A Tale of a Chocolate Cake, Two Tenors, & My Love of Opera

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The most popular cake in The Cake Bible is the Chocolate Domingo, and after 30 years it’s time to reveal how it got its name!
The Chocolate Domingo is also our Recipe of the Month for January posting January 5th.

I was playing my weekly tennis game with my husband Elliott when my mind started drifting to what would be the best chocolate cake in the world—the tenor of chocolate cakes—and it hit me: I would dedicate the cake to Luciano Pavarotti (my favorite tenor) and call it the Chocolate Pavarotti. When Elliott noticed from across the court that he did not have my full attention he proclaimed: “I know it’s not another man, just a cake, but can’t you give me one hour once a week of full attention?!”

Fortunately I realized that the correct procedure would be to ask Pavarotti’s permission and also fortunately one of my dearest friends and classmates from Music & Art High School days was June LeBell, host of WQXR. June gave me the name of Pavarotti’s agent, Herbert Breslin, asking me not reveal my source. And I wrote a letter explaining what I wanted to do. I received a letter back declining my offer, saying that “Mr. Pavarotti is on a diet and doesn’t want to be associated with food.” This did not stop me. I then wrote a second letter suggesting the probability that Mr. Pavarotti sang under my uncle Tibor Kozma when he was conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

I went on to explain that it is a tradition for great opera singers to have special dishes named after them, such as Peach Melba, Chicken Cacciatore, Caruso Sauce, and Tetrazzini. I suggested that surely Pavarotti would like to consider the possibility of having this cake named after him. The answer was silence.

So I regrouped and decided to present the offer to Placido Domingo, my other favorite tenor. Back to June for a contact and when I called his assistant she immediately said that Mr. Domingo loves chocolate. Then she called me back and said that Mr. Domingo wants to know when he will get to taste the cake!

We made a date and I woke up very early that morning so that the cake would be very fresh. I even chose a chocolate brown dress for the presentation.

 I’ll never forget when I lifted the cover of the cake and Mrs. Domingo inhaled with delight, as the aromas wafted into the air, and exclaimed: “No calories of course”!

And on September 7, 1988, when The Cake Bible launched, I received a telegram from Placido Domingo:

The telegram is framed and displayed in my baking kitchen.

The telegram is framed and displayed in my baking kitchen.

A few weeks later, there was a 1-7/8 pages article in The New York Times featuring The Cake Bible, and written by Corby Kummer.

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And the final 1/8 page was an article by my longtime friend Brian Miller (who was restaurant reviewer) about Pavarotti sharing a dinner with him, and a photo of Pavarotti raising a glass of wine which, at the time, I read as his salute to Domingo. But after all these years I read the article and discovered that Pavarotti had lost 85 pounds on his diet and was breaking his diet to dine with Brian. I loved how Brian quoted Pavarotti as saying that “there is only one scale he struggles to conquer—the one in his bathroom.” I also enjoyed reading about how much Pavarotti appreciated eating. And I wish I could have known him.

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Note: The photo of The Domingo shows it with a chocolate leaf embedded into the surface of powdered sugar. I call this my special fossil technique.