A trip down memory lane
Reminiscing on some of our travels South of the Border, got me thinking about the foods and flavors we love the most. Everyone in our household is a full fledged heat lover and the bold flavors of the many chiles indigenous to Mexico and Central America are always hovering at the top of our favorites lists. Flashback to our time living in Costa Rica and the day my BFF’s grandfather, Miguel, taught us about making hot cocoa, rustic style, from the locally grown cacao beans.
After spending several hours roasting, crushing and working the cocoa nibs that would eventually become clumps of deliciously rustic chocolate, he wrapped it in a tattered cloth and proudly handed it over to his wife.
She then began working her magic, scraping shards of the chocolate into a pan of milk, sugar, cinnamon and ground chile heating on the stove. The scent of chocolate, cinnamon and chilis filled the air, drawing everyone into her tiny kitchen in anticipation of that first taste. Although primitive and simple by today’s standards, that simple cup of cocoa was magical and are what memories are made of.
It was that cup of cocoa that drew me to the ingredients of this cake. A delectably dark chocolate cake with a little chile heat, cinnamon spice and vanilla topped with a rich Chocolate Ganache Glaze. The thought of it is always enough to get me into the kitchen and baking!
This is a bundt cake, but with a slightly lighter batter than the butter based/ pound cake batters I make most often. The flavors are rich and bold and will pacify any jones for chocolate. The chile heat doesn’t slap you in the face, but comes on gently, lingering on the tongue.
These are the main flavors of the cake – a rich, high fat (20%+ cocoa content) Dutch process cocoa powder, cinnamon, ground cayenne pepper, coffee (to enhance the flavor of the chocolate) and buttermilk. Sometimes I use buttermilk powder, diluted in water (1:4 – ¼ cup buttermilk powder + 1 cup water).
If you’ve used bundt pans before, you probably know how important it is to grease the pan thoroughly. Trying to get a bundt cake to release when it’s sticking to the pan is like a bad dream and can ruin your masterpiece. I use either the paste form or a baker’s spray (not Pam) that has flour and oil in the mix. With both products, I use a pastry brush after applying, to make sure it is in every nook and cranny and around the top edges – any area the cake batter may come in contact with. Many American supermarkets now carry some brand of baker’s spray. If you don’t have either of these products, you can liberally grease the inside of the pan with shortening or vegetable oil, and then sift cocoa powder over the greased areas, making sure every surface is coated. Then hold the pan upside down and gently tap, to release any excess powder. Flour will leave a white residue on the surface of the cake and is not recommended.
Sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ground cayenne and salt. Give it a whisk until thoroughly mixed and set aside.
After combining and beating the eggs, buttermilk, oil and scraped seeds from the vanilla bean pod, begin adding the dry ingredients. With the mixer on low speed, sprinkle in the dry ingredients ½ cup at a time, to avoid creating lumps. You may have a few small lumps at first, but they should begin to smooth out about halfway through. Do not beat or over mix, so you will have a tender crumb when baked.
It’s impossible not to have a taste, or two, at this point and another one after adding the cup of hot coffee. Yes, hot liquid into the batter, but it works! Mix slowly and carefully, as the batter will be thin. If you don’t have coffee, but still want to add the coffee flavor, add a cup of hot water and 1-2 teaspoons coffee flavoring. I use Lorann ‘s Coffee Bakery Emulsion, so the flavor doesn’t bake out in the oven. You can find it here or coffee extracts at King Arthur Flour and also at many stores that sell baking supplies.
Only fill the pan about ¾ full, otherwise it will rise over the edges. You can see the sifted cocoa coating used in preparing this pan. Gently rotate the filled pan clockwise to bring air bubbles to the surface and pop them. Then it’s into the preheated oven for about 45 minutes for the 11-12″ bundt pans. See the recipe for times on the smaller bundt pans.
The deep chocolate color and mahogany undertones always amaze me, no matter how many times I make this cake. The surface is not as smooth as some pound cake bundts, but the crumb is tender and moist. After removing the cake from the oven, cool in the pan for approximately 10 – 15 minutes. Then invert the cake onto a cooling rack or serving plate. If the cake resists coming out of the pan, cool for an additional 5 – 10 minutes in the pan, then invert again to release from the pan. Cool completely before glazing.
Drizzle the cooled, but still warm ganache glaze over the completely cooled cake. If using the candied habanero chiles, decorate with one piece per serving, as they are very spicy. Serve with any remaining glaze, to spoon over the cake slices or ice cream and delight the die-hard chocoholics. This exquisite cake has distinctive flavors that go together perfectly. Pure bliss!
Chocolate Ganache Glaze – Remarkably simple ingredients. If there is ever a time to use the best quality chocolate you can get your hands on, this is it. There is something profound, almost transcendental about the flavors and velvety texture of a premium chocolate ganache, making it hard to wrap your head around how insanely satisfying it is. I guess you could say I truly love chocolate!
Pour the heated cream (and corn syrup, if using) over the chocolate pieces, letting it sit for 2-3 minutes, so the chocolate will begin to melt.
Stir the cream and chocolate mixture until chocolate is completely melted and incorporated. Then add flavorings, if using, stirring again until the mixture is smooth and glossy. If you need an excuse to taste it, do so now to make sure it is flavored to your liking. Allow to cool slightly to thicken. While still warm, pour over cooled cake. If it thickens too much, gently re-heat in a double boiler or bowl set over hot water. Do not over heat, as the mixture will begin to separate. Allow 2-3 hours for the glaze to set on the cake before serving.
The Candied Habanero Chili Peppers are optional and not for everyone, but if you love the spicy heat of chilis, they are an unexpected treat. There are only three main ingredients, but we chose to roll the candied chili strips in a coarse, raw sugar. Any granulated sugar will work, even colored sanding sugars for a festive look. These can be made 1-2 days before the cake.
These are definitely an adult treat and should be made when children will not be anywhere near the prep area. Although much lower on the Scoville heat scale than the mega voltage ghost and scorpion chilis (in a class all their own), habaneros are one of the hottest chilis readily available in today’s supermarkets. The burning sensation of capsaicin, the active compound in hot chilis, is no joke, and extra care needs to be taken when preparing them. Additional details and antidotes are noted below in the recipe notes.
Most important is to always wear latex/ rubber gloves to protect your hands from being coated with the burning oils in chilis and never touch your face, eyes or mouth when handling hot chili peppers. Do not lean your face over the peppers when cutting, cooking or washing used utensils with hot water. The first time I worked with hot chilis, I thought ‘how bad can it be?’ and chose to forgo the gloves and other precautions. The fallout of my foolishness left me a sorry sight, and as I lay in bed that night with throbbing, burning hands, I promised myself I would never go without gloves again! With all that said and done, my fondness for these little firecrackers far outweighs the extra care needed when preparing them.
After mixing one cup of the sugar, the water and corn syrup in a 3 quart sauce pan fitted with a candy thermometer, cook on low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Then add the habaneros slices to the sugar mixture, stirring gently to coat all of the pieces.
With the heat on medium-high, cook until the mixture reaches the lower end of the hard-ball stage, 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Remove from the heat. Again, avoid leaning over the pan and breathing in the vapor.
Using a fork, lift several strands of the habaneros to the plate with the coating sugar. Gently roll them in the sugar, coating completely before removing them to a clean plate to cool and dry. Working quickly, repeat until all of the habanero pieces have been coated. You can save any remaining coating sugar in an airtight container for adding a little kick to hot cocoa.
Let the chili pieces cool and set completely. One little matchstick per serving adds a unique wow factor and complements the deep, rich flavors of the chocolate ganache. We keep any extras in an airtight jar, stored in a cool, dry place for up to three weeks. I like sucking on the pieces, rather than chewing them, for a slow play of sweet heat.