I’ve always had this bizarre sort of problem where people expect me to be much older than I actually am, and then seem affronted when I inform them otherwise. It’s like it’s somehow my fault that I’m not already 23 or that I haven’t graduated uni yet, as if I’m hanging around here for my own health instead of going to classes because I’ve got 9 credit hours left before they’ll give me a diploma.
I remember one instance in particular, during my senior year of high school, an afternoon after classes spent at one of my favorite cafes in the city with a bowl of Asian-inspired chicken salad and Italian language textbook. I was there on my own – not an unusual occurrence – absentmindedly flipping through verb conjugations while none-too-discreetly following a particularly appealing member of the waitstaff out of the corner of my eye. He was, incidentally, one that I’d had my eye on for a few weeks by then, primarily out of fascination of his mysteriously sandy blond locks and sleeve tattoos carefully hidden under the black, longsleeved button down he was forced to don for work.
(I know of the sleeve tattoos only because I happened to be eating there with a friend when he came in, fresh out of the nearby university gym in Nike shorts and a perfectly tight A-shirt, head bobbing subtly to what I can only imagine was the distasteful rap music social constructs seem to brainwash us to listen to when we’re lifting weights, but nonetheless. It was sexy.)
Anyway, I was slowly chewing a mouthful of greens and staring at a chart of “this-is-how-you-conjugate-parlare” when he walked over to refill my water. I glanced up, gave a polite smile, and trailed my eyes back down to the page before he awkwardly cleared his throat.
Him: So, you study Italian?
Me: (Was it the drawing of pasta that gave it away or the fact that everything’s written in Italian?) Yep, first year.
Him: That’s cool. I’ve heard the VCU Italian profs are pretty good.
Me: (Oh, oh dear. Now, how can I do this without being obvious…) Oh, hmm, I bet they are.
Him: Oh, so you’re not at VCU? U of R then?
Me: (Well, shit.) …haha! (Did you seriously just giggle?) No, I’m, erm, at Governor’s.
Him: Oh, you mean the high school?
Me: (…this silence has lasted entirely too long. And why is he looking at me like that?)
Him: I used to date girls who went to Governor’s when I was in high school. And to think, I was gonna ask you on a date, too! Sorry about that!
He grinned sheepishly. I smiled politely and tried to prove that one can, indeed, sink into the floor and disappear if they concentrate hard enough. (Incidentally, one cannot.) So I spent the next three minutes devouring the second half of my salad, signed off on the check, all but ran out of the restaurant, and am pretty sure I did not return there again for at least about a year.
…luckily, since then, such instances have been few and far between.
Instead, the past few months have been filled with barrages of, “well, we could go to karaoke on Thursday night if someone wasn’t still 20″ and “such-and-such student group is having an event at the club downtown, but they only permit 21+” and “can you just hurry the hell up and finally turn 21 so you can be a real adult with us?”
Okay, so, no, I am not yet 21. But I will be this coming Tuesday – which I think everyone else is far more excited about than I am – and I did think the occasion merited some sort of small celebration at home. Mum, dad, and Yusra can’t come up and visit as they have every year in the past, mainly because my birthday does not conveniently fall during the weekend this year. So instead of having mum bring me my absolute favorite cake ever, I figured it was high-time I just make it for myself.
A bit pathetic? Perhaps. But desperate times call for desperate measures. And birthday cake, I wholeheartedly believe, absolutely fits this criteria. Even if it is a few days premature.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
Adapted from mum’s recipe. Also fairly typical of any flourless chocolate cake recipe.
Serves 2 greedy college students or 6-8 normal adults.
- 6 oz semisweet chocolate
- 2 oz bittersweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup [1 stick – 8 tbsp] butter
- 2 whole eggs
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tsp instant coffee
Preheat oven to 350F and line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan with aluminum foil. Do not grease the pan. (Seriously. Don’t do it. I was skeptical, but it works out fine.)
Melt the chocolate and butter over a double-broiler (or microwave, if you’re lazy like me) until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk the two whole eggs with the 4 egg yolks. (You can do all of this by hand.) Whisk in 1/2 cup of the sugar. Slowly whisk in the melted chocolate and the instant coffee. Set aside.
In a large, dry stainless steel bowl, whisk the egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy. Slowly pour in the granulated sugar, increase mixer speed, and whisk until the whites form soft peaks. Gently fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen the batter (it will be quite thick). Fold the remaining whites into the batter in thirds, until just incorporated.
Slowly pour the batter into the prepared pan, carefully as not to deflate the egg whites. Bake for 30-35 mins, until the center is no longer jiggly. Allow cake to cool at least 30 mins in the pan before removing the sides. The center will deflate a bit, which is alright. Cool the cake to room temperature, then refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Place cake on a serving tray. Serve alongside fresh berries, fruit coulis, or caramel sauce. Dust with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.
I’ve had a variation of this cake every year since I turned, oh, about 11 years old. I can’t tell you what it is about that makes me beg mum to make it every single year, but no birthday of mine is complete without it. (Also, conveniently, gluten-free, so perhaps some divine entity has just been prepping me for this my entire life.) Sometimes mum will serve it with fruit, sometimes with a dusting of powdered sugar, sometimes all by its deliciously, melt-in-your-mouth, chocolate-y self.
This year, I went with candied pecans and salted caramel. Because, well, why not. I like salted caramel. It’s like the tall, deliciously sexy older brother of regular caramel. I mean, regular caramel is wonderfully sweet and gentlemanly, don’t get me wrong, but his salted counterpart is like, the perfect combination of charming good looks, crooked smile, and devilish flair. And you know, sometimes you just need that in your life.
(Okay, this analogy has gone on far too long. Maybe it’s that I’m still bitter about Mr Sexy-tattoo-sleeved-water-refilling-waiter, but I’ll never admit that out loud.)
In any case, it was perfection. Sitting bundled amongst lumpy pillows on an equally lumpy sofa, shoulder-to-shoulder with the best friend one could have, and scrutinizing celebrity dresses on the red carpet (can you say Emmy night? because I can say Benedict Cumberbatch) with a mouthful of fourless chocolate cake, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a birthday. Now, just a German test and two papers to muddle through before an outrageous party weekend most people are likely not going to remember. It will be glorious.
And, you know, after all the gripes and groans, being almost finally-twenty-one is a pretty nice feeling.