The Black Forest Cake

This was originally intended to be an Instagram post for #artstew52, but it ended up wanting to go on a bit longer than I'd anticipated. So here we are at the old blog...


- The Black Forest Cake -

I think we're all agreed that I'm a fairly patient person. But at 8:30 on a Thursday night, after a full day's work and an after-hours meeting, to be confronted with the prospect of a birthday cake and Domingos' reassurances that I would make it and he would instruct...I knew my patience was about to be tried.

First of all was the sugar.

"Três chávenas de sugar?"


"This kind or this kind?"

He points to one of the biggest mugs.

"Three! Three of those chávenas?"

"It's gonna be a big cake." He reassures me.

He's the one who went to cooking school. I'm the one who believes that recipes are there to be altered and/or ignored. So, in goes nearly a bag of white sugar.

He looks at me sideways as I bite my tongue. "Are you duvidaring* me?"

"Noooo. But I am duvidaring the receita."

"Mas tens que respeitar a receita."

Ok, ok. We carry on.

We beat egg whites until the beater starts to smoke, and we try out an assortment of cake forms until we find one that will fit in the little oven, and we finally get our enormous bolo in and baking. There's quite a bit of left-over batter in the mixing bowl. I hang on tightly to my patience and don't make I-told-you-so comments about the recipe size, or the sugar, or anything else, for that matter. I feel quite saintly.

Then the lights go out.

Our first instinct is to rush outside, to see if it's a general power outage or if my house's precarious wiring system has yet again failed us. Outside, the only man-made illumination is the bonfire across the street, the flashing red signal on the Mcel tower, and the houses of the handful of people who own generators. The moon is bright though, so we sit out on the steps and contemplate our cake's fate.

"Oh, Jesus! Eu estou a pedir que a energia voltar!" I cry aloud.

"The cake's gonna cair." Domingos laments.

Then there's nothing more to be said on that subject, so we enjoy the cool night wind and talk about movies and, eventually, the lights flicker back to life.

I yell, "Obrigada, Jesus!"

Domingos cautiously opens the oven to assess the damage.

"I think it's gonna be ok." He says. "Let's increase the temperature to máximo."

"Cuidado para não queimar." I warn, and crank the oven knob to the highest setting.

10:00, and the lights go out again, to the accompaniment of a loud, distant, 'clunk'.

"Ouviu aquele som?"

"The vizinhos have luz."

"It's just our house."

"Ooooh. Espero que não é aquele disjuntor de novo."

I switch on my phone light, and we head down to the Credelec box at the main door, which tells us how many kilowatts of energy we have left. It's at zero.

"There aren't going to be any Credelec vendors still open at this time of night."

"Do you have Mpesa?"


"Know anybody who's got Mpesa?"

My phone battery is down to 10%, and I don't have any airtime or any megabytes. I send a frantic SMS to Eliseu:

'Do you have any money in your Mpesa? I need electricity to bake the cake. I'll pay you back tomorrow.'

My phone makes a sad sound. 8% battery.

This is the point at which poor, threadbare patience finally gives in. I can either scream or laugh. Screaming would probably awaken the sleeping occupants of the house, so I opt for laughter. Silent laughter in the dark.

"Ayyy! Energiiiaaa, pá!"

"Has he sent you the code yet?"


"That cake. It's gonna fall down."

"Espero que não."

"Já entrou mensagem?"

"Ainda. Minha bateria is dying."

Eliseu sends a Credelec code.

We punch it in.

Nothing happens.

Later we will discover that the Credelec box threw the breaker when it ran out of credit, and we, in our exhaustion and our panic and our failing phone batteries, didn't notice.

However, it's at this point that we do notice something else. Namely, that the cake, despite everything, seems to have baked all of the way through.

I hover at Domingos' elbow as he pulls it out of the oven. It smells good. That's a reassuring sign, because, in this light, I can't really discern anything else about it. We carry it carefully to the cooling rack and breathe simultaneous sighs of relief. Then we head back down to the Credelec box in the fleeting hope that something, somewhere, will work properly and enable us to bake the rest of the batter before it loses all of its leavening. It doesn't, but oh well. At least we have one cake.

My phone rings. Eliseu asking if I got the Credelec code. All's well that ends well, and I don't want to cheapen his contribution by telling him that the electricity still isn't working.

"Thanks for the Credelec."

"Don't put too many sticks or leaves in that forest cake."

"Ok. I'll be careful."

I turn off my phone (6% battery, now) with a chuckle.

"What's so funny?"

"Eliseu's worried about leaves in the cake."

"Well, I'm going to bed. Can you put the massa in the congelador?"

I give him a little mock-salute in the dark. "Ok, mister chefe."

I've got a dead phone, a dark house, probable wiring issues, and a whole bunch of unbaked batter to deal with at a later date. I'm so tired that I can barely keep my eyes open. But I stand there in the blackness at the bottom of the stairs and I laugh and laugh because, hey! At least we've got our cake.

*Doubting, for anyone who's not fluent in Pinglish. The curious can probably put everything else through Google translate without too many problems, though I tried to write in a way that would make sense, even if you don't understand Portuguese. 


  1. I enjoyed this thoroughly!! Oh my I love the way you write! And about something as simple as a cake!!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks so much! I have been known to make an exciting adventure out of everything from grocery store runs to flooding. I guess you could say it's a blessing (from a storytelling perspective) or a nuisance (from those who have to put up with my constant hilarity at inopportune moments).

  2. This is wonderful, Janie! How delightful to read of your adventures in the black forest. ^.~ How perfectly ironic that you were making a black forest cake in the dead of night.

    I'm looking forward to reading more of your delightful words and stories through Art Stew this year!

    1. Thanks so much! I have to say, that particular bit of irony escaped me at the moment, but yes, it's fitting. I'm happy to be participating with a group as encouraging and creative as all you stewards seem to be.


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