“We had dinner last night with our friends and there was another couple with us. The woman, Mrs. P., said that she was your teacher and that she remembers you. Do you remember her?” my mother said to me on the phone the other day.
I definitely remembered Mrs. P. She was my very first chemistry teacher, back when I was in 7th grade. In fact, I remember the first day she showed us a chemistry experiment because it was the day I decided I would be a chemist.
She stood there, behind the large chemistry lab table, a young woman with a pixie cut, explaining to us the difference between an acid and a base and what happens when the two mix. We listened to her patiently but our attention was focused on something else: the test tubes and beakers in front of her. We had heard from older kids in the school about the “cool” experiments you got to do in 7th grade and we couldn’t wait to witness them.
She didn’t disappoint. When she added the pH indicators, we watched in awe as the clear liquids changed colors indicating their nature. But it was the grand finale, when she combined the hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide, changing the color once again to indicate their transformation into water and common table salt, that my heart started to race. In that instant, I knew that I loved chemistry and I would dedicate my life to studying it.
It wasn’t until many many years later, after playing with a Christmas gift of a chemistry set, after the introduction to organic chemistry that bored me to tears, and after years spent over a mixing bowl, that I realized that what I experienced in that chemistry lab on that day was not a realization of my love for chemistry. That it wasn’t the chemicals and their nature that excited me. That it was the process of combining things to create new ones that made my heart burst with possibilities. I didn’t know it then, but I had just discovered my love for cooking.
So, here’s my favorite kind of chemistry experiment: a recipe for a tender and rich chocolate pound cake. I’m sure there are laws of chemistry behind the whole process, but who really cares when the end result is so delicious?
Chocolate Coconut Pound Cake – Slightly adapted from Bon Appétit
¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup virgin, unrefined coconut oil, room temperature
1½ cups (plus an optional 1 tablespoon sugar for topping)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅔ cup buttermilk
¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
Preheat oven to 325° F. Butter an 8×4” loaf pan and line with parchment paper, leaving a generous overhang on long sides. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl; set aside.
Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat oil, ¼ cup butter, and 1½ cups sugar until pale and fluffy, 5–7 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions; beat until mixture is very light and doubled in volume, 5–8 minutes. Add vanilla.
Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients (do not overmix; it will cause cake to buckle and split). Scrape batter into prepared pan and run a spatula through the center, creating a canal. Sprinkle with coconut. If you want, sprinkle the optional remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar on top.
Bake cake, tenting with foil if coconut browns too much before cake is done (it should be very dark and toasted), until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 70–80 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cake cool in pan 20 minutes before turning out.