Memories from a Recipe: Chocolate Cake

This past Sunday morning, I got a text from a friend. Her husband had died unexpectedly of a heart attack that morning. He was 48.

I offered what I always offer when a death happens (because it’s easy)…pulled pork, pickles, lemon coleslaw, fresh rolls, and a chocolate cake. That night as I started to prepare the meal, I thought about how comforting the ritual of cooking for someone who has gone through a tragedy means to me. I like to think and pray as I cook, hoping to infuse whatever energy and comfort I have to give into every bite of the meal, hoping in some small way, it brings the family a little peace.

I got the cake recipe out. I first got this recipe from my mother-in-law, Judy, when my oldest was newly diagnosed with a digestive disease that required us to cut out egg, dairy, and soy. (Have you ever made a cake without those ingredients? I never had and was skeptical.) Judy and I made that cake for Asher whenever we needed an “Asher-safe” dessert for a party we were going to. Asher is better now. As an 11 year old, he often makes himself a plate of eggs for breakfast. But, the comfort that cake brought me when I had no idea what this kid’s life was going to look like reminded me how far we had come and the love his grandma showed for him and for me in finding this recipe.

That recipe came up again (and is printed below) from my friend, Kate, who sends out a compilation of her favorite recipes every year. Remembering the times Kate and I discussed recipes as diverting conversations during the issues we were dealing with in graduate school, I love that she taught me how cooking and baking could be meditative and a way to cope when one had a 30 page paper due and no idea how to tackle the subject matter during those gloomy cold New England winters.

I think of the others who I have made this cake for, and I am reminded of a quote from Michael Cunningham’s novel, The Hours.
“She wants to have baked a cake that banishes sorrow, even if only for a little while.”
And, I hope that this cake will do just that for my friend and her family tomorrow.
What do you like to do to help others in times of difficulty?
Chewy Chocolate Cake
from In the Sweet Kitchen

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c sugar
1/4 c natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

6 Tb canola oil
1 Tb white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 c cool water

Oven to 350. Whisk together first 5 ingredients. Mix in wet ingredients until most of the lumps are smoothed out, but do not overbeat. Bake in 8×8 pan for 30 minutes (9×9 pan for 23-25). Cool completely—this extremely moist cake will fall apart if removed from the pan too soon. I like to serve it topped with ganache or chocolate sauce, although it’s even good topped with only a sprinkle of powdered sugar.


EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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7 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    I love the idea of praying as you cook so that your love and care can be infused in the food. And I am making that cake. Such a tender post.

  2. Ziff says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Emily! Like Heather, I particularly love the idea of praying and baking.

  3. Linda says:

    This post is beautiful and resonates deeply. The idea of pouring my heart and soul into cooking and baking is nurturing to my soul and hopefully to the recipient whether my family or someone else. I am reminded of a favorite memory in the days after my mothers passing it was a hot August day in the south and I was sitting on my aunts front porch. She came out sat down next to me and handed me a pop sickle. In that moment I was a child again. Her simple act nurtured me in my profound grief and I felt so loved and so safe. It was really indescribable. Thank you Emily!

    • EmilyCC says:

      I have to say, Linda (I’m hoping this is Linda HK?), your book, Saints Well-Seasoned, is one of my favorites and a style of essay I tried to emulate in this essay.

  4. MDearest says:

    I love a good recipe! And I believe deeply in the holiness that can be a part of cooking food and also the joy of sharing something good to eat. I hope your friend finds comfort from what you’ve prepared.
    I think we all have a bit of motherless child within us, and a dish of food made by hand with love is a balm like no other for that ache.

  5. Kathy says:

    I am not a person who enjoys cooking. But I do enjoy doing things packed with meaning. Thanks for giving me another perspective on making food, especially in circumstances when I don’t know quite how to help.

  1. August 27, 2016

    […] Memories from a Recipe: Chocolate Cake – Her husband had died unexpectedly of a heart attack that morning … I got the cake recipe out. I first got this recipe from my mother-in-law, Judy, when my oldest was newly diagnosed with a … […]

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