Recent egg-related cooking bursts aside, I am still deep in the process of my Go Mighty goal of making 50 cakes for 50 people. I’ve made a couple of birthday cakes recently, as well as a very spring-inspired ricotta strawberry cake for Easter tea:
and a coconut cake with orange cream frosting:
One of the birthday cakes I made was a particularly fun experiment. I told my father-in-law that I was going to make him a birthday cake, and that he could choose any cake he wanted for the occasion. After a bit of thought, he requested that I make him some sort of cake that could as close as possible to approximating this incredibly delicious chocolate bar he had been gifted for Christmas. The chocolate bar was a bittersweet concoction, filled with dried cherries and little hits of hot chile. It was just wonderful, he said, and a cake of a similar persuasion would be just perfect.
I love this sort of challenge. My favorite sort of cake-making always involves someone saying they’d like something with a bit of this, a touch of that, and maybe a hint of something else, and would it be possible to create a cake out of those things? Of course, I always say, and then immediately get to work making such a cake possible. In this case, I went with a deeply chocolate cake, covered with a layer of smooth, chile-flecked ganache, then topped with a dead simple cherry sauce. The end result was nothing short of dreamy, and I’d be hard pressed to think of another cake I’ve made that contained such a wonderful symphony of flavors and sensations. This cake is sweet, rich, smooth, and spicy, and I can’t wait for another excuse to make it again.
Spicy Chocolate Cherry Cake
To stand up to the sweetness of the cherries and chocolate, I really made the chilies pop by using fresh chiles, mashed to a paste and stirred into the ganache. Because the hotness of chiles can vary quite a bit, I started with about 1/3 of a super hot chile (try using a Serrano or, if you are super brave, ¼ of a habanero chile), then I tasted the ganache, added more chile, tasted, added more, etc. I ended up using a whole chile here, but you can certainly use less if you want a less pronounced spiciness.
Also, I made two 9-inch, single layer cakes for this party, one with spicy ganache, one with plain ganache. If you want to do the same, use a chocolate cake recipe that makes 2 9-inch cakes, then double the recipes for both the cherries and the ganache. That said, the recipe below makes my favorite single layer 9-inch cake. The cake is vegan, but you don’t have to tell anyone, and it has zucchini in it, which sounds weird, but, oh, my god, it works so well here, I swear (trust me, no one will never know it’s in there).
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold, strong coffee
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¾ cup shredded zucchini, squeezed in a cheesecloth or dishtowel to remove excess liquid
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thoroughly grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and sugar. In a medium bowl, mix together the oil, cold coffee, vanilla, and zucchini. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients all at once, then whisk together until almost smooth. Add the vinegar and stir quickly until the vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. You will see bubbles rising up in the batter as the vinegar reacts with the baking soda.
Bake the cake in the center of the oven for 25-35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake emerges with just a few moist crumbs attached. Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
½ cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
tiny pinch of sea salt
1 hot chile of your choice, finely diced, then mashed into a paste using either a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a knife. If you really want to temper the heat of the chile, remove the seeds and ribs before chopping and mashing. If you want more heat, leave in both the seeds and ribs.
In a small saucepan set over very low heat, heat the cream until just steaming. Alternately, you could place the cream in a microwave safe bowl and heat it in the microwave until just steaming. Add the chopped chocolate to the warm cream, then allow to sit for 1 minute. Gently stir the chocolate and cream mixture until it is smooth and the chocolate is totally melted. Add the tiny pinch of salt, stir, then add in a small amount of mashed chile and stir again. Taste the ganache for spiciness, then continue to add more and more mashed chile, a little at a time, until the ganache has reached your preferred level of spiciness.
Set aside to cool to room temperature.
1 cup frozen pitted cherries
½ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
tiny pinch of sea salt
In a medium pan set over medium-high heat, combine the cherries, sugar, water, and tiny pinch of sea salt. Gently shake and swirl the pan around over the heat until all the ingredients are intermingled, then allow to sit until the mixture begins to bubble at the edges. Swirl the pan around for 2 to 3 minutes, until the cherries just begin to burst from the heat and the liquid they release begins to thicken just slightly.
Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
To assemble the cake, transfer the cooled cake to a large plate or platter. Carefully pour the ganache over the cake, allowing the ganache to pool in the middle, then gently crest over the sides of the cake. If you want a completely frosted cake, use an offset spatula or a spoon to nudge the ganache around as evenly as possible.
Carefully spoon the cooled cherry sauce over the cake, again concentrating the sauce in the middle of the cake, as it will naturally cascade down the sides on its own.