisher’s young housewives are determined to provide cakes for their families, though they must find a substitute for white sugar and often omit the eggs. They obviously view cake as a nice offering for their families, and thus important to offer, even in the leanest of economic times! Angst about types of fat, sugar or fat content, or calories is glaringly missing from the concerns about food expressed in When French Women Cook and How to Cook a Wolf.
Sadly, too many people these days deny themselves real enjoyment of real food. A sort of anti-food philosophy has replaced the attitude of old, that food serves our souls as well as our bodies, eating should provide pleasure as well as sustenance, and enjoyable food is a good thing, not a bad thing! People in our society (I say “our” society for surely people in less wealthy, less plentiful societies would scoff at the idea that whole classes of foods should be avoided for anything other than religious reasons) have adopted a notion that food and eating are somehow separate from the spiritual and social elements of human living, so they view food in a merely utilitarian aspect alone. To people who believe such things, food serves no purpose other than to fuel the body. Upon this point, I indulge in a little self-pity. As someone who lives with a decidedly involuntary and unwanted food restriction, I have difficulty comprehending people who voluntarily restrict the foods they eat. Oh, to eat a chocolate glazed Krispe Kreme donut, or an original New Orleans muffaleta again! Oh, to pick and choose among the Mexican pastries at the Mi Tierra bakery again! Never, never again will these culinary treats be mine to enjoy. Yes, of course, a gluten-free version might be developed and may even be passable, but everyone KNOWS the gluten-free version would never stand up to the original, glutenous version of these foods in quality of texture and flavor.
Delicious and enjoyable gluten-free versions of cakes and cookies can be baked, nonetheless, and thankfully we have an increasing number of good quality gluten-free ingredients and products readily available so that those of us who suffer from either Celiac or gluten-intolerance can still enjoy our breads and desserts. To make sure I get to enjoy dessert at gatherings hosted by relatives and friends, I usually volunteer to provide the dessert. This past week, my husband’s sweet, dear cousin hosted the two of us and some other relatives for dinner. Usually when I attend dinners away from home, for which I do not cook, I have to eat ahead of time and hope to find a naturally gluten-free tidbit here and there at the dinner I attend. Cousin Caryn, however, made a point of having several gluten-free dishes for dinner this night, including gluten-free buns for my hamburger! She truly is the most generous and thoughtful of hostesses. As always, I provided dessert: a to-die-for gluten-free dark chocolate Cappuccino cake.
Everyone raved about the cake – everyone, that is, except for a couple who are in the second month of their “detox” or “cleansing” diet. It’s a commercially marketed diet from a company that requires people who follow it to purchase food in the form of a powdered shake mix, which has to be mixed with soy milk – or maybe almond milk – but at any rate one of those artificial milks. This diet requires that the dieters omit dairy, carbs (except for brown rice), sugar, caffeine, and sundry other foods. But no worries! Along with the powdered shake food, this detox diet company provides some sort of fizzy something as a caffeine replacement. People on this diet are allowed a certain amount of “real” food (vegetables – other than that I’m not clear what’s left they can eat) but many of the calories and “nutrients” are taken in the form of the shakes throughout the day. This couple had a harder time than I finding food they could eat among the offerings lovingly and thoughtfully provided by our hostess, which is a unique situation for someone with Celiac to encounter! Sadly, they had to say “no” to the cake, as they said “no” to various other dishes placed before us. This meal plays continually though my mind, which remains bewildered by people who, although they don’t have to for any medical or religious reason, would actually choose to restrict their eating in such an unpleasant, unnatural manner. I wonder why such people sacrifice so much to ostensibly extend their lives that they won’t allow themselves to indulge in the comforts and delights that honest food offers the human soul (as well as the unity shared, commonly enjoyed foods bring to the human community) – the length to which they go to extend life seems to make the quality of that life they extend a little poorer for the saving. Oh, well. Let this dear couple eat shakes! Ours is to live and let live. We can be sad for them, though, that they missed out on such a delectable, home-made cake with genuine ingredients that can be easily pronounced!
This cake was inspired by my fondness of cappuccino. I love cappuccino! It’s such a lovely, comforting beverage to drink, especially following a relaxing, romantic dinner in a dark, cozy restaurant. Actually, the best cappuccino I have ever tasted was at an Italian restaurant in the Little Italy section of downtown San Diego. It was smooth and creamy, strong but not bitter, with just the right amount of foam. Although we visited this restaurant the last two times we were in San Diego, I cannot remember the establishment’s name! I do remember sitting on the patio, from where if I stretched my neck and turned my head just right, I could catch a glimpse of the distant harbor between some buildings across the street. A deli case stands inside the restaurant, and Frank Sinatra songs flow from a speaker up above. The waiter who waited on us both times we visited the restaurant had such a stereo-typical New York-style Italian accent that I wondered if perhaps he faked the accent for effect! The effect added so charmingly to the restaurant’s ambiance that I decided to accept the accent at face-value. At any rate, I have had many cups of cappuccino in many places in many states in the U.S., but none that rivals the quality of the cappuccino served in this little place in Little Italy. I tried to make this cake taste and look like a cup of cappuccino (because the only thing better than a perfect cup of cappuccino is a perfect piece of cake!), and by picking up the melted chocolate with the spoon while swirling on the frosting, one can make the cake look almost like a foamy cup of cappuccino!
*This cake tastes strongly of coffee, and isn’t too sweet (coconut sugar tends to be less sweet than refined white sugar). If you aren’t fond of strong coffee, use a lighter roast instant coffee, reduce the amount of instant coffee you add to the milk, or replace the coconut sugar with organic cane sugar.
Gluten-free Dark Chocolate Cappuccino Cake
8 oz Cultured (European style)unsalted butter, softened
500 g organic coconut sugar
8 oz whole fat vanilla or honey Greek yogurt
4 oz whole milk
1 tbls good quality, dark roast instant coffee powder
187 g Authentic Foods super-fine brown rice flour
120 g Tapioca flour
67 g unsweetened cocoa
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp guar gum
1 12 oz pkg Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 13 X 9 X 2 baking pan.
Heat the milk in a microwave safe cup or bowl until hot. Add the coffee powder to the milk and mix until the powder is dissolved into the milk. Set aside to cool.
Cream together the softened butter and the coconut sugar. Add the eggs one at a time to the creamed mixture, beating after the addition of each egg. Add the yogurt to the batter; mix well.
Mix together the remaining dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the batter, alternating with the instant coffee / milk mixture. Mix well and pour into the prepared pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until done.
When the cake is done, remove the cake from the oven. Turn off the oven. Pour the chocolate chips evenly over the hot cake and return the cake to the oven for about one minute. The chocolate chips should be soft and melted when the cake is removed from the oven.
Using a rubber spatula, spread the melted chocolate evenly over the surface of the cake.
Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting it. Frost the cake as soon as it has cooled. The chocolate layer will still be soft at this point.
Coffee Buttercream Frosting
8 oz Cultured (European style) unsalted butter, room temperature
400 to 500 g of gluten-free powdered sugar, sifted
½ tbls good quality dark roast instant coffee
2 oz whole milk
With a mixer, cream the melted butter. Add about 200 g of the powdered sugar to the butter; mix well. Add half the milk – coffee mixture to the frosting; mix well. Beat in another 200 g of the powdered sugar, then add enough of the remaining milk / coffee mixture to make the frosting the right consistency for spreading on the cake. Add the remaining powdered sugar and milk / coffee mixture as needed, to achieve spreading consistency.
Pour the frosting into the middle of the cake. Using the back of a spoon, swirl the frosting over the top of the cake so that the frosting has the appearance of waves or foam. Pick up the chocolate layer with the back of the spoon while you swirl on the frosting, so that the frosting will have a streaked appearance.