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"Failing" to Make Chocolate Cake

I didn’t know chocolate cake would be my January reminder that just because you love something doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it.

Anyone who knows me knows I love chocolate. I’ve had chocolate cake for every birthday and major celebration in my life for as long as I can remember. One day I will probably have chocolate cake at my wedding.

My love for chocolate and food led to my passion for baking. For Thanksgiving last year, I baked a carrot cake and a coffee cake for Christmas. Despite being the first time I had made either of those cakes, they came out almost perfectly. However, I haven’t had that same luck with chocolate desserts.

During the pandemic, George and I cooked and baked together a lot since we couldn’t go out. Once, we tried to bake a chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. Our cake was so dry, and the frosting was weirdly wet. We never did figure out what was wrong with the frosting; it kept soaking into the cake, but somehow that didn’t make it moister. It was weird.

For our fourth anniversary, I attempted to make a chocolate soufflé. My poor souffle barely rose and didn’t have that beautiful flat top. To make it worse, it barely tasted like chocolate and was both under and overcooked. I was devastated, especially since it was for our anniversary.

But I was not defeated. When I learned today was National Chocolate Cake Day, it was my calling to try again.

Our pantry is fully stocked with everything I could need to bake, so I only had to find a recipe I wanted to follow. Inspired by Alvin Zhou’s 150-Hour Chocolate Cake, I chose a chocolate mousse cake recipe.

George loves to ensure the baking section of our pantry is fully stocked so he can reap the benefits of my spontaneous urge to bake. With this in mind, I didn’t think to go to the supermarket to buy anything. Setting up my mise en place, I learned we were low on sugar and had to send George out to get some.

The cake batter came out thinner than I’m used to, but the recipe indicated it would be. I decided not to question it and placed it in the oven. After a quick dinner break to eat a Five Guys burger and fries, I started working on the chocolate mousse.

I’ve made chocolate mousse before using Bobby Flay’s recipe, but it has never come out as good as this new recipe. While making the mousse, the cake finished, but I was utterly confused because it didn’t rise and passed the toothpick test but didn’t look cooked. It was weird.

I made the frosting and kept forgetting to “stir occasionally.”

The cakes were so thin slicing them in half didn’t make sense, so I layered them with mousse without cutting them. Much to George’s delight, the lack of height meant a lot of leftover mousse.

Then came the most nerve-racking part, pouring the frosting on top. This moment caused tensions between George and me, but we made it through. After an hour and some cosmetic surgery, we could finally cut ourselves a slice.

I’m not ashamed to say that I genuinely teared up in disappointment. The texture was off; the frosting was weird and didn’t have that rich chocolatey flavor. Everything in my being wanted to throw the entire cake away dramatically, but that’s wasteful, and I spent four hours on it, so I would never. Luckily, the longer the

cake sat, the better it was making me think Alvin was on to something with the 150- hour cake.

My chocolate cake was not nasty; it was just different from what I wanted or anticipated. The chocolate cake has bested me again. I love it so much I don’t know why it has to be so difficult. One day, I will make a fantastic chocolate cake. Until then, celebrate this beautifully unnecessary holiday and treat yourself to a piece of scrumptious chocolate cake.

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