War, Chocolate, and Birthday Cake

Did you know that chocolate used to be a trans-Atlantic secret?

 I recently made this chocolate birthday cake, which tasted amazing even though the presentation is a work in progress. 

Two Layers of Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake

 In ancient Mesoamerica, a ritual drink and trade resource from the theobroma cacao tree was considered “food of the gods.” After Spain’s conquest of Mexico, chocolate made its way to Europe, but for almost 100 years its manufacture was only known by the Spanish.

Homemade Butter Cream Frosting

Across deep time and many transformations in historical context, many battles have been fought over this valuable edible. I knew that it was a polemical commodity in European colonial mercantilism as were sugar, coffee, tea, and spices. But something I recently learned was that during the 1990-91 Gulf War, some of the largest chocolate corporations fought amongst themselves for shares in the war.


Over many months, I waited for my brother to come home from Saudi Arabia. On this small black and white television I had in my room I watched The Cosby Show. During the commercials I changed the channel to the news and watched missiles fly across the sky. I worried, and I munched on these little chocolate cakes my Mom would buy for me while corporate battles were fought by chocolate companies over their market share in the war that kept me wondering if I would see my brother again.

Blossom Placement

But if we look close enough, there are some positive links between war and chocolate. Recently I found a little nod to a gulf war veteran who is now a chocolatier: Gearharts Fine Chocolates. He makes these special confections called “Peanut Butter Pups,” which are peanut butter filled chocolate pieces made to look like puppies with dark-chocolate noses and almond ears.

peanut butter pup

Image of Pups from Gearhart’s Fine Chocolates

Part of the profits from their sale goes to Companions for Heroes, an organization that places rescue pets in the homes of wounded veterans.

 small final cake

Cherry Blossom Chocolate Birthday Cake

More Information:

Florence Fabricant, Front Burner in Diner’s Journal April 30, 2013 in Dining & Wine section of The New York Times.

Ellen M. Schnepel, “Chocolate: From Bean to Bar.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 2, no. 4 (Fall 2002): 98-100.

On the cake: I used Pamela’s Products Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake Mix. I highly recommend it. I didn’t use the extra egg for more fluff, and I used olive oil. The butter cream frosting was where I went wrong. I didn’t have confectioners sugar so I just used regular white sugar, softened butter, whipping cream, and vanilla. It never became fluffy and was mostly like a dense butter. Once I put red food coloring in some of the frosting, I was able to whip that portion a little better. But it was still weird. Nevertheless, it was the day of the birthday and required that I prevail. So I just spread it on the cake – a metal butter knife worked best. Then I picked up gobs of it in my hands, made the balls that were supposed to be balloons. I tried to fill the gaps in the side where the layers don’t touch, but the frosting was just completely weird. Once it looked decent for what it was, I put it in the fridge until serving time. Over the birthday celebration, we realized that the cake looked like an abstract rendition of a cherry blossom tree. Thus, the Cherry Blossom Chocolate Birthday Cake was born.

Eat Know Sing Organizing Voice. Academic. Everyday person. Fellow curious soul. PhD Candidate in History, University of British Columbia.

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