Chocolate Molten Cake & Coconut-Hibiscus Sherbet
I’m sitting in the dining hall, eating breakfast in the same black collared button-up and black slacks that I wore to work yesterday. Last night, long after midnight, after I finally staggered out of the elevator and fumbled with the key to my door, I was too tired to change out of my server’s clothes before I crashed into bed. This morning, up bright and early, I was too tired to change into anything else.
I’ve had a little experience in the restaurant industry, but working front of the house is an entirely different animal. It’s exhausting. I remember orientation, trying to remember how all the buttons on the computer worked and the numbering of the tables. They gave me two weeks of shadowing to get used to the lay of the land, and I couldn’t like the people I work with more.
My first non-training day was earlier this week. For the first time, I’d have my own section. “Elissa” would be printed on top of all of my receipts. And I’d take home any tips I made. I tied my apron straps into a bow and stepped through the kitchen doors onto the floor.
The first thing I noticed was that my shoes weren’t broken in yet. It takes a little adjustment to get used to being on your feet a whole shift. As a server, you don’t have much time to sit around and lounge. If you aren’t running plates, bussing tables or putting in orders, there is always side work to do – scoop ice into the water pitchers, refill the coffee thermos, work the bakery, restock napkins. You learn not to sit down. And on that first day, I felt it in my soles.
I needed to keep everything in place. This is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me, the ability to juggle five tables which all expect you to make them your first priority. I began to forget which table came in first, who ordered what, whether Table 5 wanted the decaf refill or the check. As the rush set in and my tables filled up, my mind became more and more jumbled, until everything was one overwhelming noise that never quieted.
You get used to smiling. Even though your shoes are slowly killing you. Even though you messed up 12’s order and you know they aren’t happy, even though the kids at 8 will ask a million questions and probably order nothing but hot chocolate. As a server, you need to be upbeat. You can’t let a bad afternoon show in your face, because it’s not about you – it’s about making every guest feel welcome and at ease, and when it really comes down to it, that’s so much more important than a tip.
I did the best I could my first day, and it wasn’t perfect. Or even close. I sent one table a free crème brûlée because I’d made a mistake with their order, and they’d waited patiently forever. At another table, the couple ordered a full out meal – drinks, soup, salad, dinner, and dessert – ringing up an enormous bill and leaving me with a tip of zero dollars, zero cents. A four-top of teenaged boys left me under 10%.
I pushed through the swinging door with a plate of dirty glasses to bus. At the dish pit, with three servers all working around each other, somebody stumbled, and a stream of dirty dishwater splashed through my collared shirt and down my leg, pressing the cloth against my skin in a cool drench. I didn’t have a change of clothes, or the time anyway. I walked back onto the floor to bring in another tray, and on the way to the kitchen, my wrist gave out and I dropped a towering stack of plates.
Every fork stilled, every face turned, and even though the background music continued to play, for a moment the restaurant stopped. I didn’t know the room could go silent.
It was rough. Nearing the end of the night I was so frustrated; I was trying with everything I had but I couldn’t make excuses. On top of everything, I would leave almost empty handed, with little more than a few callouses. I couldn’t bring myself to think about the homework I had left.
Closing drew near. The restaurant slowed to a trickle and we tackled the side work and remaining tables. One of my bosses, C-, called me over to the bar. I didn’t know what else could have gone wrong.
I almost couldn’t handle it. An ice cream sundae, filled to burst and topped with a ridiculous amount of brightly-lit rainbow candles.
“Blow out the bad juju,” she said. I blew out the candles.
In the back room, I dipped a spoon into the ice cream sundae and almost wanted to cry. The pastry chef, M-, had made it exactly the way I liked – with scoops of vanilla, coffee, and chocolate ice cream, chocolate and caramel sauce, almonds, brownie bits, a beehive swirl of whipped cream and a clown red cherry. I could only eat a couple bites before I had to go back to work, but nothing could have tasted better.
I tried to thank M- as I walked by, but nothing came out. She had a ridiculous smile on her face. And I pulled myself up and finished out my tables with a smile, and walked home with a pocketful of blown-out candles.
Next week, those callouses will have made me stronger. My shoes will feel a little softer. But until then, I’ll throw myself into my essay and wrap up my radio package, trying unsuccessfully to get my mind off of chocolate and ice cream.
[PS I'm falling behind, I know, but I'm doing my best. It's a struggle to find time to eat and sleep, but blogging is like breathing, and I'll continue to work it in whenever I have a minute.]
These molten cakes were so good. What I love about them is that you can just keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to have one – just pop it into the oven. They’re quick to make, incredibly rich, and just un-set in the middle.
Half for the sake of time (I’m avoiding my honors essay as I blog this) and half because I didn’t change anything about it, I won’t reprint the molten cake recipe. Instead, you can see it for yourself here on Epicurious.
As for the sherbet, it’s something I came up with based on what I had around. Instead of coconut milk, it uses milk steeped with dried shredded coconut – an idea inspired by the blog Desert Candy. I loved it because of the beautifully sweet fragrance that clouded over the pan, and because of the more intense flavor than coconut milk from a can. The flavor profile is inspired by a hibiscus sorbet I had back in Seattle with my good friend A-, who had never tasted anything like it and was instantly smitten.
Dried hibiscus flowers look like gnarled, gorgeously pink leaves. I like to eat them by themselves, and in the sherbet, the flavor is pretty mild. I got mine at Trader Joe’s.
Coconut Hibiscus Sherbet
A 17 and Baking original
1 cup cream
1 cup milk (I used soy milk)
1 cup sweetened dried coconut
1/2 cup dried sweetened hibiscus flowers
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water OR 1 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the cream, milk, coconut, hibiscus, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the mixture comes to a simmer. Take the saucepan off the heat and cover it, letting the mixture steep for one hour. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a medium bowl, pressing on the coconut and hibiscus flowers to get all the liquid out. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for an hour or until thoroughly chilled.
Stir in the orange blossom water (or zest) and the vanilla extract, then churn in an ice cream maker.
Printer-Friendly Version – Coconut-Hibiscus Sherbet