Black and White: When it comes to my husband’s opinions (and particularly when it comes to his annual birthday cake), there is no grey area. I’ll take you back to early February of this year.
“You see that?” Adam says in an accusatory tone, pointing to a food magazine while we are waiting in line at the Earth Fare check out lane. “It’s pathetic!” he adds, angrily slapping the rag, still in its holder, with the back of his hand. “Pathetic!” he repeats in a threatening tone that has warranted several head turns from those within earshot, including our dreadlocked, tie-dyed shirt-wearing cashier. This is done for my benefit alone (lucky me!), one in hopes of embarrassing/humiliating me in front of complete strangers at the grocery store, but I have been to this party before. Hey, I invented that game. Even so, I smile nervously at the guy at the register and, for a second, become mesmerized by his hair thinking it’s not really a hairdo at all but more like a work of art. Realizing that I was almost staring at his mane masterpiece, I snapped to and shrugged a quick apology to the clerk since he had a look of concern on his face. Poor thing doesn’t realize my husband is just a small child trying to get a big rise out of me.
Most people who do know Adam as the Photographer Extraordinaire, would immediately think this exaggerated outburst would most certainly have to be photo-related – a Foodgawker-like critique of the cover shot. What was the primary reason for rejection? Bad lighting? Out of focus? Unsharp? Poor composition? No, folks, his animated gesture and scathing comment had absolutely nothing to do with the photo quality of the chocolate cake image staring back at us. I, of course, knew exactly where he was going with his public charade and just what the abominable offense was. I’ve been down this road many, many times. Sixteen to be precise.
He rips the magazine off the rack as I quickly unload our tiny buggy and starts to tap on the front page. Loudly. Loud, loud thumpity-thump taps. All that enthusiastic whopping has piqued the interest of several other by-standers and he’s immensely pleased with himself.
“You see that?” he says to me a third time, still using The Tone and looking around at his pretend-to-not-be-listening audience. I camouflage the massive smirk I felt coming on but don’t even bother to quiet a heavy sigh. Rasta Man scratches the side of his head, while handing the customer ahead of us change. Adam once again points to the piece of cake and, as he is about to utter “Pathetic” yet again, I stage an intervention and under my breath, rapidly inject, “Yes, honey I know. Frosting-to-cake ratio. Pitiful. Got it.” Rasta Man wasn’t privy to my reveal and actually looked a little bummed for the non-disclosure. However, Adam doesn’t deflate that easily. So, he starts cracking the pages fiercely, making lewd comments when a recipe meets his disapproval as Rasta Man scans our items with a bewildered look on his face. Then Adam lands on a Nutella torte.
“Okay, okay, stop the presses!” he waves off with his right hand, lifting the opened magazine high in the air, as if making a sacred offering to the Birthday Cake Gods.
I wanted to shout out to the people who are now openly staring, “Sorry, folks. He forgot to take his medication this morning!” But I resisted. He beams as he capriciously looks at me and before I give him the chance to say another word, spout out, “Nope, did that two years ago. The filling, remember?” He frowns pathetically and forcibly stuffs the publication back in its cradle. He signs the receipt, I collect our purchase and practically leave skid marks to get to the car.
“So, have you given any thought to my birthday cake?” Adam interrogates on the way home, brutally interrupting my attempt at the cold shoulder treatment. “You’ve had like a year to think about it,” he adds. Like I need a reminder. Or a refresher course on the rules. He then quizzes me in a sing-song lilt, “Tell me, what are the two most important requisites for my birthday cake?” And as robotically as humanly possible, I join in with the correct answer as we simultaneously recite, “It has to be moist with a 1/2-inch frosting minimum.”
In addition to the above, there are also other ordinances in Adam’s Axiom of Cake Laws. And every year, I test them. You know, to see if maybe….perhaps….fingers crossed, he will have allowed at least one of them to expire. So, I throw out a few suggestions for the annual celebratory confection, some which are met with pursing of the lips or a head bobble in deliberation. What the heck, I decided, and threw all caution to the wind. “What about chocolate cake with fruit?” I say timidly as I recoil in anticipation of another outburst since I know how he feels about that pairing. He cocks his head to the side and gives me a look over the rim of his glasses and asks, “Have we met?” Okay, fine. Wishful thinking but I had to give it a shot.
And then, in the most unlikely turn of events, he casually quips as we’re driving along, “I would be amenable to chocolate cake. But!” he cajoles as he playfully pokes my thigh, “only (he pauses for effect)…if it’s milk chocolate.”
Jaw-slacked, I stutter, “I’m…uh…I’m sorry. Wwwwhatdid you say? You mean to tell me that you actually want a chocolate/chocolate cake this year? But I….I…I thought….” I had to stop. I had no words. I was too numbed by the shock of this turn of events. Sixteen years of his Mommy Dearest version about his candled centerpiece: “No Chocolate Birthday Cake…EVER!!!” I look at him suspiciously, brow furrowed wondering, Who is this guy and what did he do with my husband? He repeated this stunning news. I was elated. Finally! I can make him my all-time favorite. This! Is! Great! He’s gettin’ some chocolate cake! I sang to myself over and over, doing a little car seat dance all the way home.
And let me tell you, folks. It was worth the wait. That night, The Birthday Boy declared it to be the best birthday cake he had ever had in his life. Although he may have been the one blowing out the candles, as the smoke wisped from each tiny torch, I grinned from the inside out because I finally got my wish. And it only took sixteen years.
This is the filling I made for Adam’s birthday cake way back in February. I’m so sorry I held onto it for that long. This beautiful mousse is simply divine. It strikes that perfect balance – it’s rich, yet light and airy. A supreme creaminess that’s sweet without being cloyingly so. It’s perfect tucked in between layers of chocolate cake, but it’s impressive enough to stand on its own. Or in chocolate bowls. Or on its own. Or layered in a trifle. Or on its own. Or…
White Chocolate Mousse
- 1-1/2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon gelatin
- 4 large egg yolks
- ¼ cup sugar
- small pinch of kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons plus 1-1/4 cups heavy cream, divided
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
- 8 ounces white chocolate, chopped
- 2 teaspoons confectioner’s sugar
- Put the water in a small bowl and sprinkle over the gelatin. Allow the gelatin to stand until it’s softened, about 5 minutes.
- In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the egg yolks, sugar and salt with 2 tablespoons of the heavy cream (set the remaining 1-1/4 cups aside to use later). Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until custard thickens (taking care not to let it boil), about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately whisk in the gelatin, vanilla and butter. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave the chocolate in 30 seconds intervals. Stir and microwave for 30 seconds more. Stir. Repeat as needed, being careful to not burn the chocolate, until almost all the chocolate is melted. The residual heat will melt the remaining bits. Let the chocolate cool slightly.
- In a medium bowl with a hand-held mixer, beat the remaining cream with the confectioner’s sugar until medium-stiff peaks form. Fold in the custard and the melted chocolate until incorporated. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight.
Planning: You can prepare the mousse two days in advance.
Product Purity: Y’all should know how I feel about imitation vanilla extract by now. Not happening. Can I get a witness for Nielsen-Massey’s pure vanilla extract? Amen.