Chocolate cake when you least expect it

May 14th, 2019  |  Published in Uncategorized, What we savor

With my grandmother, Christmas 2015. Photo : Julian Coltre.

“Sure, this cake is great, but if only you had been able to taste the original.” My father said that every time his mother made her signature chocolate cake. She made it often. The ingredients were lined up on the kitchen counter when we visited her small ranch in Tom’s River: Cocoa, butter, vegetable oil, Cool Whip for the icing. The cake was a constant at birthdays, holidays, or any time someone requested it.

But my father was unfulfilled, because this wasn’t the way he remembered it. “She used to put coffee grounds in the recipe or something like that,” he said. “I don’t really remember and your grandmother lost that recipe. Either way that cake was out of this world.”

Frankly, as a kid the only questions about cake are how quickly can I eat this so I can go back for seconds. For the most part I brushed off my dad’s comments as ramblings, never wondering if there was a deeper meaning to this missing cake; that my dad enjoyed it when he had come home from school as a little boy, that it satisfied not onlyhis taste buds buthis emotions. Why would I think about that? I just wanted to eat my cake.

My grandmother died when I was 24 – and she was 97 – only months after we found out she had stage-four lung cancer. Before we could even wrap our heads around the idea of losing our beloved “Momma Coltre,” she was gone.

After the funeral, and in the spirit of my grandmother, my family decided to bring all of our relatives back to our house to be together. We would use the time to reminisce and eat together, just as my Italian grandmother would have wanted. Courses came and went, and memories of my grandmother were passed along as frequently as side dishes. Everyone was more than satisfied.

In our house, it’s always customary to present the dessert at the center of the dining room table. We had all the classics; cookies, ice cream, cannoli – and, sitting at the center of the table, a chocolate cake with chocolate icing. It looked like the cake that I had grown up on, except it wasn’t. My dad went in for a slice, and as he began to eat, a look I hadn’t seen beforeappeared on his face. It looked like euphoria.

Aunt Donna, the wife of my dad’s brother, had made the cake from a recipe she found online. It called for coffee grounds in the batter, just like my grandmother’s original recipe.

“This has to be one of the best pieces of cake I’ve ever had, Donna,” he said. My mother used to make a cake with coffee grounds that tasted just like this. It’s almost as if you made her cake.”

Perhaps the universe works in funny ways, and the reemergence of my dad’s favorite chocolate cake was my grandmother’s parting gift to him, or an odd coincidence thanks to the internet, something my grandmother never knew how to use. One thing is certain, now that I’ve tasted the original. It’s a pretty damn good cake.

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