Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mimesis and Midnight Chocolate Cake

I read somewhere that Charlie Chaplin once entered a Charlie Chaplin impersonation contest and did not win. I don't know if this story is true but I like it. Something funny happens when we try to be ourselves. Now the Chaplin situation is more complicated I know. He would be impersonating an act, but still. I think about how complicated that could get, and my mind wanders. He would be competing against impersonators who have obsessively "perfected" their outfits, make up, acts... Did their immaculate re-enactments of his work make him uneasy? Did he overdo it or was he too casual? did he get out-Chaplined by the mimics?

Then I think about how strangely we sometimes act when our awareness of ourselves is heightened for some reason. I've struggled to explain this before. I still find it hard to articulate how easy it is to turn into an imitation of yourself when you are in fact aiming for the opposite. It's almost as if when you try to isolate whatever it is that you are, in order to be it, you interrupt the flow of the process of being. I've caught myself in such moments before. I don't like the feeling. It's like wearing wet jeans.

A few weeks ago when Steve was coming to visit me in my little town for a few days I started thinking about this. Just before he got there I looked around me and wondered what my life looks like; what I look like in it. But I quickly distracted myself to help the moment pass for fear of ending up in that hyper-self-conscious state of awkward and anxious mimicry. At midnight Steve told me he was really craving chocolate and I said I'd bake a chocolate cake with the rest of our bottle of red wine. 
-Right now?
-Right now. 
And as we ate our chocolate cake with spoonfuls of whipped cream from a mason jar at two in the morning whilst discussing faith or religion or rationality or god knows what, I thought: If we ever have to audition as ourselves, we should do this scene. I'm pretty certain no one else's rendition could even come close.

Chocolate Red Wine Cake 
(bake this cake when someone craves it, for it does not keep well.)

6 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup  white granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup red wine (we used chianti)
1 teaspoon good vanilla
1 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup good cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of a medim round cake pan with parchment paper, and grease the sides.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and mix until fluffy: 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and yolk and mix well. Then add the red wine and vanilla. The batter will look a little strange but that's fine

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together, right over your wet ingredients. Mix until 3/4 combined, then fold the rest together with a rubber spatula. Spread batter in pan. 

Bake 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a rack for about 10 minutes, then flip out of pan and cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack. Dust with powdered sugar and eat with whipped cream. 



  1. Now you see that's a good story, it's also about other peoples expectations of us isn't it and how they see us (and in my case keep us). Now the cake, did you make up yourself, if so I think you are just brilliant. I adore the sound of this: I want to say I will try it this weekend but I am off to London, Next week then, it's perfect now my daily wine - just a little has turned from white to red.

  2. Interesting topic. I think you are on to something with your reference to isolating. Isolating a trait and sort of acting it out is what seems fake. Too bad we don't always see ourselves in the moment. I'm thinking back to job interviews and trying to relay certain aspects of myself I believe the interviewer would find appealing. Ick. We need our layers of self. I'd love to see your scene on stage.

  3. What a beautiful post. Subtle yet striking. A thought that often occured to me but never made it a point to single it out and do a post about it. i am enthralled!!!
    The red wine cake looks wonderful. Nobody, like you mentioned, can even imagine coming close to imitating that beautiful closeness that just you and your partner shared over the chocolate cake.

  4. Hi there! This looks a m a z i n g....and I love your post. It's been so long. I've missed your writing and awfully good recipe ideas.

    Wet, yes, have been there. Hrumph.
    I like the hopeful sweet ending to the story...


  5. i want 2:00am cake with you.

  6. Your blog is really great. Thank you for writing, it's been a lovely thing to stumble across on a snowy afternoon.

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