Cheating comes in many shapes and sizes, and in this case, flavors. Sitting at the dinner table, next to The Professor and The Investor a tiny bead of sweat may begin to form on your brow, not because you can’t keep up with the talk, you are eloquent and intelligent and sophisticated, but because something much worse is about to happen, something that can shatter you but instead fuels you on, something you know no one will notice but you wonder what if they will? (Remember the time you hired the Personal Chef and you could tell right away, yes, you could, she had cheated on her cake.) You are about to cheat on your gourmand title and are feeling a tad guilty because you know that the Investment Banker and the Professor are both wondering what delicious dessert The Famous Baker they are seated next to has brought for this intimate dinner party.
It will be good, it must be good, they acknowledge amongst themselves with self-assured stares. You feel the tension rising; stakes are high. The asparagus soup was a delightful ice breaker from your host as was the equally tasty pot roast (albeit a tad simple, you would have added a pomegranate glaze with a hint of balsamic, because you are The Gourmand, the one with a drawer bursting with dried herbs and a garden exploding with fresh ones. They look up to and enjoy inviting you for obvious reasons.)
You love them all for it. Each and every one is endeared to your heart in one fashion or another and you have volunteered dessert as a sign of this love. You have brought this cake, this magnificently simple cake, and like a true cheater you do feel that pang of guilt, an edge of betrayal, but you smile and bring forth your goods without revealing that inside the moist texture and chestnut top glistening with confectioner’s sugar lies a secret, a deep, dark secret you will never confess; must never confess. You will only smile and say “thank you” as “oohs” and “ahhs” purr around you, deliciousness halts all conversation as forks greedily work cake into bellies that have anticipated but never realized such wonderful moist delights existed.
Of course, all cheaters need an outlet. They need to get caught one way or another, and so, even if you are not willing to confess it in an intimate setting of twelve, you do so here, in this world wide platform of food lovers with the hope there will be some level of understanding. Perhaps another occasional culinarian cheater will be reading this, one who will understand that a cake so delicious and easy and such an instant success originates not from the sweat of hours of kneading or mixing or even sifting, but right out of one of those cake boxes, no, strike that, two boxes, a horrible powdered pack of Betty Crocker Super Moist yellow cake mix and an equally horrible smaller box of pudding mix: two things sacriligious to your identity, items your children gasp upon seeing (for they have been trained, well trained, to retract at the sight of preservatives.) And yet, here is this one tiny exception, when you allow it, better yet, celebrate it, quietly going against all beliefs and scruples, even trying to look the other way as you pour these tiny toxic boxes with way too many ingredients into your bowl and then redeeming your conscience by adding the rightful stuff: organic eggs, sour cream, cherry liquor- all to create a celebrated smooth cake that eminates only compliments, lots and lots of compliments, reconfirming and elevating your status as The Best Baker All Around. Almost enough to make you not feel like a cheat in the kitchen, but like the tell tale heart that beats loudly under the wooden planks, you too can hear these ingredients shouting out their identity to your guests:
She didn’t do it all alone! She used Betty Crocker! And pudding mix! She’s a cheater, a cheater, a cheater!
You manage to subside that voice and listen to the other dinner guests: they loved it and wonder what is that secret ingredient that makes it so good?
Of course, you know what to say. It is not Niacin or dye #3, no no no, it is cherry liquor.
“Cherry liquor?” they ask, utterly impressed.
“Ah, yes, cherry liquor!” you reply with a casual air of sophistication.
And you laugh freely with them, the sweat dries, and you continue celebrating this intimate moment alongside The Professor and The Investor, both, asking for seconds, making your host beam as well. Her dinner party is a success. You have come through, you always come through, you are The Gourmand, and although you rarely cheat, you realize this cheat is worth all the love and all the compliments, making it the perfect Valentine’s day dessert.
Cherry Liquor Cake
True cheaters always steal something. This recipe was taken from my good friend and amazing cook, Paula Faisal Jimenez.
1 yellow cake box (pick extra moist)
¼ cup poppy seeds
1 cup sour cream
½ cup oil
½ cup cherry liquor
confectioners’ sugar, as needed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix all ingredients well.
Bake in a bundt pan for 30 minutes.
Cool 10 minutes in pan, then remove and cool on rack.
Sprinkle top with confectioners’ sugar.