Everyone seems to be on gingerbread and peppermint trains and all these other very timely ‘christmasy’ flavors and while I love them too, there is something about the cold of the east coast that turns my tastebuds to chocolate from november to april and then promptly shuts them off once the humidity kicks in in may.
And then there is the issue of gingerbread not appealing to everyone (looking at you dear, strange husband) which makes me think we need an alternative for those folks. So instead of making the usual gingerbread cookies and a molasses cake, I came up with a chocolate cake with an extra warmth factor - chipotle chili powder.
I was inspired by a meal we had at a wonderful little restaurant in SoHo this past october where we were very sweetly treated to a chocolate cake afterwards (for no reason, although it might’ve been the cute-faced 2 year old at our table). I was a little hesitant at first because I generally don’t like chili with chocolate but chipotle chili turned out to make a match made in heaven and I’ve been adding a bit here and there to chocolate puddings, cakes, ganaches and cookies ever since. Once I decided I wanted a little ‘gingerbread street’ cake I knew these were going to be the flavors.
I added chipotle to the ganache and to the cookies, where I think it flavors best - as a complement to the chocolate cake and chocolate buttercream. The heat (and a bit of sea salt) helps break the sweetness as well, making for a deliciously complex cake in every bite. I chose chocolate sable cookies like the ones they sell at Balthazar’s (another thing I picked up on that same trip to SoHo) because their texture provide a nice crunch with every slice.
A note on design: there are so many gorgeous inspirational photos on pinterest and as you can see, we are no master-pipers (our little family did these cookies together), but I also think it’s hard to go wrong with tiny houses placed on a cake because the intricacy of having so many always makes for a great design, no matter the skill-level. Pull up a photo on pinterest and do what you can but you know, just enjoy the process because the point is to have fun with the family and in the end, the result will becute no matter what you do (and incredibly delicious no doubt!).
devil’s food chocolate cake
143g cake flour
45g cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
100g butter, at room temperature
225 grams sugar
1 egg yolk
¾ teaspoon vanilla
140g hot water
Preheat oven to 325. Butter and flour two 6” cake pans. In the bowl of your stand mixer place all the dry ingredients and the butter and beat until mixture becomes sandy. In another bowl whisk together the eggs, yolk, buttermilk and vanilla. Add hot water to egg mix and combine. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients ⅓ at a time, allowing each third to be well incorporated before the next (about 3-5 minutes beating time between additions. Make sure to keep scraping down the bowl to avoid unmixed bits. Divide batter between your two cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, testing for doneness. Allow cakes to cool in pan for about 5 minutes and then remove and allow to cool on a rack. Trim off domes. If making ahead, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze the cakes.
chocolate sable cookies
adapted from smitten kitchen
makes about 30 cookies, depending on the shape you choose
can make a day ahead
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) dutch-process cocoa
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) chopped dark chocolate, 70%
⅛ -¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
In a food processor pulse the chocolate until it is very fine, almost powdery. In the bowl of a stand mixer cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk, chipotle powder, sea salt, vanilla and baking soda and whip for another 2 minutes. Onto a sheet of parchment paper sift the cocoa and flour. Add the flour and fine chocolate to the mix and combine. Gather dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Set in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350. Roll dough on a floured surface or between two sheets of parchment paper to about ¼ of an inch thickness. Cut out shapes and repeat with remaining dough. Bake for 10-12 minutes.
Piping options: Glaze (½ cup organic powdered sugar, 1-2 tablespoons milk, pinch salt and ½ teaspoon vanilla whisked together until the consistency of elmer’s glue) or melted white chocolate, or a vanilla buttercream. The piping will need to dry before you place the cookies onto the cake.
chocolate swiss buttercream recipe
(makes enough to frost one 6” cake)
Can be made up to a week in advance
3 large egg whites
150 grams of light brown sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
small squeeze of lemon juice (¼ teaspoon)
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
200 grams finely chopped dark chocolate, 70%
In a heatproof bowl whisk together the egg whites, sugar, sea salt and lemon juice. Place bowl over a pot of simmering water (as a double boiler) and cook, stirring frequently, until the temperature reaches 185 degrees. This should take about 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl of stand mixer and begin beating on medium, then increase to high speed for about 10 minutes until the mix looks like a meringue: white, thick and glossy. While this is whipping, melt the chocolate. Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time to the meringue mix, allowing each to incorporate before adding another. Once butter is all incorporated add the cooled chocolate, all at once. Whip until thoroughly combined. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container in the fridge where it will keep for about a week.
(make right before cake assembly)
3 oz heavy cream
3 oz dark chocolate (70%)
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
pinch of fine sea salt
Chop the dark chocolate bar into small, fine pieces. Place in a heatproof bowl. Warm heavy cream in a saucepan until you begin to see bubbles on the sides. Pour over chopped chocolate and stir just briefly then let sit for a few minutes so chocolate can melt. Stir, stir and stir until chocolate is fully melted, ganache comes together and is shiny and thick. Add chipotle powder and salt and stir once more.
Have your decorated cookies buttercream, cakes and ganache ready. Place one of the cakes face up and using a piping bag, pipe a circle border around the edges. In the center of the cake pour the ganache and smooth down to an even layer within the buttercream border. Place second cake face down and press gently. Cover the entire cake in a thin layer of buttercream for the crumb coat and place in the fridge, uncovered, for about 20 minutes to let it set. Frost the cake with the rest of your frosting, using a bench scraper to smooth edges. Individually place cookies around the cake. If you want, dust the top with powdered sugar (non-melting will stay as is) for a lovely ‘wintery’ look.