Thom’s final week as a 30 year old man was unbearably cold and snowy and, as a result, not conducive to activities I had planned to usher in his 31st. So at the last hour, we canceled his birthday celebration. Which wasn’t much of a problem because he got his present months prior AND he still got cake (and pie and cookies and ice cream).
It probably seems a bit crazy to those of you who aren’t diehard sports fans (or sharing a bed with a diehard sports fan) but the entire part of our trip to Europe’s fourth largest country was carefully structured around FC Barcelona‘s schedule, as Thom’s a huge culé and seeing the team play at Camp Nou has been sitting at the very top of his bucket list since he was a kid. So we planned to be in Barcelona during one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports: El Clásico. The only problem? It was nearly impossible to secure tickets while we were traveling, so we were forced to wait until we got into town – two days before the match – to try to make it happen.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried buying tickets in the final days leading up to a major event, but that shit isn’t easy. I spent a majority of our first day in Barcelona trolling the internet for said tickets, and when I couldn’t find anything I called Ticketmaster and practically begged them to put a price on standing room. Come on! Can’t we just stand? WE CAME ALL THE WAY TO BARCELONA FOR THIS GAME. They weren’t budging so I threw in the towel and accepted the fact that it just wasn’t in the cards. But I couldn’t resist checking the interweb one last time before we headed out for the day, just in case something became available during my 45 minute call (which was 40 minutes of shitty elevator music) to Ticketmaster. To my surprise, three tickets were available. For a whopping almost €300. I told Thom and we both agreed that was way too much considering we found €50 tickets the week prior.
We grabbed our things and headed out the door, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the match and his bucket list and how awful it would be for him to not go to that game. Because there we were in Barcelona on the weekend of El Clásico – the entire town painted red and blue – and I was just going to let him watch it at a bar? AT A BAR?
I started recounting all the sacrifices he’d made for me during the trip. How he never complained about spending significantly more money on apartments because I had my first hostel experience and was all, Oh hell no. I am not doing this for four months. And you know what? He didn’t fight me on it. Despite the fact that he had zero issues sleeping through the craziness that was those rowdy Australian kids who party harder than Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen, combined. (Which is actually quite entertaining, but not at 3 in the morning.) All the nights he ate dinner at mostly vegetarian restaurants because nothing was more important (to him) than me getting a belly full of good, wholesome food. And what about all those times he bought me €8 chocolate bars when the last thing I deserved was a chocolate bar? Or the fact that he took me all the way to Prague to propose? So I decided, as we were rushing down six flights of stairs, that I was going to do this for him. I was going to be the person responsible for checking that game off his bucket list because he deserved it. That, and I’d feel like a total asshole if I didn’t.
We got to the bottom and, on our way out the door, I asked Thom for the keys because I had left my jacket in the room. Except I didn’t really forget my jacket – it was in my backpack, but I knew going back up the stairs for something that small would deter him from following me to the apartment. So I raced up the stairs, through the door, and logged onto the Ticketmaster website, hoping to the winds that there was still a ticket available. There was. And I shit you not, I bought the VERY LAST ONE. But not without hesitation because it was a serious chunk of change for 90 minutes of entertainment; the kind of purchase you don’t make without consulting the person who shares your joint bank account. I wondered, for a moment, if Thom would be upset but quickly reassured myself that even if he was, it wouldn’t matter. Any ill feelings would be completely overshadowed by the fact that he was going to see his favorite football team play in one of the biggest matches of the year. He couldn’t be mad. So I bought the ticket, removed my jacket from my backpack, and rushed down the stairs.
When I got back down to the bottom my heart was racing. Not because of the stairs, but because I hadn’t prepared myself for how or when I was going to break the news that I just spent way more money on a ticket to El Clásico than I probably should have. So I started walking in the direction opposite the establishment where we were heading to get our beer and hummus and veggie burger fix. And he stopped and yelled something about going the wrong way and blah blah blah. I turned around and with all my tiny might and sass I looked at him and said, What the hell are you talking about? We’ve got to go to La Caixa pick up your ticket to El Clásico.
Happy early birthday, darling. I love you very, very, very, very, very, very, very much.
Notes: Thom requested a German’s chocolate cake but I couldn’t spare any of the chocolate bars we had for cake batter, so I used cacao powder. I also strayed from the normal preparation method for the coconut filling but I promise you this one is so. much. better. Same process as making caramel, but without brown sugar. If you’re not into the coconut-pecan filling, you could use frosting. Or make real deal caramel sauce and use that. Or maybe some raspberry preserves? The options are seemingly endless. If you don’t have cake flour, you can make it by using 2 1/2 cups plus 1 1/2 teaspoons unbleached flour and 3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons potato starch. Sift the shit out of it. Like, three or four times. If you don’t have cacao powder you can use natural cocoa powder but do not use Dutch processed cocoa unless you adjust the leavening (less baking soda, add baking powder).
DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH COCONUT-PECAN FILLING
2 3/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup cacao powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 1/2 cups cane sugar
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups vegan buttermilk
1 can coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
1/2 cup cane sugar
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 cup non-hydrogenated shortening
2 tbsp non-dairy milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cacao powder
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line three 6″ (or two 8-9″) spring form pans with parchment paper; set aside. In a small mixing bowl, sift together the flour, cacao powder, salt, and baking soda; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oil, sugar, and extracts; mix just until combined. Alternate between mixing the flour and buttermilk into the sugar mixture in halves. Add the flour first, then the buttermilk. Once all of the flour has been added (but you’re still left with 1/2 of the buttermilk) whisk the crap out of the mixture until most of the clumps have disappeared. (Don’t whisk too much or else you’ll overwork the gluten.) Whisk in the remaining buttermilk.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake at 350˚F for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for about 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Once the layers have cooled, cover with plastic and refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble (cold cake layers are easier to frost). Will keep refrigerated for up to two days.
While the cakes are cooling, prepare the filling by opening the coconut milk and scooping the white layer of coconut milk fat off the top of the can. Put it in a small saucepan set over medium-high heat and whisk in the sugar. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to medium and cook for 10-12 minutes, whisking every couple of minutes. When its finished cooking, remove from heat and stir in the coconut and pecans; transfer to a small bowl and let cool. Refrigerate until ready to use. Will keep refrigerated for up to three days.
To assemble the cake, line a cake stand (or plate) with two pieces of parchment paper that overlap in the middle; set aside. Remove the cake layers from the refrigerator (level if needed) and place one of the layers in the middle of the prepared cake stand. Spread 1/2 cup of filling on top of the layer, then sandwich with the second layer; repeat with second layer and refrigerate cake for at least 45 minutes. (Do not spread filling on the third layer.)
While the cake is chilling, prepare the frosting by creaming the shortening, milk, and vanilla extract, using a hand mixer on high speed, until combined. Sift in the powdered sugar and cacao powder and continue beating until light and fluffy. Cover the frosting until ready to use.
When the cake has chilled, allowing the filling to harden, give it a thin crumb coat and return it to the refrigerator for an additional 15 minutes. Finish with remaining frosting then remove the parchment paper pieces and line the bottom of the cake with broken (or whole) pecans. Top with chocolate shavings and coconut. Wait an hour or two before serving (so the cake isn’t cold). Cover cake with plastic or store in an air tight container for up to three days. Cake is best within the first 24 hours.
Yield: 12 slices