On a particularly random trip to boarders, I happened upon a particularly random find. (Random in that I wasn’t looking for it, but rather, it found me.) In a discounted section out in front of the store, a $3 booklet popped out at me:

Crazy for Chocolate, by a group called “Confident Cooking,” published by Bay Books.
I will confess to being biased in favor of cookbooks with pictures, but only if I like what I see. Flipping through this booklet, I found various small treats. Cookies, bars and the occasional muffin. None of which, though well photographed and presented, looked particularly challenging. Then I found this:

Gateau Forestiere. Chocolate cake with peppermint and chocolate buttercreams, meringue mushrooms, and chocolate curls.
Totally worth $3! I pay for the book, go home and set to work.
One of the things I love about baking is the fact that when you pick up a recipe, someone has already done the development for you. All the tricky measurements and chemistry involved in creating that perfect cakely balance is already there. If you follow a recipe, there is little room for error, but you can expect the same results each time.
That day, I did something I rarely do when trying out a recipe for the first time… I became what my friend, Sara, calls a Renegade Baker. I added stuff, omitted stuff, used substitutions and a different buttercream recipe entirely. Since I didn’t have any self-rising flour, I decided to throw in some (yes, that’s right… “some!”) baking powder so that it would rise. I said “Phooey!” to all the directions and just started to play.
I don’t know when exactly my desire to recreate the cake in the book morphed into a desire to make something completely experimental and new. It was quite a transformation. Perhaps I will actually recreate the cake when I’m in a more disciplined mood.
Eventually, I didn’t even want to be bothered with the task of making chocolate curls or meringue mushrooms. Decorating with buttercream is so much faster. And since I had plenty of it, I opted to practice my Cornelli Lace…

Chocolate Peppermint Cake.
I can just hear my former instructor, Chef Erin saying, “Too many hard angles on the lace. Make it more fluid.” Refining one’s piping skills is harder than refining one’s chicken scratch handwriting. I’ll work on it, Chef;-)

6″ round cake.

And 4 beautiful layers tall!
Special thanks to my mom’s coworkers at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation for eating the leftovers!