Start by making a cake. A devil's food cake, or a dark chocolate cake. Any old box cake mix will work, I usually use Duncan Hines. Something dark and rich. You're not here for milk chocolate. Get outta here with white chocolate. You want the cocoa to be overpowering. This cake is so rich and so sweet that you want the bitterness to give you some contrast. Bitterness is what makes the sweetness so much sweeter.
Right now things are bitter. I need some sweetness.
Boxed cake mix calls for a couple of eggs, some oil, some water. It usually does not call for two heaping tablespoons of instant coffee. I presume this is an error on the part of the cake mix manufacturers. Everything is better with coffee. Add all the liquidish ingredients to your bowl with the coffee, and beat them up a little for good measure, before you dump in the powder.
Add the cake mix powder, hit it with your mixer, get everything good and combined. Don't weep into the bowl yet, there is time for that later.
Pour the cake mix into a greased 13" x 9" pan. You remembered to grease your pan, right? You remembered to preheat the oven to 350°F right? Do you know where your pan is? Do you even remember where your springform pan is? You really weren't prepared for this, were you.
There are some things you just cannot prepare for.
Okay, you've got your pan, your oven is heated, your mix is spreading out evenly. Cake batter not as good as cookie dough but you're allowed to have a taste now anyway. When's the last time you made chocolate chip cookies, anyway? It's been too long. Maybe we should write down the recipe for those. The TL;DR version is on every Toll House™ bag but there's so much more to it than what they write.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
When your cake is baked through, let it cool. You may be tempted to eat it, but try to resist. I promise, you can have a bite in a little bit.
Remember going to Toys R Us to buy a new game? It's that same anticipation. You can sit in the back seat on the way home and read the manual. You'll stay up late together and play the game. It's nice to have someone on your side when you're trying to convince mom that it's okay to stay up late the night you get a new game. It's nice to have someone to play games with, someone to know stuff about games, that's still a grown-up too!
I don't remember the last time I had that same feeling about a video game.
After the cake has cooled, cut it into 1-inch cubes. At this point, you will be even more tempted to eat a piece. Good news! You can eat exactly one cube right now. If you don't, you will have too much cake. If you eat too many though, you won't have enough cake. One bite right now. This is practice for finding a balance.
Life is not always fair or balanced, but you can do your part to help it be so. Part of that is taking care of yourself because there's no guarantee that anyone else will be around to.
Transfer the cut cake into a 40 year old yellow Rubbermaid bowl. The big one. The same one you use every time you bake. Every time you've made cookies at Christmas forever. Every time you've made cake. The one you use to mix up meatloaf in. The one with all the scratches and scars from a lifetime of being loved, decades of feeding a family.
If you do not have a 40 year old yellow Rubbermaid bowl, wonder where it went. If you need to tear up a little at this point, it is acceptable.
You were just cleaning out the basement. He asked you if you wanted to keep the double boiler. You told him no, you didn't really need one all that often. You had a setup for melting wax and you didn't have a whole lot of use for it. He raised his eyebrows at you but let you get rid of it. Set up your terrible double boiler. We are going to make ganache. This is the big secret.
In a double boiler, or some contraption made of a bunch of pieces, heat up 4 tablespoons of butter and the heavy whipping cream. If you don't have heavy whipping cream, which you don't because you did not plan on making this cake today, you can try using 1 1/3 cup of regular milk and an extra 4 tablespoons of butter. I hope this works. The milk is past its expiration date. It still smells okay.
It's almost sacrilege to mix the milk and coffee. You take your coffee sweet with no cream. You remember everyone else's coffee order. The coffee pot in my house is long gone now. I can't use it as a barometer for how the whole world is doing today.
While your butter and milk heat in the double boiler, add 16 oz. of chocolate chips. The darker, the better. You may have a 12 oz. bag and a 10 oz. bag. Half of 12 is 6. Half of 10 is 5. You used to practice math all the time, he taught you how to do this stuff in your head.
If you can't think straight enough to turn a 12 oz. and a 10 oz. bag into 16 oz., just dump them both in. It'll be okay.
Gently stir the chocolate and the cream and butter as they melt. If you introduce moisture into chocolate, it will seize and get hard and lumpy. Do not cry into the ganache. The double boiler is to keep the chocolate from scorching. Don't forget to stir. The ganache will look awful, like everything is ruined. It will never melt. Keep stirring and be patient. It will melt and turn silky smooth.
Patience was never my strong suit, but it was his. He was a mountain, immobile, but always able to change when it was necessary. He was strong and quiet, unless you wound him up and he giggled. He could track 13 minutes in his head by memory. He knew how long cookies baked for. Even when you adjust for the first and last batch. As far back as you remember, he has never complained about waiting. The time will come for everything.
Please, don't let it actually be the time for this. For once, I wish I were still waiting.
Assemble your springform cake pan, lining the bottom with wax paper, or parchment paper. You can use whichever size you like, depending on how tall you want your cake. The taller ones are better, but only because they frost better.
If you don't line your springform pan, you'll have more to wash. You'll have to wait for the dishes to soak, first. For a few hours. Maybe overnight. The water will get cold and you will need to wash it fresh. That's okay. Washing dishes is kind of a zen chore. You stand in front of the sink, wash, rinse, put in the rack to drain. Let your monkey mind wander free. The ox mind will carry you through the dishes. It's that patience again.
Besides, the lining paper makes it easier to cut and share. This is a cake made to be shared. This is edible love. It's deliberately too rich for one person. I'll save you a piece.
Pour about half of the ganache, more or less to taste, over the cubed cake, and basically cream them together. You can use a mixer, you can use a spatula, or if you promise to help clean up, you can mix it with your freshly washed hands. The texture is amazing, it goes from fluffy to fudgy, and gets even darker and denser. Keep the other half aside for now. Once the cake and the ganache are combined, press them into the springform pan and smooth out the top.
The benefit of using ganache here, which is fluid, is that your top doesn't have to be perfect. After you smooth out the top, pour the rest of the ganache over. It will flow in and fill any little divots in the top of the cake. Sometimes you just have to do good enough. You don't have to be perfect.
I can't do perfect right now. The best I can aim for is to do it RIGHT. You always taught me to take the time to do it right, even if it was never perfect. I hope I am doing this right for you.
Once the ganache has levelled out, refrigerate the cake for a little while. You just want things to firm up a little bit before slicing it up. It won't last very long. Not because it's prone to going bad, but because when something tastes this good, it's too good to keep to yourself.
Remember when you taught me that silly trick? We talked about it being some big secret family recipe. Any time someone asked for it, we'd share, but we'd swear them to secrecy. We made them a part of our family that way. You showed me that your family is the people you love, and the people who love you. Some of them may be blood. Some of them you find. Some of them find you. Love each and every one of them, though. Those people are your home.
Cut yourself a slice. Now you can cry. Serves up to 16.
Love you too.