I’m not a particularly good sleeper, but I am very, very good at dreaming. Sometimes too good – waking up and realising oh, Lea Seydoux definitely didn’t txt me, oh, I don’t actually get to go to a private dress rehearsal of Wicked, oh, I didn’t find masses of two dollar coins in the grass and clawingly scoop them up into my handbag, oh, I wasn’t in an episode of Bob’s Burgers where we hung out with people who hadn’t quiiiiite realised their 1960s heyday was over and drove a Kombi van to go shooting paint at trees in rapidly changing layers of colour. (Am not too fussed about that last one not being true: experiencing it in my mind once was quite enough.)
Anyway, dreams are generally only of interest to the person whose subconscious they materialise from, but in this case I woke up and was like, woohoo! I’m a sugary prophet! Because I dreamed I was making a cake without checking if I had all the necessary ingredients (so far, so realistic) and upon realising I was out of cocoa, I used chocolate milk instead. I didn’t get so far as baking it, but the dream-mixture definitely tasted good.
Dreams can come true, ya know. But when I first tried making a cake like the one in my dream, it failed completely – brickishly solid, without having the good grace to turn into a giant cookie, dry and sandy, a miserable waste of ingredients, to be honest. (And then I was like: hey, could make cake pops with this in the future! Not wasteful after all! And then I neglectfully left it on the bench for a week before guiltily binning it.)
Not one to be deterred by my dreams not coming true immediately, I decided to try again and to be a bit more thoughtful – I had a look around at cake recipes that had a larger proportion of liquid in them, I added some baking soda, and so on. And it worked! As if a chocolate milk cake wasn’t cute enough on its own I decided that adding a milk chocolate ganache on top would both amplify the flavour and more importantly, make the cake’s name reeeeally adorable.
chocolate milk milk chocolate cake
recipe by myself
170g soft butter
one cup sugar
one and a half cups flour
half a teaspoon baking soda
one teaspoon baking powder
three quarters of a cup of chocolate milk
150g milk chocolate
quarter of a cup of cream
Set your oven to 180 C/350 F. Line a 21cm springform caketin with baking paper and grease the sides. This is a simple cake – beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl till all creamy and delicious, beat in the eggs, sift in the flour and baking soda/baking powder (if you’re not going to be bothered sifting, which I totally get by the way, at least make sure there are no baking soda lumps. They will taste disgusting.) Mix altogether, stir in the chocolate milk, spatula it all into the caketin and bake for around 40 minutes, or until the top feels firm and springy.
Allow the cake to cool. Break the chocolate into squares and gently melt it together with the cream, stirring plenty so it doesn’t catch and burn. Tip the lot onto the cake, spread it around with the flat side of a knife, and festoon with sprinkles or in whichever manner you find pleasing-est. I used rainbow sugar that I bought in San Francisco.
Is it worse to never have a particular dream come true, or to have it come true and then thoroughly un-materialise itself? As I’ve said before, I’m more of a do-it-then-worry-about-regretting-it type than a don’t-do-it-and-wonder-forevermore type, but. Look. Okay. May was a difficult month for a ton of reasons, some within my control and some of them dizzyingly, confusingly, out of my control. This one thing though, I really can’t tell whether or not I could’ve changed it: once the last copy of my cookbook is sold from the last bookstore…it will be out of print. And my publishers, Penguin, won’t be publishing another one with me.
I’m not telling you this to garner sympathy (note, I love attention but hate pity, there is a difference – pity is mortifying, attention is wonderful) and I’m not telling you so I can vent unprofessionally about Penguin, because that would be really stupid of me, and I’m so grateful for the start they gave me. I’m just telling you because I really can’t hide much and it’s my nature to be all “hello there perfect stranger, let me tell you about my childhood triumphs, tragedies, and grass-related rashes” and because my cookbook sprang from this food blog, it would feel fake and strange to be carrying on writing to you as if nothing had happened. This is a big deal. This cookbook has been my life, years before Penguin even approached me to write it. I just knew it had to happen.
Whenever anything else was getting me down, I had this cookbook to comfort me: I’m a real published author, like Nigella Lawson and Ann M Martin and Virginia Woolf, my words can be bought, my recipes are on paper in peoples’ homes, becoming part of their lives, my name is on a cover page, I’m real. And so when I received this news, I felt like an utter, embarrassed failure. Like the fabled Emperor upon having his lack of New Clothes pointed out. Like maybe if my book had sold better, if I’d done more, if I’d quit my job sooner, if I’d not been so honest on here, if I’d been in Auckland, if I’d been richer with more resources, if I’d been better…then things might be different.
So uh, luckily for you all I held off from writing this blog post while I was entrenched in that particular swamp of miserable self-pity (I’m the only one allowed to pity me, thank you very much.)
This is where I’m at now: still really very unhappy, which I think is quite understandable, yeah? But pragmatic. Dignified. I’m not actually a failure. A major publishing house approached me, I wrote a book, a team of wonderful talented friends helped give it life, it was published, I can still go into bookstores and find myself immortalised alongside authors who have had a massive impact on my life (okay, alongside Nigella) and it’s still a really, really brilliant book. I mean, it has references to Homer Simpson and Ron Swanson and The Big Chill, but also to classic French sauce techniques and traditional hand-made ice cream and what I imagined to be Americana. It has a chapter of recipes you can make when you might be kinda tipsy. It has halloumi cheesecake and apple crumble for breakfast and a cake with sachet juice powder in it and a vegan chocolate cake that I’ve been making since I was about eight years old. It’s so excellent and I’m still so proud of it and of myself. It was not an overnight success (okay, some might say it was not at all a success, but some can go stand on a piece of Lego) and I will not be an overnight success, but I’m gonna get there.
At times like this I like to think of one of my idols, Broadway star Idina Menzel. She got a record deal off the back of her being in the cult-hit/actual-hit Broadway show RENT. She made the most amazing, confessional stream-of-consciousness overproduced album, the record company didn’t know what to do with her, and after a vaguely successful lead single, they dropped her. Now she’s got a Tony award for being Elphaba in Wicked, she’s the voice of a lead character in Frozen, one of the most successful Disney movies yet, and she’s performing in Radio City Hall in New York this month. Original copies of her debut album now sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay. And look at another idol of mine, TV character Leslie Knope. In the face of adversity, budget cuts, uncooperative gatekeepers and incompetency, she Did A Lot Of Stuff (I’m getting tired here and don’t want this blog post to go on forever, so just watch Parks and Recreation, okay? Start from season 2.)
Also – I mean – at least I had my dream come true at all, for a little bit. It’s not like everyone who did buy my book has to throw it in the bin by law now. The recipes are still great. And to be fair, this is ultimately something that just affects me. It’s not like I have a failed charity or…other failed good thing. It’s just one person’s cookbook. You don’t even need to care that this has happened to me. It’s one of those “You are Lisa Simpson” moments and there will be other publishers and other opportunities and other huge, spectacular things. I’m so unsure and yet so sure of that at the same time.
My ambition to be a Lorde-Kanye-One-Direction level famous cookbook author has not wavered in the slightest, in fact it still hasn’t occurred to me that I might have any other path in life. (There’s an upside to studiously ignoring logic! Strident self-belief!) But if nothing else, it’s good to know I can still make small, chocolate cake-sized dreams come true, all by myself.