The Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The year was 1977 and there I was, in the private ballroom of the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City! I found myself enveloped in the warmth of red velvet and gold trimming, heavy brocade tassels and chandeliers. I stood surrounded by backpacks and duffle bags, suitcases, teenagers sprawled on the floor, draped over banquettes, lolling, slouched or flopped down wherever there was free space. Others paced back and forth, anxious for something to happen or climbing over luggage to join one group or another, the shyer ones, of which I was one, quietly standing and observing the brouhaha. An odd contradiction, the elegant red velvet and the faded old jeans, the silent crystal teardrops hanging high above us and the chattering tumult below.
Shades of Ellis Island, of poor travelers, unkempt immigrants gathered around pyramids of luggage, excitement mixed with confusion, laughter and tears, the babel of voices. Waiting and expectations. Anxious to depart.
Our six-week adventure, our trip to Israel started in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom. Scared, excited, there we were, dozens, hundreds of teenagers waiting for a sign, pushed towards one group of souls or another, nametags stuck to shirts. Looking for where we belonged, names ticked off of lists. I recognized one or two faces but the rest of the group that slowly formed around me were strangers. Little did I know that pushed together as we were like immigrants shuffled onto a steamship to cross the ocean and start over in a whole new world, little did I think how close we would become. We were too alike, full of wide-eyed wonder and religious zeal, ready for anything and everything to happen.
The next six weeks would find us floating in the Dead Sea, high atop Mount Masada, scuffling through the Negev Desert, our sneakers filled with sand, and ogling the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sirens and the muffled sounds of distant bombs would wake us from a sleepy afternoon daze in downtown Jerusalem, guards would signal for us to stand just a bit further away from the barbed wire border that led into Lebanon, Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho would resound through our old bus amid peals of laughter as we trundled our way towards Jericho. Fingers would reverently brush the worn stones of the Wailing Wall as we inched our way through the praying throngs. Squares of pizza eaten on Ben Yehuda Street, our first felafel smothered under hummus and tahini in Tel Aviv, freshly squeezed orange juice in Jaffa and wine sipped on Mount Carmel. And one magical, splendid meal amid white linen, china plates and crystal water goblets in the King David Hotel.
And it all started in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.
After the Veal Scallopini and the Chocolate Chip Nut Bread, here is another gem I came across in my mother’s old Our Favorite Recipes, the cookbook of her old synagogue Sisterhood, a cookbook of which she was chairman. This chocolate Waldorf Astoria Cake is attributed to her, my mom, the woman who didn’t particularly like to cook. I don’t remember this cake, nor do I have more than a faint memory of her making desserts from scratch other than a banana cream pie. I do remember my father’s chocolate layer cake, a recipe I make often. But this cake, ostensibly a recipe from New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria hotel, sounded to good to pass up. And it certainly stirred up memories.
The Chocolate Waldorf Astoria Cake is an incredibly moist, dense cake, almost like a tort or a French fondant or moelleux, layered with luscious thick chocolate cream heady with coffee, reminiscent of the Old World elegance of the Grand Ballroom in that Old Grande Dame of a hotel, of waiters scurrying to and fro carrying silver platters laden with China cups trailing a haze of espresso. Yet the tattered edges I left for all the world to see are like the tattered group of teens who gathered together in that ballroom thirty-six years ago and who quickly became one united family.
MOM’S CHOCOLATE WALDORF ASTORIA CAKE
From Our Favorite Recipes (Sisterhood of Temple Beth Shalom)
8 Tbs (115 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups (400 g) sugar*
4 squares (4 oz/110 g) unsweetened baking chocolate*, melted and cooled to room temperature
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cup (375 ml) milk at room temperature
2 cups (260 g) cake flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 ½ tsps vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans), optional
* I used a mix of unsweetened and semi-sweet chocolate so decreased the sugar by 2 tablespoons
Preheat the oven 350°F (180°C). Butter and flour the bottom and sides of 2 x 9-inch layer cake pans (or butter and line the bottom with parchment paper).
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together for about 3 minutes until light, creamy and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well blended and creamy. Beat in the melted and cooled chocolate. Stir the baking powder into the flour, then beat the dry ingredients into the batter in 3 or 4 additions, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with dry. Beat in the vanilla and make sure that batter is smooth and homogeneous. Fold in the chopped nuts, if using.
Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans and bake until both layers are set in the center, about 30 minutes or more, if needed.
Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool for 10 or 15 minutes on racks before turning out and allowing to cool completely before frosting.
SIMPLE CHOCOLATE MOCHA BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
12 oz (340 g) powdered/confectioner’s sugar
8 Tbs (4 oz/120 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 oz (50 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
4 Tbs boiling prepared coffee
In a medium to large mixing bowl, beat the powdered sugar with the softened butter until well blended and fluffy. Add the cocoa powder and the 4 tablespoons of boiling coffee and continue beating until well blended, thick and creamy, scraping down the sides as needed.
If the buttercream frosting is warm or too thin to hold up the top cake layer without oozing out the sides, place the bowl in the refrigerator to chill to desired spreading consistency.