But it wasn't long until I heard from my young freshman. She was having a great time, her classes were going well, and university was great. Also, could she come home for the weekend?
I remembered my oldest took comfort from an early visit home in her first year, and with both their schools a short distance away, it's easily done.
"Yes," I texted, "of course you can come home. Anything special you'd like me to make?"
In response came a plaintive, one-word text: "Cake."
Cake isn't really my thing. I generally just make cake for birthdays (and sometimes even those are celebrated with fruit desserts). But for her first visit home, I decided not only would I make her cake, I'd make it in her favourite flavour - mint chocolate.
And when my oldest daughter found out her sister was home for the weekend, she made time in her schedule for a Friday night dinner with us. Which is how we found ourselves sitting in the back yard on a warm evening, hearing stories about school, and eating a dessert that everyone (especially the guest of honour) described as fantastic.
Perhaps you really can have your cake and eat it too.
Mint Chocolate Cake
(adapted from The Food Network)
14 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
16 tablespoons (1 cup) butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream
6 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup (6 ounces) small-diced Peppermint Pattie candies (note: these are easier to cut if you freeze them first)
1 cup cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Chocolate Mint Sauce:
8 Tbsp (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1 cup cream
a pinch of kosher salt
1/4 tsp peppermint extract
To make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter a 9 1/2 to 10-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper, and flour the pan, tapping out the excess flour.
Melt the chocolate with the butter and cream in the top of a double boiler. Let cool to room temperature.
In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very thick and light (about 5 minutes). Add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg yolks and mix until just blended. Add the flour, salt, and vanilla and stir until combined. Transfer the batter to a large bowl and stir in the Peppermint Pattie pieces. The mixture will be quite thick.
In a clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to medium soft peaks. Lighten the batter by stirring in about one-third of the egg whites. Fold in the remaining whites and spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for approximately 45 to 50 minutes. The top of the cake will feel set and very fine hairline cracks will just start to form around the edges. Remove and cool in the pan on a rack.
To make the ganache topping:
Heat the cream in a medium saucepan to just under a boil. Add the chopped chocolate and, over very low heat, constantly stirring, heat the mixture until it is completely smooth. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until thickened and spreadable. This can take several hours. You can make the topping up to 3 days ahead, refrigerate it, and allow it to come to room temperature for several hours before using.
Place the cooled cake upside down on a plate. Remove the sides and bottom of the springform pan. Remove the parchment liner. Using an offset spatula, spread the ganache over what is now the top of the cake, drawing the ganache all the way out to the edges of the cake. Using the offset spatula, level the edges to give the cake a finished look.
Serve at room temperature with chocolate mint sauce and ice cream.
To make the chocolate mint sauce:
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and cocoa, then stir in the cream and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often. Allow to simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened somewhat. Remove from heat. Add the peppermint extract a few drops at a time until the sauce is as minty as you like (you probably won't use all of it). Cool and serve at room temperature. This can be made up to 1 week ahead of time.