Although everyone knows the only thing better than your dream job is no job (that is to say, bojon), I once had a dream job that lasted 16 months when a pair of fabulous sisters opened a tiny, organic bakery in my hood. The community of bakers that wound up at Petite Patisserie consisted of smart, fun, talented, compassionate, kick-ass women, and we were all dismayed when Rachel and Kirsten decided to sell the space in December of 2007.
Every ingredient we used at Petite Patisserie was one hundred percent organic, although sometimes that meant altering recipes, shipping ingredients from far away, or jumping through hoops to work with what we had. For example, no one makes blanched organic almonds, so we had to buy unblanched almonds, boil them for 30 seconds, let them cool, then spend hours slipping the skins off each almond, one by one. The almonds then got dried out in a low oven overnight, cooled, and ground finely to be made into pate sucree or frangipane. Also, though many baking recipes call for dutch-processed cocoa powder, no one makes the organic stuff. Dutch-processed cocoa gets processed with alkali to neutralize its acidity, making the color a richly deep reddish-brown, and smoothing out the flavor. Some recipes work with either kind of cocoa; others, not so much.
Anyway, one day I asked Rachel if she would order some Valrhona dutch-processed cocoa powder for me through our vendor. When I came to work the next day, she had. They’d sent us 10 pounds of it. It cost $40. We couldn’t send it back, and we couldn’t use it at the bakery. So I took my ten pounds of cocoa powder home and started looking for recipes that used it. I had never baked with it much, for whatever reason, and even sort of shunned it, thinking that any chocolaty baked good worth its salt had to be made with actual chocolate.
Somehow I finally used up the last of my cocoa a few months ago. And now that it’s gone, I miss it.
I made this cake while in the midst of a baking-with-beer phase, using an Alaskan Smoked Porter I picked up at Rainbow. The beer goes in the cake, and also gets whisked into powdered sugar to form a thin glaze which locks in the cake’s moisture while it’s still warm. The smokey flavor is subtle; you might enjoy it with a mug of milky lapsang souchang tea (like this organic one from Samovar). The recipe, adapted from Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques, originally called for Guinness, but you could use any stout or porter. Some nice options would be Bison’s Organic Chocolate Stout, or their Gingerbread Ale.
This moist, springy, tender cake would make perfect cupcakes. Enjoy it with a cup of tea or coffee for an afternoon snack, or alongside a scoop of milk chocolate stout ice cream for a decadent dessert.
Smoked Porter Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin
Makes one 8″ round cake, 8-10 servings
5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 ounces (6 tablespoons) dutch-processed cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup smoked porter (or other dark beer)
1/2 cup molasses
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil (such as sunflower)
Preheat the oven to 350º. Grease an 8″ pan and line it with a round of parchment paper.
Sift together the dry ingredients.
In a large saucepan, heat the beer and molasses to a boil. Whisk in the baking soda. It will foam up A LOT so don’t try using a smaller pan or you will be very unhappy. Remove from the heat.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs and oil until combined. Add the beer mixture, whisking to combine. Add the dries and whisk until smooth. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake in the center of the oven until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and springs back when pressed with your finger, 30-40 minutes. Cool ten minutes, then invert onto a plate, remove the parchment, and reinvert so that the cake is right side up.
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 – 2 tablespoons smoked porter
Whisk together to form a glaze. Spread over the top of the warm cake.
The cake will keep well for a few days, stored airtight at room temperature.