Thursday 17 May 2012

Mexican Chocolate Layer Cake with Cinnamon & Chili Frosting

This cake speaks Spanish. It has a sultry, seductive, chocolatey nature accented with a chili heat that teases the palate with each bite. It purrs like Penelope Cruz, asking you to follow its taste to that sensual place to which the Latin culture seems to have direct access. This is a cake of unexplored depths, layers of pleasure, and exotic flavor that elicits moans and awakens the rhythm and mystery within. My friend A. requested a chocolate cake for her teenage daughter's birthday, specifying that her daughter really likes Mexico. I envisioned a coming together of flavors I'd experienced before in a Mexican hot chocolate - cinnamon and chili - and infused the frosting with those flavors to top a dark chocolate cinnamon layer cake. I was surprised and excited by the amount of passion these flavors elicited in me, and in the cake as a result.

I have always resonated with books and films that explore the transformational and emotional capacity of food: Chocolat; Eat Drink Man Woman; Mostly Martha; Woman on Top; and, a personal favourite - Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate). In this film, the protagonist, Tita, unwittingly cooks her feelings into her food, causing anyone who eats it to awaken those same feelings in themselves. Erotic thoughts about her lover are cooked into a quail in rose petal sauce that spurs insatiable passion and lust in all who take a bite. A wedding cake baked for Tita's lover, who must marry her sister out of family duty, invokes plenty of tears. I've been acutely aware of feelings in food ever since - that what's on my plate clearly reflects "what's on my plate."

With life, as with this cake, patience plays a big part. Flour is sifted with cocoa and spices. Butter, milk, and eggs are all brought to room temperature, inspiring a siesta while the ingredients become accustomed to the room, and I become accustomed to letting things happen in their own time. The milk is curdled into 'buttermilk' not via the typical lemon juice, but with the addition of dark, syrupy balsamic vinegar.

For the frosting, softened butter and cream cheese are whipped until smooth and melted dark chocolate is folded in. Fiery red chili powder and cinnamon provide the surprise spicy finish to each bite. The frosting is then indulgently spread atop each layer of freshly baked and cooled (that's an excuse for another siesta!) chocolate cake.

Thanks to this atmospheric 8track playlist, and the inherent 'magical realism' in my approach to baking, this cake is not only full of flavor, but also passion, reflection, and whatever alchemical mystery occurs when a woman meets chocolate, cinnamon and chili in her kitchen boudoir. Peppery and papery dried chilies adorn the top of the curvy-swept frosting like spicy roses.

This is a simple and beautiful cake with layers of flavor and heat that (like any woman) offers more than meets the eye.

MEXICAN CHOCOLATE LAYER CAKE WITH CINNAMON & CHILI FROSTING - adapted from Golden Delicious Cake with Fudgy Frosting from Anna & Michael Olson Cook at Home

OVEN: 325 F

For the Cake:

1 CUP salted butter, at room temperature
2 CUPS sugar
2 TSP vanilla extract
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 3/4 CUPS pastry flour
1 CUP cocoa powder
1/2 TSP baking powder
1/4 TSP baking soda
1 TSP cinnamon
1/4 TSP chili powder
1/2 TSP salt
1 CUP milk, at room temperature
1 TBSP balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 325 F and butter and flour two 9" round cake pans.

Add balsamic vinegar to room temperature milk. Set aside.

With an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar, and cream together until fluffy again. Beat in vanilla and add eggs, one at a time, allowing to fully incorporate before adding the next.

In a separate bowl, sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. At a low speed, add flour mixture to creamed butter mixture half a cup at a time, alternating with the balsamic 'buttermilk' until all is added and batter is smooth.

Distribute batter evenly between both cake pans. The recipe makes quite a bit of batter - use any leftover to make cupcakes, or distribute evenly between three 9" cake pans for a triple layer cake. Lift cake pans over a flat surface and carefully let drop to get rid of any trapped air bubbles in the batter.

Bake in 325 F oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan, then place on cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

For the Frosting:

1 1/2 CUP salted butter, at room temperature
1/2 CUP cream cheese, at room temperature
360 G bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 TSP vanilla extract
2 1/2 CUPS confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 TSP chili powder
1 TSP cinnamon
dried chilies (optional, to decorate)

Melt chopped chocolate on a double boiler. Allow to cool.

Whip softened butter and cream cheese on high speed until combined and fluffy. Reduce speed and add melted and cooled chocolate. Sift together confectioner's sugar and spices and add along with vanilla, beating until smooth.

The icing is very smooth and soft, but will harden and set beautifully when refrigerated. Frost each cake layer generously, and cover the sides and top, using your icing knife or spatula to smooth out the top, adding curves if you wish. Decorate top with dried chilies. Refrigerate. Take cake out of refrigerator and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes before serving for ideal temperature. Enjoy! Serve with dark coffee, and a secret or two.


  1. I loved Chocolat - both the book and the movie. May I just say that this cake looks absolutely gorgeous? I also love the combination of chocolate and chili.

    1. Thank you! Yes - that movie had me at "I'll be over soon to fix the squeak in your door." And the chocolates too, of course. :)

  2. Your pictures are beyond beautiful! My eyes are thrilled beyond belief and my taste buds are miffed because they can't share in the same joy. I've done chili and chocolate before but never added cinnamon to the whole party. I must try this!

    1. Thanks, Amrita! I know what you mean about miffed taste buds. Mine are often upset when my eyes seek out FoodGawker, or when I catch up on food blogs I follow. Or when I go to reply to comments and realize my fridge USED to have what was in those pictures.

  3. Sonja, the cake was such a HIT! The passion you put in it when you made this cake was truly felt by everyone who tasted it. And then, after I sent each guest home with a tiny slice of cake, their parents called the next day to thank me. So... I thank you!

  4. This cake sounds amazing! I have printed the recipe out to try this weekend! :D

    1. Thanks Nish - let me know how it turns out! Also, don't do what I did and WIPE YOUR EYES after handling the chili peppers. :)

  5. This looks just so good. How about linking it in to Food on Friday: Chocolate? Hope you are having a great week.

    PS it would be neat if you followed me back.