What’s Old is New Again!

Imagine my surprise when I picked up my December Bon Appetit and saw a gorgeous new cover photo of the chocolate ribbon cake I had created for the magazine in 1984! Barbara Fairchild, who’s been at Bon Appetit for over 30 years, most recently as editor-in-chief, commissioned the original story, and more than a quarter century later decided to bring the cake back to life for a new generation of readers. In her Letter From the Editor she gives this dessert a big compliment explaining that “Twenty six years later, it remains our most requested recipe, generating more mail over a longer period than any other recipe we have ever run.”  
Looking at that beautiful new picture brought back some funny memories for me. In 1987 the ribbon cake was included in my first book, Betty’s Rosbottom’s Cooking School Cookbook.  When I traveled around the country doing PR, the cake went with me. I placed it in a tall cake box and tucked it into an LL Bean canvas bag along with a pasta machine used to make the ribbons. It was pre-9/11, so no one questioned the large carry-on I slid under the seat on my flights.
During one leg of my tour, I traveled up and down the West Coast.  The cake and I were fine until I encountered a February heat wave in Los Angeles. The high temperature made the glaze start to melt and the oozing chocolate smudged the ribbons. Then a zealous airport official roughed up the cake as it went through security so that it tilted  like the Tower of Pisa. By the time I had arrived late at night in Seattle, I was in a panic. I  called the hotel kitchen and told them of my dilemma. The staff invited me down and helped remove and clean the ribbons, straighten the layers, and whip up more chocolate glaze. An hour later, restored to its former glory, the gateau sat safely in the kitchen’s big fridge.
The next morning I went to several interviews with the ribbon cake intact and then flew to San Diego to end my week-long odyssey. For my last event, I brought the cake to a local TV station where I did a short segment.  I had been planning to discreetly dispose of the ten-day-old, restored cake after the show, but the host invited a 100-year-old woman in the audience to join us for a birthday slice! All I could think of was that I didn’t want to see this sweet little old lady’s demise in front of my eyes.  The cake had logged thousands of miles, had undergone pastry surgery, and had spent most of the week unrefrigerated. “Would it kill?” was my concern.  Apparently not. The centenarian ate the slice and walked out of the studio with the rest of the cake. I never got an emergency call. This cake has more than just a few things going for it—looks great, tastes fabulous, and, oh yes, travels extremely well!
Look for the recipe for the Chocolate Ribbon Cake on page 100 in the December 2010 issue of Bon Appetit. You can also find it in Bon Appetit Desserts: The Cookbook for All Things Sweet and Wonderful, a collection of more than 600 Bon Appetit favorites.

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8 thoughts on “What’s Old is New Again!

  1. What great memories this brings back! My original copy from your class at La Belle Pomme has notes scribbled and chocolate drips all over it. So glad a new generation will discover it!

  2. Janet, What a good question. If you don’t have a pasta machine, flatten each piece of chocolate dough into a rectangle as the recipe says, but place it between 2 long sheets of waxed paper. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out as thin as possible. This may take several minutes and you will need to press down hard on the dough as you roll. Then cut out the ribbons according to the recipe directions.

  3. I have questions about the modeling chocolate, please. I’ve made “loopy” bows out of gum paste, letting the gum paste loops dry (on their sides) before putting them on the cake. Would I do the same thing with modeling chocolate – make the loops and dry them on their sides? Even if that’s not necessary, could I make the ribbons and bows ahead of time and store them before putting them on the cake later?

  4. You sound like a professional cake baker since you’ve worked with gum paste. I’ve never worked with it, but I can assure you that the modeling chocolate is really easy. You don’t have to let the ribbons dry. Just form them and refrigerate them. They will hold up for a week or more in an airtight container in the fridge. I even made 20 pounds of white ribbons for my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding cake and drove over 200 miles with them in a refrigerated container. Good luck and keep me posted.

  5. Just wanted to report back that the modeling chocolate worked great. In some ways, I found it easier than gumpaste, but in other ways a little harder. But certainly nothing to be intimidated by. I did end up letting the loops dry on their sides for a few days, just to make sure they’d hold their shape. I also wound up with leftover chocolate, so I rolled the scraps and cut out shapes with mini cookie cutters, and used the cutouts to decorate cupcakes. Thanks for your tips. (And for the record, I’m just an enthusiastic amateur.)

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