For the past five years, this American has spent her Fourth of Julys in France. The Frenchman and I made our annual pilgrimage yesterday, a trip that aligns with three family birthdays. I write from the cool, sun dappled stone of the patio, under a new arbor, just half woven with fanning grape leaves. The boys are walloping a ball back and forth in the pool, their splashes and yells overlaying a backdrop of bird chirpings.
My father-in-law grills a lobe of local beef for lunch, the smell drifting around the corner. There will be carrot salad, zucchini and spring onions in some form. This morning I trimmed a drumfish long as my arm, which will be grilled this evening, alongside boiled potatoes from Île de Ré.
It’s a blessing I don’t take for granted–this feeling of complete at home-ed-ness and peace in my in-laws’ house. Here, the chives and verbena are flowering. The cherries are done for the year, but the fig tree is full with promise. The hollyhocks rise stiffly to my chin. The banana tree has grown two, enormous, primordial flower. Apricots and tomatoes are at the market, alongside local melons the size of softballs, smelling strongly of cantaloupe-honey. It’s sunny but breezy. I’m barefoot most the time.
Today is my husband’s 31st birthday. We kite surfed for three hours as the tide receded, and now I’m corporally tired in the best way. The bells of the thousand year old church are chiming 7 o’clock, and my mother-in-law is preparing a whole roast chicken for dinner. All is well.
For the second summer, I’ll be grilling an amalgamation of traditional American foods tweaked for French tastes for the fourth: Toasts spread with foie gras and sardine butter. Aioli-vinegar-herb marinated chicken kebabs with sumac-and-za’atar yogurt sauce + whatever’s-at-the-market vegetable kebabs + swordfish kebabs with herb oil. Coconut rice. Lentil-radish-zucchini-herb salad. Tomato-torn garlic crouton-pistou salad. Chocolate cake with passion fruit curd, apricot jam, macerated apricots, pistachios, and flowers. There will be Champagne and wine.
I won’t be serving this frosting–French people don’t really do frosting–but I will be baking the cake part of this cake recipe–it’s my absolute favorite chocolate cake, at once tender and light and deeply chocolate-y.
We’ll be on Île d’Oléron, grilling outdoors, swimming in the toothpaste-blue sea, visiting the brightly colored oyster houses. The fireworks will have to wait until the 14th.
This is my favorite chocolate cake recipe, adapted to serve a crowd. The frosting is made tangy by crème fraîche, although you can easily substitute cream cheese or sour cream, which come with emulsifiers that ensure the frosting won’t break.
For the stripes, I added enough raspberries (and accompanying raspberry juice) that the frosting completely broke–I don’t care, because the results were juicy and fruity and bright, but if you want a smoother frosting, just add a handful of raspberries, more for color than for flavor. Or, use red food coloring. Or, or, use lines of raspberries and skip the frosting. Serves 12 to 16.
unsalted butter + flour, for greasing the pans
- 2 ounces (57 grams) semisweet chocolate
- 3/4 cup (170 grams) fresh brewed coffee
- 1 2/3 cups (220 grams) flour
- 1 3/4 cups (375 grams) sugar
- 2/3 cup (50 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1.5 teaspoons (8 grams) baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) coconut oil
- 3/4 cup (200 grams) buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups (720 grams) powdered sugar
- 2 sticks (227 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon (1 grams) kosher salt
- 1 cup (75 grams) raspberries