Saturday night, New York City was the loudest I’d heard it in a long time. I should preface this by saying that I live in a noisy part of an already noisy neighborhood and under the best of circumstances — NYU students gone for the summer, long holiday weekend, rain — there’s always a Saturday night ruckus. But this was something else. This woke me up. I swear, I heard a trumpet, more sirens than feasibly possible, people cheering like the Yankees had won the World Series (did they? no wait, something about football?) and when I went to the window, I saw a Vespa go down the sidewalk and I couldn’t get back to sleep. For the eve of such a somber anniversary, there was hardly anyone bummed out after midnight. I like that about this place, even grudgingly, even at 1 am.
I don’t have a 9/11 story. It barely happened to me. I mean, it very much happened to me, it happened to my city, I lived here at the time and it broke my heart. But I didn’t work down there, I didn’t know anyone that did, and were I to spin any kind of dramatic retelling, it would be inauthentic as it’s just not my story to tell. I wasn’t even on the island at the time, as I worked in the Bronx back then and I remember, distinctly, and in hardly my finest moment, feeling like I immensely hated my life right then, stranded miles and miles from everyone I cared about, stuck at the kind of job where they asked you to get back to work shortly after the first plane crashed. I wanted a different path, I just didn’t know how to forge it for myself.
The next year was a blur of trying to get our heads around the unfathomable, and I barely remember it. I know that on the first anniversary, it was still very raw and hardly needed to be commemorated because we hadn’t stopped thinking about it for a minute. But by the second, people had starting dusting themselves off and convincing themselves they were moving on. I’d recently started a blog (it was 2003! it was the thing to do!) and had started reading one from some guy who lived here, too. On the second anniversary of 9/11, he said that he’d invited some friends to get a drink and they’d reacted as if that were a tacky way to commemorate a nation’s tragedy. I was then and am still firmly of the belief that a stiff drink is a fine way to soften the blow of a crappy memory, and told him that a complete stranger would be happy to meet him for a drink after work. Two years later, I married him. Two years later, we decided to have a kid. Two years after that, we did. And this week, that kid turns two. I never once, not for a single moment before I was kinda secretly hoping that the bars would close already so I could get back to sleep on Saturday night connected in my head that I do have a 9/11 story, but it came later, and it is a happy one. I’d never considered that pretty much everything awesome that’s happened in the last eight years spun off from the axis of something awful.
This month marks another anniversary, the fifth of this site. Guys, I am bad with anniversaries; I never write cards — just ask that guy I met for a drink on September 11, 2003 — and I’m no better with this one. But one day in July, someone (hi, Anna!) left a comment on the everyday chocolate cake that she didn’t have buttermilk so she replaced it with red wine, and I had never considered this before, never even heard of it but knew it was going distract me until I tried it out. But before I even got a chance, a different person (hi, Marion!) emailed me to share a recipe she’d unearthed in an Alsace cookbook for, that’s right, a red wine chocolate cake and from that point forward it was no longer a matter of if, just when. Over the last few months I’d from time to time tried to figure out what would be a fitting 5th anniversary recipe for this site, one that pulled a theme neatly together but always choke on the daunting task of squeezing large sentiments (or bakeware collections, if I’m being honest) into tidy places. But on Saturday night at 1:30 a.m., it was so obvious to me that it had to this cake — something made better because people like you are here. Thank you.
One year ago: Linguine with Tomato-Almond Pesto
Two years ago: Cheesecake Marbled Brownies
Three years ago: Baked Brownie, Spiced Up and Braised Romano Beans
Four years ago: Tortilla de Patatas
Five years ago: Romaine Pesto and Egg-Stuffed Tomatoes
Red Wine Chocolate Cake with Whipped Mascarpone
Adapted loosely from this Everyday Chocolate Cake, and you
This, as far as I’m concerned, is the real red velvet cake — chocolate, naturally reddened and intensely flavored. For reasons I cannot put my finger on, this feels quintessentially September, fudgy rich chocolate, faintly spiced red wine, diminutive in size and so very quick to make. We are completely obsessed with it already.
Now, the essentials: The wine does not, I repeat, does not, fully bake out. It will taste like there’s wine in there though not in the way that it would leave you tipsy, nevertheless, I will not be using this cake for, say, my toddler’s birthday party, if you get my drift. If you’re familiar with the Everyday Chocolate Cake, you might notice that I’ve changed a bunch of things. It’s flat and round, not a thick loaf. I use only 3/4 of the volume of some ingredients and 2/3 volume of others, you’ll see, the red wine gives it an intensity that’s best served thin — the final cake is only 3/4- to 1-inch tall, and bakes quickly. I add a yolk which just… makes it better and cinnamon, which plays off the red wine and chocolate fantastically, but not so much that it competes with either. Oh, and it’s still a one-bowl cake, and bakes in no time. You know you wanna.
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (145 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) white granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
3/4 cup (177 ml) red wine, any kind you like*
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 tablespoon (133 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (41 grams) Dutch cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (this is a great place for that fancy Vietnamese stuff you stashed away)
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup (118 grams) chilled heavy or whipping cream
2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment, and either butter and lightly flour the parchment and exposed sides of the pan, or spray the interior with a nonstick spray. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and yolk and beat well, then the red wine and vanilla. Don’t worry if the batter looks a little uneven. 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 prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. The top of the cake should be shiny and smooth, like a puddle of chocolate. 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. This cake keeps well at room temperature or in the fridge. It looks pretty dusted with powdered sugar.
Make the topping: Whip mascarpone, cream, sugar and vanilla together until soft peaks form — don’t overwhip. Dollop generously on each slice of cake. It can also be covered and refrigerated for up to 4 hours.
* I used Bedell First Crush Red, one of our North Fork favorites.