How To Win Friends and Influence People. For real.

sour cream chocolate cake espresso buttercream

Dale Carnegie thought he knew what was up. All those many years ago in 1936, he wrote the classic tome, How to Win Friends and Influence People and in the time since, over 15 million people have purchased a copy of this book. And why not, right? We all want to be liked. I’m not sure about the “and Influence People” part, that seems sort of manipulative, but I have to admit this is the real world. I suppose we’re all out to influence people for one reason or another.

To be fair, the book does give some pretty good advice: smile, be a good listener, become genuinely interested in people, remember someone’s name, talk in terms of the other person’s interest, make them feel important, with sincerity. But I firmly believe that he’s missing the 7th and possibly most important tenet: bring cake.

There is a smart, fortunate company here in our area that has recently made the excellent decision to hire my wise, principled, fair, compassionate, and clever friend Holly. Truly, on her own merits, she would be an asset to any company anywhere. But I was intrigued when she told me this morning  that she needed to bring a chocolate cake to work tomorrow. She recently made a grasshopper pie (the chocolate-minty kind, not the bug kind) and took that to work. And this week, she’s bringing a chocolate cake. Now, I don’t know what the deal is in this office, but I am TOTALLY on board. Sign me up. Anywhere that has baked goods on a regular basis is a place populated with my kind of people.

She left the specifics in my hands, so for Holly and her colleagues, I made a sour cream chocolate cake with espresso caramel buttercream and espresso salt. The cake is impossibly moist and fudgy and chocolatey and dense–almost like a brownie but without going overboard. For the frosting, I combined dark brown sugar, cream, and a bit of salt, then boiled it into a lush caramel. That gets added to some frothy eggs, then fresh butter gets dropped in to the spinning mixer, one tablespoon at a time. Finally, just as the buttercream pulls together like silk with an attitude, I add espresso and vanilla. Oh my.

caramel espresso buttercream top

I cut each layer into 2 halves, lay down thick blankets of the buttercream on top of each layer, and then sprinkle espresso salt across the top. This is my favorite detail because, in addition to putting just the right delicate little bit of crunchy texture into each bite, it is an ideal counterpoint to the delicate sweetness of the buttercream and a lovely harmony with the espresso flavor. The salt adds bass notes to the treble of sweetness and pulls it all together in a way that is at once surprising and yet as familiar and common sense as basic addition. Between the chocolate and the sour cream and the espresso and the caramel and the espresso salt–it is all good things in one place. The only thing that could possibly be missing would be kittens sleeping in a basket.

So, no offense to Mr. Carnegie, but I’m thinking that if you walk into an office with something like this, people won’t care if you’re smiling, if you’re remembering their name, being interested in others or talking about things in their interest, making them feel important or even listening. I’m thinking that if this is what you bring in on a Friday morning, they can’t help but love you. If you want to win friends, just bring cake.

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