I don’t have any childhood memories baking desserts in my grandma’s kitchen. In fact, I don’t have any memories cooking with my grandma at all. When I spent time with my grandmother, I remember heating up a can of creamed corn or some Campbell’s soup on the stove, and grilling a bit of chicken on her “George Foreman Lean Mean Grilling Machine” – yes, my grandmother always said the entire name of the appliance whenever she used it, she loved that thing. She didn’t bake cakes or cookies for birthdays or holidays, she didn’t teach me how to make jams and jellies canning the Summer’s harvest, and I certainly never saw her cook anything from scratch. For all the ‘Norman Rockwell’ style idyllic childhood memories I read about everyone reminiscing over when I peruse food writing in magazines and food blogs, I certainly did not have any, and yet I still somehow managed to develop a deep appreciation for food and cooking along the way.
And you know what? That’s totally ok. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose childhood wasn’t imbued with such picture perfect memories.
Food isn’t about reliving some memory I don’t have that could come from a storybook. Food is about here and now. And no matter what your situation, food can always bring joy and bring people together.
Food doesn’t have to be painted as some fantasy image in order to be appreciated and enjoyed. Food can be perfectly mundane and still be an integral part of our culture. Culture is more than just one’s ancestry, culture is how we interact with each other from day to day, what we do for fun and how we share. And in this modern world where life still happens whether or not it goes the direction we want, sharing food is something we can always find comfort in. Maybe that’s why our society has become so obsessed with food of late. Cookbooks are one of the few still thriving genres of print today, chefs have celebrity status, food reality TV shows are featured on nearly every station, and literally thousands of bloggers document recipes and eating experiences on the web. I admit I’m not immune to the craze. I’ve been blogging over four years and am an avid fan of anything Gordon Ramsay puts into print or on TV. But I’m definitely not the only one – we do love food now more than ever, don’t we? What is it about the most basic of primal pleasures that has everyone’s attention now?
My mom sent me her recipe for chocolate pudding cake, which I’m pretty sure actually came from her Southern Living cookbook. And while we are an ocean apart each facing new challenges, we can chat together, see each other, give air hugs, and yes, even cook together thanks to the wonderful internet. Food is one enjoyable way that my mother and I connect. Cooking is an act of love, and so talking with my mother and seeing the birthday cake she decorated or listening to her gush over how wonderful Dorie Greenspan’s banana cream pie came out is part of how we share together. Laptops often spend afternoons on kitchen counters and it’s as if she is right in the room with me as we each cook and chat about what we are making, talking about babies and other events in our lives or even banal topics like the weather and silly reality TV shows – and so in this manner food becomes a common thread between us. For a time, we can forget all the struggles and worries of life and the future ahead of us, and just live in the moment cooking. Everything in the world is perfect, even if only for an instant.
That’s the power of food – it doesn’t have to sit static in a faded or wished-for memory.
Maybe the “thrill” of food is so popular now because there’s been a bit of an awakening, that food really can offer more than just taste. Maybe we always knew this but simply failed to celebrate it before. We look to food for inspiration, so that we can create little fantasies of perfect that whisk us away with each succulent morsel. Or maybe, like it has always been, we just recognize the power it has to link us to those we care about and to create new moments. Because in the end, food is not about having the fanciest ingredients or the most complicated recipe, no matter what the chefs on TV tell us. Food is about connecting to each other, and by cooking we can create those memories and connections over and over again.
This chocolate pudding cake symbolizes that to me. Often made in my parents’ home and now mine, it’s simple and humble, comforting – like a favorite book that you want to read again and again. When oceans, time zones and life circumstances separate me from those I care about, food can transcend all those miles and bring us right back together again, at the same table, laughing and sharing stories full of love.
*A note about this pudding cake – I’m not really sure how it works, but magic kinda happens in this cake. As it cooks, the water poured over the top seeps through to the bottom creating a wonderful chocolately fudgey sauce while the cake appears to float on top when done. I like to eat this dessert either warm or cold, but if served warm it is especially good with either ice cream or double crème and some fresh fruit.
**You can find the original recipe here. I adapted it to be gluten free by substituting in GF flour by weight and I also accommodated the different size pan that I have as I don’t own an 8 x 8″ square pan (nor can I find one) here in Europe. I doubled the amounts in the cake part of the recipe but kept the topping measurements the same – these changes are reflected in my ingredient listing below (as well as an adjusted baking time). But if you have an 8 x 8″ square pan, I would suggest using the original proportions in the link above.
Adapted from Southern Living
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1.5 hours
- 250 g (about 2 cups) all purpose GF flour (see my blend below)
- 4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 300 g (1.5 cups) sugar
- 20 g (1/4 cup) cocoa powder
- 250 mL (1 cup) milk
- 90 g (6 tbsp) butter, melted
- 200 g (1 cup) sugar
- 20 g (1/4 cup) cocoa powder
- 375 mL (1.5 cups) water
1. Preheat an oven to 175 C (350 F). Combine GF flour, baking powder, salt, 300 g sugar, and 20 g cocoa powder in a large bowl. Stir in milk and melted butter, and pour the batter into a greased pan (mine was a pyrex pan that measured 19 x 23 cm, or about 7.5 x 9 inches).
2. Combine 200 g sugar and 20 g cocoa powder together and sprinkle over the batter. Gently float the water on the top of the cake by pouring over the back of a spoon.
3. Bake for 50 minutes, so the cake is baked a bit but it’s still liquidy in the bottom. Let set about 15 minutes before serving.
**Gluten Free Flour Mix**
- 60 g rice flour
- 20 g millet flour
- 80 g potato starch
- 15 g almond meal
- 40 g yellow corn flour
- 25 g buckwheat flour
For another great looking gluten free version, be sure to check out Jeanine’s gluten free chocolate pudding cake over at The Baking Beauties.
*A note about the photography – I am quite proud of myself for styling and photographing these shots while holding a baby. It is easier said than done! Photographed in open shade (no tripod). EXIF: 70mm, ISO 200, SS 1/125, f/4. Cake is garnished with currants and double crème.