I made chocolate cake for my husband’s birthday last weekend. Actually, it wasn’t chocolate cake, it was brownies baked in a round spring-form pan. And I made substitutions. I replaced the all-purpose flour with almond flour, and the sugar with honey, and the butter with coconut oil. The only things that were untouched were the eggs, the cocoa, and the vanilla.
It was, shall we say, not quite what it should have been. As a chocolate brownie cake, it was a complete failure. The coconut oil ran out, which I had worried about so luckily placed the spring-form pan on a half-sheet tray. The honey seemed to not incorporate homogeneously and so seemed to form a sort of sticky layer at the bottom. The almond flour remained gritily apparent in the final product. As I was cutting into it, I was extremely grateful that it was just the immediate family who were subjected to it, and not some of the more distant relatives who might have been present.
The thing was, though, it actually tasted pretty good. We ate it with ice cream made with honey and coconut milk and eggs and vanilla (which also had issues), and both the cake and the ice cream benefited from the combination.
In Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, Brian Wansink discusses psychological research into how people eat, particularly when they aren’t paying attention to how they are eating. Among the many interesting findings in the book, he says that what something is called matters. Something with a specific, evocative name, like Tuscan Roast Chicken will be more eagerly consumed than the blander Roast Chicken. My experience with my own kids certainly bears this out—they are far more interested in foods that I take the time to name imaginatively than in fish, beans, and carrots. That’s half the reason we have Sushi Sundays and Macho Nacho Mondays
I started adjusting the name of that birthday cake as we ate it, and it gradually became honey toffee chocolate fudge bake. Two things happened, immediately. It sounded more interesting to everyone: honey toffee and chocolate fudge? Yes, please. As Wansink found, the evocative name spruced up the dish itself.
But the name change also managed everyone’s expectations about what we were eating. Chocolate brownie cake should turn out a certain way, if they don’t, they are a huge disappointment, no matter how good they might, objectively, be. But honey toffee chocolate fudge bake, something new and unknown but with familiar elements in the name, doesn’t carry those expectations. In fact, since this is the only honey toffee chocolate fudge bake that we had ever had, it clearly is supposed to be exactly as it is. And can be judged accordingly.
My dad urged me to write down exactly what I did, so I could make it again. That’s a great sign of baking success. Even if it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.