The Best Dessert

We had a recording glitch at last Sunday’s storytelling event, but herewith is a print version of the story I delivered at the Give a Folk fundraiser for The Sandwich Project, an Atlanta food charity. The theme, of course, was food.

We had a great crowd. I was honored to be among a group of really good “tellers.” A big thank-you to J. Christopher’s for hosting and to our friend Debbie From for making it happen. And to all of you who joined us.

The Best Dessert—9.50 minutes, 1,100 words

Our friend Donny was a serious foodie. He often regaled us with stories of his dining adventures in New York, Paris. So one summer, when he and his husband Matt invited me and my husband Ted to dinner at their spiffy new mountain cabin in Blue Ridge, I knew the dessert I made had to be spectacular.

I baked a single-layer dark chocolate torte with espresso and finely ground almonds. Yeah, it was complicated. But it looked and smelled so good when I took it from the oven that Saturday morning and set it on a rack to cool. I’d serve slices that evening with simple but elegant dollops of whipped cream.

Donny would be impressed.

Now, Ted and I were living in northeast Georgia at the time, about an hour east of Blue Ridge. We planned to leave around 6:00 for Matt and Donny’s. So at 5:00 in the afternoon, it was time to turn my torte out of the pan and plate it nicely, with a dusting of powdered sugar on top.

I ran a knife around the rim of the pan. Put a platter over it and turned the whole thing upside down. I gave it a little shake. Tapped the pan with my fingers. Knocked it with my knuckles. Nothing. Was. Happening.

I could not get that torte out of the pan.

I tried everything. Put the thing in the freezer for 10 minutes. Held a hot towel to the bottom of the pan. Still, the fudge wouldn’t budge. But my kitchen confidence was steadily sinking.

It didn’t help that we had another crisis.

While I was working on the torte, FedEx made an Amazon delivery. I met the driver at the door, set the package down and went back to the kitchen.

A few minutes later I heard rrrrrrr, rrrrrrrr, rrr, rrr, rrr. Weirdly, the driver had parked beside our driveway, on an uphill slope in front of a big pine tree. He was gunning the accelerator. One of the truck’s rear tires was sinking into the soft ground.

Ted and I dashed outside before the guy trashed our yard any further.

We tried everything. Pushed the truck from behind. Wedged a 2×4 under the wheel while the driver slowly accelerated. Nothing worked.

Like my torte, the truck was stuck.

“Anyone you can call?” I asked the driver.

“To come to these Boonies?” he barked. “It’ll be Monday at the earliest.”

Desperate, I called AAA. I was a member. To my surprise, they found a towing company just up the road. They’d be here in 15 minutes, by 6 o’clock, just when we’d planned to leave for Matt and Donny’s. Perfect! But I still had a torte to rescue in the kitchen.

Back inside, I eyed the clear glass trifle bowl I’d bought years earlier at Kmart and used only once. Since then, it had sat on our sideboard gathering dust and junk mail. Did I have enough ingredients to make a layered trifle with the torte? Town was 20 minutes away. I didn’t have time for a grocery run.

So, I raided the freezer. Grabbed a bag of frozen mixed berries. That was good. A chunk of pound cake that had been there since Christmas. A tub of Cool Whip. I could use it to stretch the whipped cream I had bought. A major sin in Donny’s culinary Bible, I knew, but it would have to do.

I nuked the items for a few seconds. Wiped out the trifle bowl. Then I took a spoon and started slinging chunks of chocolate torte into it. Pieces of pound cake. I poured a healthy slug of brandy over that. (I poured a slug in the chef, too. He needed it.) Glazed it with raspberry jam I found in the cupboard. Then the berries went in. I whipped the cream, folded in the Cool Whip. Topped the first layer of the trifle. Whew!

I stood back. My heart sank.

I had enough ingredients for maybe one more layer, but I needed at least two more layers to get to the top of the bowl. Then I remembered … two hot dog buns were in the freezer from God knows when. I wasn’t THAT desperate, was I?

But then I reasoned: I’d made tira misu before. Hot dog buns are just big ladyfingers, right? I grabbed those buns. Threw them in the microwave. Tore them into bite-size chunks. Baptized them with brandy.

Layer 2 began.

At 6:00, the tow truck pulled FedEx out of our yard, just as I added the final spoonful of whipped topping to Layer 3 of the trifle, now a respectable inch from the top of the bowl. I took the world’s fastest shower, dressed. Then Ted and I are in the car speeding toward Blue Ridge.

We arrived at Matt and Donny’s at 7:15. A little later than we’d planned, but Donny expected all his guests to be fashionably late. We’re gay, OK?

Before getting out of the car, I peeled back the foil cover on the bowl. Oh brother! It had NOT traveled well between my knees in the passenger seat. It was tilted in the bowl. (Or it had a bit of a lean to it, as they say on the Great British Baking Show.) The three layers were uneven, dry in spots, runny in others. A mess, in other words. A mess with a naughty secret at its heart: two hot dog buns from the Ice Age soaked in brandy.

With trepidation, I carried the trifle up the steps to Matt and Donny’s front porch. I felt like Anne Boleyn on her way to the chopping block. Who was I trying to fool with my “baking expertise?” I should have brought Sara Lee.

Donny met us at the door. I steeled myself for the worst.

He eyed my trifle.

He gasped, clapped his hands together, a bright smile on his face. “Don’t tell me,” he said. “Is that the one on the cover of Bon Appetit this month?”

Suddenly, my spirits lifted. “No,” I said coyly. “It’s my own recipe.”

We had a lovely meal that evening. Wine flowed freely. So freely that I decided to come clean about the trifle. I told Matt and Donny the whole ugly story—the stuck torte, the stuck truck, the stale pound cake, and yes, even the hot dog buns.

Donny was howling, his cheeks pink with laughter, eyes wet with tears. He clinked his glass with mine. “I bet it’s wonderful,” he said. “And I bet Julia Child herself would admire your ingenuity.”

I felt a rush of total contentment as we cleared the dinner dishes. Donny set out dessert plates. Matt poured champagne. I went to the refrigerator for my leaning tower of trifle.

And that’s when it hit me.

It’s not cake. Or pie. Or a fabulous dark chocolate torte.

No, the best dessert in the world is a good story. And friends to share it with.

Thank you.

A photo of a proper trifle. Peter Gilmore’s quince, pecan and crème caramel trifle with honey cream, from the May 30, 2016, edition of Gourmet Traveller.

13 thoughts on “The Best Dessert

  1. What a great story…or dessert…or whatrever. Thanks for sharing.

    Martin Martin C. Lehfeldt Former President, Southeastern Council of Foundations/Philanthropy Southeast Writer and speaker in the not-for-profit sector

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great story, Mike!
    I have experienced the same anguish mid-way through a cooking event and one does get desperate just to finish it.
    Many years ago Rebecca made lasagna in a very well greased glass 13x9x2 pan. When our dietician friend arrived, Rebecca opened the oven, quickly pulled out the hot dish, and a large portion of the lasagna promptly slid out of the dish onto the inside top of the oven door! Fortunately, it held well enough together to shovel pieces back into the dish. It wasn’t very pretty either, but that’s how lasagna usually looks, doesn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

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