“Coffee Improves Test Scores” read the headline of a short article in the New York Times Science section a few Tuesdays ago. The study was not repeated every month for ten years the way scientists like to, but the results still seemed significant. Two groups of adults were gathered together to take a battery of intelligence tests. One group was given a mug of coffee one half hour before the tests, the other had bottled water. Unsurprisingly, the group that enjoyed the coffee performed much better than the group given water. Well that’s something to celebrate, I thought, much preferable to “Sauvignon Blanc Consumption Shown to Aggravate Joint Pain”, or “Putin Amasses Troop Ships off Florida Coastline”.
I haven’t been feeling exceptionally clever lately. I somehow neglected to file taxes for a couple of years for a family business (that lost money each of those years) only to be slapped with a tuition-sized penalty when I finally did catch up. I can complain all I like about how unfair it is to be penalized so harshly just for being late to note that I didn’t make any money in those years, but what I really felt was stupid for getting being so careless. I decided to have one more cup of coffee (Mokk-a French Roast) before I settled down to work – as a little liquid insurance against all the dumb mistakes that might be lurking in my morning.
The day seemed to fly by. I worked for a while, went to an appointment then stopped on the way home for ingredients for dinner with friends later that night. While navigating my way out of the vegetable department, I was struck with the urge to make dessert as well, although baking is usually best left to my more exacting husband. But my mother-in-law, who often laments her memory lapses, would be one of the party, and I knew I had an (untried) chocolate cake recipe which requires coffee buried in a pile of newspaper clippings near the telephone. In light of the study in the Science section, I felt it was practically incumbent upon me to share the good news about the effects of coffee on the human brain with my nearest and dearest in the form of a cake – that very evening. I had a good three hours before anyone arrived after all! I threw some bars of cocoa in my cart on the way to check out.
I managed to get the table set and dinner well under way by the time anyone arrived. The recipe was just where I remembered; it wasn’t too difficult and I followed it to the letter. I felt pretty exhausted suddenly after my over-caffeinated day, but it was evening, so that was OK. The cake came out of the oven just before we sat down to eat, so I set it on a rack to cool and promptly forgot all about it. Grandma B. eventually said she ought to think about going home, but my friend Kristin made a little “ahem” noise and jerked her head towards the kitchen, “Isn’t there something else…another something you mean to offer us?”
Our wonderful-smelling I. Q. boosting cake!
I ran to find it sitting patiently on its cooling rack amongst the detritus of the kitchen counter. Just pleasantly warm to the touch now, the pan wasn’t difficult to hold with my bare hands, but the fragrant sponge did not want to come out of the pan.
I urged. I cajoled. I slid a knife around the edge and turned the pan over again and again with hopeful and increasingly violent whacks on the counter. I muttered some bad words in a forceful manner, but all to no avail. Finally, a big chunk of cake fell out, not even onto the plate, but on the edge of the counter then the floor where it was wolfed down by our ancient dog – with no apparent ill effect, although one is always told that chocolate is poisonous for dogs. I had to carve the rest out of the pan with a bendy piece of plastic that I cut off the packaging of a cell phone charger. I put chunks of cake into martini glasses, smothered them in whipped cream and sprinkled a little cookie decorating sugar on top before serving them to my patient guests with a choice of more red wine or Mokk-a Café France on the side. The concoction was delicious, even though not exactly what I had planned.
Perhaps if I’d waited to have my extra coffee dose before making the cake, I might have remembered to take the cake out of the pan in a timely manner. Or maybe if I had drunk the cup of coffee after putting it in the oven I could have stayed on track…Perhaps the take away is that cake – and coffee – are generally good ideas, sharing them with your friends is better – and if you are really smart, you let the baker do the baking.