I made a cake this weekend for friends. This is super unusual for a few reasons.
First – it’s been 23 months of pandemic lockdown and distancing and no socializing – I mean real socializing, where people sit at a table together and eat, drink, laugh and share memories – has been practically non-existent. At least in our home.
So bringing people to my table is, in itself, a thrilling and extraordinary treat.
Also – while I love to gather people around my table and cook up something yummy for them – and I’m pretty creative in that department – I am not a dessert maker.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy dessert (yum, yes please!). Watching the Great British (and Canadian) Bake Off is a guilty pleasure for certain. I find watching others make extravagant desserts and mix, fold, whip, and knead, to be both relaxing and informative. But I don’t like to do it myself.
Dessert-making in general and baking in particular is finicky and precise. It’s a science and you need the right proportion of dry to wet, sugar to acid to leavener, temperature to mass to timing to make it all come out Instagramable.
I am much more an experimental cook and those who have either been part of my social circle or who have worked with me to expand their culinary proficiency know that my favourite recipes are those that are flexible and forgiving. (Sidebar: that’s how I like my dinner guests, friends, clients to be too – flexible and forgiving LOL!)
Anyway – because I had weekend guests and some leftover buttermilk that I hated to waste (from the morning waffle extravaganza), I decided to bake a cake for dinner.
Yes – me. Bake. Ha! Let the games begin.
I remembered a recipe from my childhood baking sprees called ‘Chocolate Crazy Cake’. Essentially a fast mix-in-the-pan cake that used soured (not sour!) milk to help leaven it. I figured that buttermilk would do the same.
So I pulled out all the ingredients, which shockingly I had on hand, and as I was chit-chatting with one of my guests – who was generously helping to prep some veg for dinner, I threw together a quickie chocolate cake.
It came our looking gorgeous – and with a little fresh fruit decoration – well, ta-da! I was dang proud.
One small problem though: as I watched it cool on the counter – I suddenly and horrifyingly remembered – I forgot to add the sugar. Too much conversation and not enough attention paid to double-checking the ingredient list before popping it in the oven.
Now there was a time when I would have dumped the cake straight into the bin and raced to the corner store to buy ice cream. And been embarrassed and out of sorts for the remainder of the weekend, constantly apologizing and putting myself down internally and externally for this pretty simple mistake.
I am, after all, a trained and experienced ‘foodie’, and expert in cooking and in the dispensation of advice around kitchen skills and eating well, and dare I say, perhaps even an influencer when it comes to all things culinary?
And here was a failure, writ large, in front of guests with no way to hide the outcome.
Sh#t!! I’ve been found out. I’m not an expert in food and nutrition at all.
I’m not talented enough to bake a simple cake. I can’t even follow a recipe for gawd’s sake.
I’m just a big fat show-off imposter!
I know. It’s just a cake. But we (and by ‘we’, I mean a big chunk of the uber-busy professionals and entrepreneurs that I coach and/or hang out with on the regular) tend to hold ourselves to impossible standards of perfection that allow no missteps. And we talk to ourselves in voices that are harsh and unforgiving for even the tiniest faux pas.
It happens when we miss something on our professional To Do list, or when we veer off the weight loss or wellness improvement path we are working on, or when we forget to pick up dog food. Or when we forget to add the sugar into a cake recipe.
All of a sudden, our Inner Critic has free-range to remind us – loudly and rudely – that we are kidding ourselves if we think we can be who we think we are.
The derision and the mocking. The sarcasm and the insults. The put-downs and the disparagements. It all adds up to “Just who do you think you are, Missy? You are not worthy – and don’t ever think that you can be a success at (insert whatever you are trying to achieve here).”
I’ve been doing the work (so much work!!) to get my Inner Critic, that Mean Girl Voice to STFU when something goes amiss in my personal or professional life. It ain’t easy but it’s possible and it’s freeing and calming when you can get some quiet from the constant nattering and nagging and picking at everything you do.
Suddenly so much seems possible!
When you can instead allow your Inner Mentor – which we all have living inside of us whether we listen to her/him or not – to bathe you in grace and kindness and a little humour when it all goes sideways – we can grow and imagine ourselves to be who we truly are.
Whole. Authentic. Human. Enough.
The house smelled chocolatey and delicious. The buzz of happy conversation and togetherness after so many months apart was poignant and soul-affirming. My guests were ready for their dessert.
I took a deep breath and cut the cake, topped each slice with whipped cream, served it, and before everyone had their first bite – I confessed. And we all laughed uproariously! Another precious memory for our book of friendship, which is all that really mattered.
I promised them I had some fruit and nuts we could substitute for a dessert if the cake was gross but guess what? It was awesome. ☺ And we ate the whole damn thing. Mistake and all.
So what’s the lesson in this story?
Mistakes make memories. Mistakes are just a way to learn and the next step in growing. Mistakes are part of what makes us human. Mistakes only have power if they are hidden in the dark and kept secret. Mistakes teach us resilience and resourcefulness.
Mistakes can be a delicious part of life if we let our Inner Mentor guide us in place of our Inner Critic.
So here’s the recipe – as I prepared it. With no sugar. It was yummy as is, thanks to the sprinkle of chocolate chips melting on top – but if you wanted to add a dab of sweetness (instead of the full 2 cups of granulated sugar originally called for!) I have provided a couple of alternatives.
Maybe I actually am a baker, a foodie, an influencer after all?
If you try this cake – let me know how you’ve improvised or improved on it!
Quick Sugarless Buttermilk Cacao Cake
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- ½ cup raw cacao
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp sea salt
- (if you want a little added sweetness without the impact on your blood sugar and to keep it keto-friendly – use monkfruit or allulose – maybe ½ -2/3 cup or so)
- 2 large organic eggs
- 2/3 cup melted coconut oil or other vegetable oil (I used EVOO because it’s what I had on hand)
- 1 cup whole buttermilk (I used a little bit more since that’s what was left)
- ¾ cup hot (not boiling) water
- 1 cup mini chocolate chips (I used Lily’s stevia-sweetened, making the cake truly sugarless. But if you didn’t care about that, you could use regular chips)
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Grease and flour, or line with parchment paper, a 9X13 inch square baking pan or an 8-inch springform pan.
3. Whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl.
4. Add eggs, oil and buttermilk and stir to combine.
5. Add hot water and whisk/mix until batter is smooth.
6. Pour into the pan and sprinkle the top with chocolate chips.
7. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Top with fresh raspberries or sliced bananas and a dollop of whipped cream (dairy or vegan).