My friend Jane, who blogs at Food & Fiction, is one of my most helpful kitchen advisors. Although we share meals several times a year in real life, our time together at the stove has always been virtual. Many of Jane’s recipes have become my go-to source when I want to put something delicious, healthy, and not-too-complicated on the table.
So it makes sense that Jane shared this New York Times article about Laurie Colwin on her Facebook feed, because it suggests that Laurie’s non-fussy recipes and conversational style were a precursor to food bloggers like herself.
Like Jane, Laurie’s friendly, matter-of-fact voice is also in my ear from time to time when I’m working in the kitchen. Her recipe for a simple chocolate cake (pictured above) is my hands-down favorite.
I wrote about Laurie and her chocolate cake a few years ago on my blog at Open Salon. My literary tastes have changed over time, and her novels may no longer hold my interest the way they did when I read them 20 years ago under extreme circumstances, but I’ve never lost my taste for that cake. The recipe is included in my original post, reprinted below.
Through Words and Cake, a Writer Lives On
October 23, 2010
“You don’t feed me enough,” I joked to my husband last night as my stomach loudly and persistently announced itself. Apparently, the dinner of homemade soup and bread I’d made wasn’t enough. We needed dessert.
“Karen Edwards’s Version of Buttermilk Cocoa Cake” from, More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin is my go-to recipe when I want something quick and chocolatey.
According to Colwin,
“It is hard to encapsulate the virtuosities of this cake. It is fast, easy, and scrumptious. It has a velvety, powdery feel – the result of all that cocoa. It is not so horribly bad for you, because you use buttermilk, which is relatively low in fat, and cocoa powder is defatted anyway. Furthermore, it keeps like a dream and tastes even better after a few days.”
I became a Laurie Colwin fan almost 20 years ago while undergoing chemotherapy. My hair was falling out and I was nauseous and exhausted. For the first time ever, it was difficult to find solace in reading — I couldn’t focus.
Then my friend Julia gave me one of Colwin’s books. Her books held my attention. I cared deeply about her characters, and her tales about family life, which I, too, was engaged in, were happy ones. I needed upbeat stories — sadness and angst were for real life.
When I reported all of this to Julia, she responded, “Unfortunately, Laurie’s life wasn’t so happy. She died suddenly at a young age.” Not only that, she had left a young daughter behind.
All these years later, my story is the happy one. My children, who were aged eight and ten when I was diagnosed, are now adults living on their own. My husband and I are both active and healthy, and we still share a special spark.
So now when I bite into that buttermilk cocoa cake, I silently raise a glass to Laurie Colwin. Her life wasn’t nearly long enough, but I am grateful for the gifts she left behind.
Here is the recipe as it appears in More Home Cooking.
Karen Edwards’s Version of Buttermilk Cocoa Cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and butter and flour a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan.
2. Mix together 1 3/4 cups flour, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
3. To these ingredients add 1 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil or melted butter, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix.
4. Turn the batter into the pan, bake the cake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean, and let it cool for 5 minutes before turning it out of the pan.