Cook in the Moment: Boca Negra, a Chocolate Chipotle Cake
Each week I contribute an article to the Whole Foods Market Cooking Boulder website expanding on one of the 10 Ways Tuesday ideas. This week I cooked and photographed a recipe for Boca Negra. For the full article, click on the icon below.
The name says it all- Boca Negra means black mouth in English, and it’s impossible to sneak a piece of this cake without anyone knowing. Your sticky fingers will leave smudged chocolate prints on the fridge door, and even after wiping your lips clean a tiny piece of evidence will linger on the corner of your mouth- not to mention the satisfied smile that will certainly tip off anyone who knows you well. Boca Negra is a rich, fudge-like cake infused with the flavor of smokey dried chipotle chiles. This recipe comes from Fany Gerson’s book, My Sweet Mexico, a heartfelt collection of traditional Mexican desserts and sweet treats. The book has a noble mission, manifest in Fany’s commitment to traveling Mexico in search of recipes passed down through generations orally, recipes at the brink of extinction as modern cuisine carries on without them. Fany was born and raised in Mexico, but here career as a pastry chef has taken her around the world. She writes of family matriarchs carefully guarding their treasured recipes, willing to “go to their grave with them rather than share.” Motivated by her desire to preserve these meaningful traditions, Fany spent time with people, earning their trust, and wrote a book that is much more than a collection of indulgent desserts. My Sweet Mexico is a history book, a dictionary of traditional Mexican ingredients, a map, a lesson in pastry technique, and a heartfelt trove of stories. Boca Negra is the very last recipe in the My Sweet Mexico, and Fany writes that this cake is one of her proudest creations. After baking it, I can see why.
I’m passionate about chocolate, hoarding my special bar of dark chocolate in a secret place, like a squirrel. All I need is one piece a day, which I savor quietly in the corner of the kitchen when no one is looking. During winter, my nightcap is a tiny teacup of hot chocolate before bed, and when selecting a dessert at a restaurant I will always go for the chocolate option. I take my chocolate pretty seriously and don’t like other ingredients disturbing the experience. In my opinion, nuts ruin a perfectly good brownie, orange overpowers, and fruity liqueur is a nuisance. Boca Negra turned my world upside down. It was love at first bite, as I tasted the luscious chocolate cake with a hint of citrus and felt the lingering heat in the back of my throat. Chocolate is the star of this cake, and the beauty of chipotle chile is its subtle, slowly building spice. The cake has a depth and character that stimulates the palate in a way that won’t soon be forgotten. For such a show-stealing dessert, Boca Negra is a simple cake to throw together.
As I toasted the whole dried chipotle chiles in a skillet, a smokey, earthy aroma filled the kitchen. While the chiles soaked in hot water for half an hour, I stirred together the rest of the ingredients: semi-sweet chocolate, butter, orange juice, sugar, eggs, and a scant amount of flour. Buy the best quality chocolate you can find, by the way. At the very last, the pureed chiles go into the batter, which can be baked in single-serving ramekins or as one 9-inch cake. I chose not to fuss with the ramekins or water bath. In about an hour, the cake developed a thin, delicate crust and though the interior set, it was very much like a flour-less chocolate cake- delicate and prone to collapse. For this reason I think it’s easiest to serve the cake straight from the pan, unless you used single-serving ramekins which can be inverted and served on their own. Fany includes a recipe for Sweet Tomatillo Sauce, which I did not try because tomatillos are not in season right now. I enjoyed the Boca Negra simply as is, but a little whipped cream would be lovely too.
A chocolate cake infused with the flavor of dried chipotle from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus additional for greasing ramekins
1 cup sugar plus additional for dusting
6 medium dried chipotle chiles
6 tablespoons fresh orange juice
10 oz high-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
Boca Negra Recipe
10 Ways Tuesday: Dried Chiles
I’ve got creative ideas for cooking with dried chiles during winter:
1. Chocolate Dessert
In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to cook something special with chocolate and chile. Later this week at la Domestique, you’ll find a recipe for Boca Negra (chocolate cake with dried chipotle chiles) I discovered in the book, My Sweet Mexico, by Fany Gerson. It’s a simple semisweet chocolate cake with citrus notes from orange and the fruity dried chipotle. Achingly rich and moist, like a flour-less chocolate cake (only 1 1/2 tablespoons flour), Boca Negra refers to the black mouth you will have when you’re covered in chocolate after eating the cake. I also found a recipe for Chile Chocolate Almond Bark with Salt Crystals in Salted by Mark Bitterman that’s vegan friendly. Melted dark chocolate (70% cacao) is melted with dried Thai bird chiles or piquín chiles and poured over toasted almonds. A sprinkling of flour de del is the finishing touch.
Harissa is a ubiquitous hot sauce in Africa, most popular in Tunisia where the cuisine is famously spicy. Often times you’ll see recipes including red bell pepper, but according to Herbs & Spices: The Cook’s Reference, it’s most often made with dried chilies. Marcus Samuelsson shares a recipe for Harissa in The Soul of a New Cuisine. Garlic is cooked in olive oil until golden, then the pan is removed from the heat. Ground caraway, chili powder, ground coriander, salt, and chopped fresh mint are added to the oil. Marcus Samuelsson uses Harissa to coat cubed lamb meat before it’s seared and served in a pita with chickpeas, tomatoes, and olives. However, Harissa is traditionally served as a condiment for Couscous with Seven Vegetables.
3. Canary Island Red Pepper Sauce (Mojo Rojo)
José Andrés wrote about the Canary Islands’ historical role in his cookbook, Made in Spain, as being the last port between Spain and the Americas. This string of small islands off the coast of Northwest Africa was a melting pot of cultures. As a result, African Harissa morphs into Mojo Rojo, a dried red pepper sauce made with pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika), dried guindilla pepper, garlic, cumin seeds, olive oil, salt, and sherry vinegar. While Harissa has an earthy and fruity flavor, Mojo Rojo is more pungent and piquant. My favorite way to enjoy Mojo Rojo is as an accompaniment to José Andrés’ recipe for Wrinkled Potatoes, Canary Island Style. The potatoes are cooked in salt, shriveling into tender goodness. You’ll find a la Domestique post devoted to this recipe, A Spanish Inspired Happy Hour, from last summer.
4. Indian Curry
According to The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion, the word curry comes from the south-Indian word kari, or sauce. It’s a blend of spices that varies in India from region to region and family to family. Curry is a hot, spicy, aromatic, pungent, sweet, earthy mix of spices like chili pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, paprika, anise, mustard seed, coriander seed, and others. You can buy curry spice blends, make your own to keep in the pantry, or just combine the spices as you make the dish. The India Cookbook, a huge volume of 1000 Indian recipes, includes many curries. Veinchana Royyaalu (Curried Prawns/Shrimp) is prepared by marinating the shrimp in ginger and garlic paste with turmeric and lime juice. Onions are sautéed in oil with cardamom, cloves, aniseeds, chili powder, and ground coriander. Toss in tomatoes and the marinated shrimp, simmering for just a few minutes until cooked through. This recipe for Goan Shrimp Curry uses a combination of dried red chilies and jalapeños to add heat. I’m a big fan of vegetable curries, which are flavorful and filling for a meatless Monday supper. This Creamy Pumpkin and Cashew Curry gets its heat from dried chiles de árbol and luxurious body from coconut milk.
5. Mexican Mole
Mole is a traditional Mexican sauce served over chicken. It’s savory, dark, and has great depth of flavor from stewing together onion, garlic, dried and toasted chiles, sesame seeds, aromatic spices, and Mexican chocolate. When preparing mole, the cook devotes a lot of time to developing flavor in the ingredients by toasting spices, frying and soaking dried chiles, and reducing the sauce. According to Rick Bayless, in Mexico, mole is served with chicken roasted over a brick fire pit called a hornillo. In Fiesta at Rick’s, the chef writes that there is no such thing as an easy mole, time must be devoted to developing the sauce. However, he shares a recipe for “Easy” Slow Cooker Mole with Grilled Chicken that lets the crock pot do much of the work for you. His mole base is made from dried mulato, ancho, and pasilla chiles toasted in oil with garlic, almonds, and raisins. Canned tomatoes, Mexican chocolate, and charred bread thicken and enrich the sauce while spices like cinnamon, black pepper, anise, and cloves infuse the sauce with flavor. Leave the sauce to simmer in the crock pot for 6 hours and then puree it into a velvety, thick cloak for grilled chicken. It’s a satisfying meal for a snowy winter day.
6. Broccoli with Chile Dressing
One of my favorite vegetable preparations of all time is broccoli (or broccolini or rapini) with the heat of chili peppers, pungent garlic, and salty anchovy. Ever since I saw Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall prepare Purple Sprouting Broccoli with Anchovy and Chile Dressing, I was hooked. The recipe can be found in his River Cottage Cookbook. A can of anchovy fillets, olive oil, garlic cloves, thyme leaves, basil, crushed red pepper flakes (or try Aleppo pepper flakes like I used last week), Dijon, and red wine vinegar are combined in a blender and poured over steamed broccoli (or kale) as an appetizer. The recipe makes more than enough dressing, and I like how Hugh suggests using the excess as a “gentleman’s relish”, tossed into pasta, spread onto toast, or as a garnish for scrambled eggs.
7. Roasted Squash with Dried Red Chillies, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Goat Cheese
I came across a recipe for Whole Roasted Cricket Ball Squash in Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, Jamie at Home, which I love for the combination of fruity dried red chili and umami infused sun-dried tomato. Jamie hollows out whole gem or small acorn squash and seasons it with dried oregano, coriander seeds, and cinnamon. Sun-dried tomatoes and dried red chillies go into the hollowed out squash with a drizzle of the sun-dried tomato oil before roasting in the oven until tender. Serve one squash per person topped with lemony arugula salad and crumbly goat cheese. For the recipe and a video of Jamie cooking it, visit Rachael Ray’s site.
8. Thai Sweet and Sour Soup with Prawns
Thai Street Food by David Thompson is packed full of photographs depicting the gritty, hectic, colorful streets of Thailand and its food vendors. Though it may look like just another coffee table book, David Thompson shares flavorful recipes with plenty of history and information on the local culture. Reading about the importance of the chili pepper in Thai cuisine, I noticed that recipes didn’t just use one dried chili, instead dishes incorporate the flavor of dried chilies, fresh ones, and chili powder. It’s a great example that the flavor of chilies varies so much in these different forms, adding bright fruity notes; deep, earthy, essences; and the ever present heat. The recipe for Hot and Sour Soup with Prawns is made with dried long red chilies, fresh bird’s eye chilies, and chili powder. The broth is a combination of chicken stock, tomato, lemongrass, ginger, shallot, mushrooms, and coriander root.Each serving bowl is filled with a splash of lime juice, fish sauce, and fresh coriander before the steaming hot shrimp soup is stirred in. It’s complex, with a deep, spicy heat that builds with every slurp.
9. Slow-Cooked Carne Adovada with Hominy
In The Heart of the Artichoke, David Tanis devotes a chapter to the pleasure of cooking with chilies. He describes the recipe for Slow-Cooked Carne Adovada with Hominy and the New Mexican attitude as a “celebration of dried red chiles.” The large, leathery dried red peppers are toasted in a hot skillet, softened in water, then ground into a paste. Onion, garlic, coriander seeds, and bay leaf simmered in the chile puree and poured over a large pork shoulder which is baked for a couple of hours until it falls apart. I love the sweet, corny flavor of hominy and couldn’t think of a better accompaniment.
10. Chipotle Cheddar Biscuits
According to the guys who wrote Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, chipotle is perfect for adding “spice and smoke” to food. These traditional buttermilk biscuits are made with cheddar and chipotle powder (which you can make by pulverizing dried chipotle peppers). Buttery and soft, the biscuits are perfect comfort for the cold days of winter. In the book, Matt and Renato suggest serving the biscuits with a big bowl of tomato soup, which I think is a fantastic idea!
What is your favorite way to cook with dried chilies? Let me know in the comments section. Click Here.
Ingredient of the Week: Dried Chili Peppers
February has arrived, and with it, a longing for spring. Here in Colorado, the ground hog always sees his own shadow, and we’re sentenced to 6 more weeks of winter. On the sunny, mild days one could be convinced spring is around the corner, but we know better. March is our snowiest month, averaging 17 inches in Boulder. Too bad I don’t ski.
Fresh produce is at its leanest right now, and many months will pass before a peppery radish, sprightly green bean, juicy peach, or ripe tomato graces the table. The farmers market has gone into hibernation until April. Hearty, rich, comfort food is wearing on my palate. I begin to crave bold, punchy flavors. Subconciously, I reach into the pantry for crushed red chili pepper to sprinkle over pastas and soups. The spicy heat stimulates my palate, and I feel the warm summer sun shining on my shoulders, if only for a moment.
A visit to my local supplier, The Savory Spice Shop, reveals a whole world of undiscovered dried chili peppers: whole beauties, red ground powders, and crushed flakes. I feel excited and creative, hurrying home with a bag full of perfect specimens, each with its own flavor profile. To me, dried chili peppers are fascinating in the same way as wine: so many grape varieties, colors, tasting notes, and terroir. Dried chilies can taste pungent, smokey, fruity, sweet, nutty, floral, or tangy. They may have the essence of licorice, prunes, or chocolate. During these cold and dreary days of winter, why not seek out new varieties of dried chili pepper to liven up your cooking?
According to The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion, more than 200 types of chilies exist. Indigenous to Mexico, chilies were brought to Spain by Columbus in 1492, then distributed across the globe. Today, chili peppers are important to the cuisines of Central and South America, the Caribbean, India, Asia, Spain, Italy, and the Middle East. India is the largest producer and consumer of chilies.
Dried chili peppers are used in dips, sauces, pickles, chutneys, stir-fries, curries, soups, and stews. In the home kitchen, whole dried chilies are usually toasted and ground or toasted and soaked before being added to a dish. The spicy heat in chilies comes from capsaicin found in the seeds and white fleshy parts. Dried chilies can be very hot, and so recipes will often instruct the cook to remove the seeds and veins. Pay attention to the label, which shows a rating of the heat from 1-10.
This week at la Domestique is full of ideas for cooking with dried chili peppers during winter. We’ll explore cuisines around the world and learn about their favorite chili peppers. For thousands of years, the poorest peoples have used dried chili peppers to add flavor to their bland diet. Isn’t that just what we need in the dead of winter- a little sun on our shoulders to remind us spring will come, eventually.
Do you have a favorite type of dried chili or ground chili spice? Let me know in the comments section. Click Here.
Cook in the Moment: Gnudi with Swiss Chard, Rosemary & Aleppo Pepper
Each week I contribute to the Whole Foods Market Cooking Boulder website expanding on one of the 10 Ways Tuesday ideas. This week I cooked and photographed a recipe for Gnudi with Swiss Chard, Rosemary & Aleppo Pepper. For the full article with tips on making gnudi (including 3 lessons I learned), click on the icon below.
Gnudi is winter comfort food. Countless variations on these ricotta dumplings can be found in cookbooks, but I was drawn to a recipe for gnudi in Jamie magazine for its simplicity. If you’ve never made fresh pasta at home before, gnudi is a great way to get your feet wet. You get the experience of making dough by hand without the need for special equipment. For this recipe, ricotta and Parmesan are rolled into a dumpling with chopped Swiss chard. After a good night’s rest in the fridge the gnudi are cooked in simmering water for about 3 minutes, then served with a generous drizzle of oil infused with the flavors of garlic, rosemary, and Aleppo pepper. In his recipe, Jamie Oliver used fresh red chiles, but since they aren’t in season right now I went for my favorite dried chili peppers. If you use a lot of crushed red pepper at home, consider trying something new by seeking out Aleppo crushed red pepper flakes. Grown in Syria and Turkey, the Aleppo pepper is more fruity and earthy (reminiscent of the flavor of cumin) than regular crushed red pepper. Because of this earthy character, Aleppo pepper shines when paired with woodsy rosemary. Gnudi with Swiss Chard, Rosemary & Aleppo Pepper is good for a simple family supper (get the kids involved in shaping the dough) or a special occasion. It perfectly illustrates the image of ricotta as both comforting and luxurious.
Gnudi with Swiss Chard, Rosemary & Aleppo Pepper
Recipe expanded and changed slightly from recipe for Gnudi in Jamie magazine, Issue 19
13 ounces (about 1 bunch) of Swiss chard, Cavolo Nero, or spinach leaves
12 ounces (2 cups) ricotta
4 1/2 ounces (2 cups) Parmesan, finely grated
2 pinches kosher salt
2 egg yolks
All-purpose flour for shaping
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 rosemary sprig, leaves picked
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo crushed chili pepper flakes
Cut away the stalks from the chard or cavalo nero, depending on what you are using. Prepare an ice bath by filling a bowl with ice and water. Blanch the greens by boiling a large pot of water and tossing in half the leaves, cooking for 3 minutes. Remove the leaves from the boiling water, drain them, and quickly toss them into the ice bath. This stops the cooking and retains the bright green color. Once the leaves have cooled, pull them from the ice bath and squeeze all the water out of them. Blanch the other half of the greens using the same method. Finely chop the leaves and set them aside.
In a large bowl, combine the chopped greens and ricotta. Toss in the grated Parmesan, salt, and egg yolks. Stir together well with a spatula just until ingredients are evenly distributed. The mixture should be moist, not dry and crumbly, or the dumplings will fall apart when cooked later.
Make the gnudi. Generously flour your work surface (a large wooden cutting board works well), and keep a bowl full of all purpose flour close at hand. Use floured hands to shape the ricotta dough into dumplings. The method is like shaping cookies: pick up the dough and roll it into a football shape (rather than a ball). Then place the little football on the cutting board and roll it in the flour to coat. Work quickly, shaping and compacting the dough. Place the finished dumplings on a parchment lined baking sheet. Put the baking sheet in the fridge so the dumplings can rest for at least two hours, but overnight is even ideal. Cover them with a damp lint free dishtowel.
To cook the gnudi, fill a wide pan with water to the depth of about 3 inches. Bring the water to a gentle simmer. Take the dumplings out of the fridge and brush them lightly with water, then sprinkle them with all-purpose flour to coat. This will keep the dumplings from falling apart in the simmering water. Cook 1 dumpling as a test to make sure it doesn’t fall apart in the simmering water. If you have pr