I am still having fun with these two in the kitchen, and this is the result. In case you're wondering...yes, I am craving chocolate, which is partly why I wrote this. No, I have never baked this particular cake before. And finally, many thanks to Mary at Shazam in the Kitchen () for posting the Julia Child recipe online. Happy vicarious baking!
He doesn't remember when he learned to cook, precisely. He'd told Elena Paris, which was at least partially true. He had in fact had a steamy affair with one of the best sous chefs in the city back in '82 and passed on to her a few old Italian family recipes in exchange for lessons in French cuisine (and some truly incredible nights in her tiny apartment). But his interest in cooking—the simple, deeply human act of taking raw materials and transforming them into something extraordinary—began long before that.
He thinks it started somewhere in his childhood, before un-death changed him into someone—something—he would never have recognized before 1864. He remembers sneaking into the kitchens late at night to snitch leftover slices of pie and tall glasses of milk from their cook, Oletta…remembers her smile when she saw him, wide and welcoming and warm as sunlight on his hair. Remembers the way her arms, huge and heavy with muscle, moved in the firelight as she kneaded bread for the next day. Remembers the feeling of being safe and loved and comforted. He has never forgotten it.
Over the years he has expanded his tastes from simple plantation food to some of the most exclusive restaurants in the world, but he is never content to merely eat without wondering what went into the dish. He supposes it's the curse of an inquiring mind. He doesn't need human food, but he fails to see that as a reason to not enjoy it. Certainly it will never compare to the exhilarating coppery rush of blood, bittersweet and satisfying, but it too has its merits.
One of them is time. In a world where he can blur into soundless motion at the snap of a finger, where feeding is over in a matter of moments, there is something strangely satisfying about poring over a recipe, assembling ingredients, mixing and melding them into something foreign and wholly delicious. He uses cooking as brooding time, thinking time, planning time. Lately he uses it as yet another weapon in his strategic campaign against Elena.
It seems to be working fairly well, actually. At the very least it throws her off guard, which is exactly where he wants her these days. Set aside the fact that it's incredibly hot (that little intake of breath when he startles her, the slow flush that creeps up her neck, the heightened beat of her pulse), he needs her off-balance, tilted a little on that strictly linear moral plane she inhabits. She's beginning to realize that his sainted brother does a regular see-saw routine on said plane, but she hasn't yet fully come to grips with what that means for her…for them. And he fully plans to be there when it finally sinks in.
In that spirit, he's putting together a little midnight snack, a lá Julia Child. It's a bit clichéd, he's willing to admit, but then again he actually met Julia one memorable night in a Paris salon, so maybe not. Actually he's lying, because Le Glorieux is not a midnight snack but more of a religious experience. He's hoping Elena will think so too, because he sort of owes her an apology. (She thinks.)
He whistles a little between his teeth as he sets water to heat and breaks dark semisweet chocolate bars into a metal bowl. The orange liqueur he pours in next is pungent in his nostrils, the sharp citrus scent bringing back memories of Christmas and cloves. He's beating butter into the melted mixture when he hears her come downstairs, can feel the power of her frown all the way across the room.
"Damon?" Oh, yeah. Definitely the disapproving frown. (He's actually really attracted to that one.) "What are you doing in my kitchen?"
He knows better than to turn around and face her. The first rule when dealing with Elena is to protect her. The second is to throw his heart, bleeding, at her feet. But the third is to never, ever give her exactly what she wants.
"I'm cooking, Elena," he says pleasantly. Smoothly, he cracks one egg over the side of a clear glass bowl, stacks the broken shell neatly in the sink, and repeats.
"At 12:30 in the morning?" she queries. "In my house? Seriously, Damon."
He adds sugar and applies the electric mixer, thinks to himself that he needs to pick her up a really good one the next time he's in Richmond. The one she has now isn't bad, but he misses the almost soundless electric purr of the state-of-the-art beauty he has at home.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees her plant both hands on her hips and feels his skin prickle in delighted anticipation.
"Who let you in here?" she demands, her tone a clear accusation of some sort of dastardly behavior on his part. He contents himself with adding Mexican vanilla (from his own personal stores) and smirking at the cabinet-fronts.
"Damon!" She stalks over to stand beside him and is drawn into the process in spite of herself. "What are you making?" He is pleased that it almost sounds like a capitulation.
"Chocolate cake," he informs her, coolly. "Move, please."
She shrinks back when he reaches around her to grab the cornstarch, but his senses are too sharp to miss the little flutter of her eyelashes and the quickened thudding of her heart.
"It's a time-honored recipe," he tells her as he sifts cornstarch onto spread paper and begins the arduous, delicate process of folding all the ingredients into each other without destroying their individual qualities. "Julia Child."
Even over the whirr of the mixer he can pick out the little huff of breath that means she's resigned herself to whatever crazy scheme he's come up with now. His batter is coming along beautifully, and when he's ready to pour it into the pans, he turns to her.
"Please tell me you have at least three round eight-inch pans."
She stares at him. "Three whats?"
"Elena." Even though this is technically supposed to be an apology (for kissing not-her, for killing her baby brother, for still wanting to kiss her), he doesn't dare act unlike his usual self. "Surely by this point in your education you know what a round pan looks like."
This time he gets the withering glare. "Of course I do."
"Well, where do you keep them? You see, there's this problem with trying to cook cake batter without pans."
He breaks off in mid-snark when she stomps past him and throws open a cabinet door with unnecessary force, shoving a neat little stack of round cake pans at his chest.
"Thank you," he says sweetly, and bats his eyes at her. He is inordinately pleased that she immediately flushes, drops her eyes, and ends up staring at his mouth.
"Now, we bake for 25 to 30 minutes, checking for doneness periodically, and in the meantime…" he reaches for the remaining squares of chocolate "we make the filling."
She sits down on one of the barstools at the island and simply looks at him until he finally turns around with innocence stamped all over his expression.
He should have known she wouldn't mince words when she was actually being serious.
"Because I feel like it. Because I like this cake. Because…" ("Because I wanted to share it with you" sounds entirely too corny, but that's what he wants to say.) He settles for "Because chocolate is the best way to say you're sorry."
If that wasn't corny, he doesn't know the meaning of the word. But it seems to elicit some sort of reaction in her, even if she's shuttering it from view at the moment. He ignores the unfamiliar sensation of nervousness in the pit of his stomach and focuses instead on beating chocolate and orange liqueur into creamy swirls, hoping against hope that it will be enough.
"I think you're the only person I know who tries to apologize with chocolate ganache," she observes after several long minutes, and he literally feels all the (unnecessary) breath leave his body in long whoosh of relief. She hasn't forgiven him yet—he didn't expect she would—but she's finally on her way. He will cook her a hundred desserts if that is what it takes.
"That would be because it requires more artistry than the usual lame forms of male apology," he says airily as he slides his cake pans out of the oven and checks their centers with a toothpick. "Flowers and bon-bons are the coward's way out."
"And you would know this how?" she says with just the faintest hint of flirtation in her voice, and he feels his pulse kick up a notch. He has to wait ten minutes for all three layers to cool, and all of a sudden he needs something to do with his hands like he needs blood to survive.
"Years of experience," he says smugly, which is precisely what she expected him to say. He can see it in the prim line of her mouth, lips tidily pressed together on righteous indignation. But there's something in the rise and fall of her lashes as she looks at him that makes him wonder if she ever gets curious about what happened after Katherine and before she herself entered their lives.
"Besides, there's something about women and chocolate," he goes on, aware that he's babbling and unable to stop himself. "It's like magnets and the North Pole."
She shakes her head at him, but there's a tiny hint of a smile playing around her lips.
"For someone who's been around for one hundred and fifty years, you have terribly clichéd views of women," she tells him.
"That's because they still work," he whispers conspiratorially, and then has to turn all his attention to delicately slipping his layers onto a wide platter and smoothing filling between each one. It's not until he's iced the entire cake with the remaining ganache and finished it off with a few whimsical peaks on the top that he looks at her again.
"Care for a slice?" he asks, and even though it sounds nonchalant, he thinks she knows that there's a little of his existence swirled in with the chocolate he's handing her on her grandmother's cake stand. She waits for a long moment, drawing out the silence until she at last nods and moves over to the cutlery drawer for a serving knife.
"I'll do the honors," she says as he reaches for the knife, and for the space of a breath their hands brush and then hastily retreat. He can't help thinking of another ceremony in which two hands wield the same knife (on a different sort of cake), and the thought sends his mind into strange and impossible convolutions.
They eat slices of Le Glorieux sitting at her kitchen island, knees brushing under the edge of the granite countertop, sipping strong black coffee she poured into delicate china cups. (She explains that a cake this complicated deserves good bone china.) She's still stiff around him, still wearing her aura of righteous anger like a halo, but there's no denying the fact that she's nevertheless sitting here with him, eating cake he made with his own two hands, and she hasn't yet tried to stab him with any kitchen utensils. He considers that progress.
(The fact that she stays to help him do the dishes is an extra bonus, sweet like sugar, rich like cream.)
And he finds himself wondering what orange-flavoured chocolate would taste like, decadent and bitter on her tongue.