Why You Should Eat Dessert First (or the Perfect Fall-Flavored Chocolate Cake)

Perfect for fall, this chocolate cake has a layer of creamy pumpkin filling. Swoon. A few years ago, after my aunt married a dashing Texan on a wooden dock suspended over the green Guadaloupe river, our small wedding party marched up a sloping lawn to eat chocolate cake. It was not even 11am, and we hadn't yet eaten the lunch of tamales and jicama salad laid out on the back porch. But the bride insisted. "Life's so short, you never know what's going to happen," she explained. "Eat dessert first." Having herself gone from a dusty west Texas town to TCU's sweetheart of Sigma Chi to state senator, only to arrive years later at the kind of post-midlife twists in love and career that give the staunchest cynics hope that life can be, on the contrary, long and filled with unexpected blessings, she knew what she was talking about. I was first in line for a slice.

This is why, when The Back in the Swing Cookbook landed on my desk in honor of women's breast cancer awareness month, I was immediately charmed. The first chapter, all about desserts, is inscribed with a like-minded carpe dessert quote by Ernestine Ulmer: "Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first." The sweet treats, like all the recipes in the book, incorporate healthy tweaks with an eye toward balance and moderation, but this is a cookbook that's about more than food. With a holistic approach to how food--as well as attitude, self-care, and physical movement--affect the way we feel, Back in the Swing inspires us not only to make the best of our meals but of our everyday lives. And, of course, to find a reason to eat our slices of chocolate cake first, no matter the celebration.

Celebration Chocolate Cake
from The Back in the Swing Cookbook
Serves 14

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes

Cake
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup water
⅓ cup vegetable oil
⅓ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Filling
8 ounces Neufchatel or low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
⅓ cup canned pumpkin puree (not seasoned pie filling)
¼ cup honey, agave nectar, or sorghum
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Glaze
½ cup half-and-half
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips

Topping
Seedless red grapes, whole blackberries, pistachios, and curls of fresh orange peel

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with a small amount of oil or butter; dust with flour and tap out any excess over the sink. Set aside.

2. For the cake, whisk the buttermilk, water, oil, applesauce, sugar, eggs, baking soda, and salt together in a very large bowl until well blended. Whisk in the flour and cocoa powder until smooth. Divide the batter between the prepared pans.

3. Bake for 32 to 35 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly touched. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto wire racks to cool.

4. For the filling, whisk the cheese, pumpkin, sweetener, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl until well blended. Place one cake layer on a plate. Spread with the filling, and top with the second layer.

5. For the glaze, heat the half-and-half in a saucepan over medium-high heat until it starts to bubble. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate chips. Let sit for 1 minute, then whisk until glossy, smooth, and dark. Let cool for 20 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Pour half of the glaze over the cake; pour the remaining glaze into a small bowl to pass at the table. Gently heat the glaze over simmering water, or on the defrost setting of the microwave, so it's pourable right before serving. Casually arrange the topping ingredients on top of the glazed cake.

Tip: If you don't have buttermilk, substitute 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or vinegar in 1 cup milk. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes before using.

Calories 336 • Total Fat 14g • Saturated Fat 6g • Carbohydrates 51g • Protein 6g • Dietary Fiber 3g • Sodim 88mg