Chocolate birthday cake

Chocolate cake is on the menu for two reasons this weekend: This blog celebrates its 1-year anniversary, and last night I celebrated my 10-year high school reunion. The delectably dense chocolate cake has instant coffee (or espresso) in the batter, an apt nod to growing up in the suburbs of Seattle.

It’s hard to pin down why I flew from California to my hometown for a few beers with classmates I hadn’t seen in a decade. But there I was walking into the Issaquah Brewery with a new last name and a new haircut. Call it grasping for home.

In the half dozen times I’ve visited my parents in recent years, I would go to the grocery store or run along 228th Avenue SE expecting to bump into a familiar face or hear a shout, “Hey, Katie!” through the rolled-down window of a car. It rarely happened. I left my hometown at 18, and my connection to the place is tenuous.

Chocolate Ganache Cake

I started this blog to rekindle my roots on the West Coast, one meal at a time. I went to my high school reunion to hear stories from my peers and feel a modicum closer to home. As you can imagine, there were more beards and more talk of babies than I remember at graduation.

The stories unfolded with the evening. The mysterious tall guy no one recognized turned out to have lost more than 100 pounds since high school.

A childhood playmate crossed the room to give me a big hug. In elementary school she and I had spent lazy summer afternoons floating on the lake on inflatable mattresses and dancing to Madonna in her mom’s living room, but by high school we had drifted into different circles. “It’s so good to see you,” she said, and I think she meant it.

Another friend whose nurse mom once lectured us on the location of the ovaries from the driver seat—diagramming the female anatomy on the windshield of the car—starts nursing school herself on Monday. It’s a natural fit.

The high school quarterback never showed up because he was at the Skyline–Issaquah football game watching the newest quarterback, his younger brother, call the plays. (For the record, Skyline won.)

And I ran into a classmate named Ryan, who used to be my essay-editing buddy. This arrangement worked because we were the only ones up until 2 a.m. the night before the assignment was due. As we talked about jobs, motorcycles, moving, and the hit-or-miss details that cover a decade, I absentmindedly picked at a plate of black beans.

“Look, you’re eating with your hands,” Ryan said, chuckling at my social graces. “You’re still Katie Clary.”

Chocolate Ganache Cake

Chocolate Ganache Cake

Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten

¼ pound unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

4 extra large eggs at room temperature

1 16-ounce can Hershey’s chocolate syrup (or about two cups from the squeeze bottle)

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

For the ganache:

½ cup heavy cream

8 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips

1 teaspoon instant coffee granules (I use instant espresso—even better!)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 8-inch round cake pan, then line the bottom with parchment paper. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the chocolate syrup and vanilla. Add the flour and mix until just combined. Don’t overbeat, or the cake will be tough. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until just set in the middle. Don’t overbake! Let cook thoroughly in the pan.

For the ganache, cook the heavy cream, chocolate chips, and instant coffee in the top of a double broiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally.

Place the cake upside down on a wire rack and our the glaze evenly over the top, making sure to cover the entire cake and sides. You can tilt the rack to smooth the glaze. Do not refrigerate.