My feelings about chocolate cake are deep and visceral. Throughout my early childhood, my namesake great-grandmother made a ritual of baking the most shockingly decadent chocolate cake for our visits to the remains of her southern farm. To be sure she was always present to watch our complete enjoyment of her culinary endeavors, she would squirrel the cake away in the largest circular green tin I had ever seen (and have ever seen since).
She was known to hide the tin on top of book shelves and under beds so she alone was the dispenser of such delights. Although never, as one might think, was she ever stodgy about its dispersal – I can’t guess the number of times my mother found me and my sister at Grandma Eva’s worn-out kitchen table eating chocolate 1-2-3-4 cake first thing in the morning. Chocolate cake will forever signal to me the rebelliousness in celebrating mundane and ordinary mornings.
It’s through this lens of quirky, resolute matriarchy that I understand Armande Voizin, Judi Dench’s character in CHOCOLAT. Watching for the first time, I felt like I already knew her character. Her temperament. Her deeply rooted sense of identity and interwoven culinary life. In an incredibly heartrending sense of the phrase, she is what she eats.
Her story arc is simultaneously lovely and tragic. “Bittersweet” in screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs’ words. Harkening back to the power of comestibles, Armande’s story arc culminates in what Jacobs’ handwritten notes describe as a “last supper” – despite her diabetes, Armande convinces Vianne to throw her an elaborate birthday party to include the most sensual and extravagant of her ancient chocolate recipes.
Inspecting his notes from an initial meeting with Director Lasse Hallström, Jacobs reminisced about the process of writing that vital scene. He pointed out wisely that often celebratory scenes in film leave a rift between character and audience.
“Don’t assume the audience is going to be as happy as the characters are. The audience might be bored watching them have a good time,” Jacobs advises through Hallström’s sentiments from those early meetings. “Find what’s actually not happy about the scene, find the grain of sand in there that’s going to wrinkle and somehow build the scene around that. And I just thought that was a gem of advice that he gave me.”
Not only is that grain of sand related to Armande’s health issues but it also harkens back to the profound, underlying turmoil of the town. Next week, in our last Chocolat installment we’ll look at that deep seeded unrest as well as the powerful theme of healing (doled out by Vianne or otherwise). But for now let’s settle into Armande’s Last Supper and the rebelliousness in a proper chocolate cake.
This recipe is neither my grandmother’s nor Vianne’s – but a hybrid twist on both. It has the delicate yet hearty almond flour of many French recipes, the butter content of a true southern confection and the newer scientific amalgam of gluten free flours. It has the texture of the best pound cakes and the depth of the warmest ganaches. And, best of all, supplied me with a wonderful few days breakfasts in honor of Armande and my own grandmother.
(Photos thanks again to our talented and lovely friends at Garlic My Soul).
¾ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 3oz bar dark chocolate (70% or above)
½ cup brown rice flour
¼ cup sweet white rice flour
¼ cup almond flour/meal
A few drops vanilla extract
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and grease two circular cake pans to set aside.
2. Mix the butter, softened slightly, until smooth.
3. Add in sugar and mix until creamy.
4. Crack in eggs, mix again until well incorporated.
5. Drop in baking powder.
6. Chop the first two chocolate bars into small pieces and in a separate bowl, double boil. Stir until smooth.
7. Add chocolate to batter.
8. While slowly mixing, add in the flours.
9. Then vanilla extract.
10. And lastly the heavy cream. Mix lightly until smooth.
11. Pour evenly into cake pans.
12. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, rotating halfway through. It will be done when the center is spongy and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
13. Remove from oven and let cool before removing from the pans.
14. Double boil the rest of the chocolate, stirring in a touch more heavy cream.
15. When cake is fully cooled remove from pans and use melted chocolate in between layers.
16. Enjoy at the rebellious gypsy boat party of your choosing.