EIGHT FLAVORS and Red Wine Chocolate Cake with Black Pepper Ganache

I met Sarah at this one-off event I hosted YEARS ago for my short lived (as in, that was the only event) historical/book/food/event company, TimeTable.

I even had a logo!

I even had a logo!

We instantly hit it off (not everyone is obsessed with the culinary gastronomy you may be surprised to learn), and have been friends ever since. 

When she asked me to contribute a recipe to the Black Pepper chapter of her forthcoming book, Eight Flavors, I was over-the-moon (to say the least), and came up with the recipe that follows below. 

Just a few weeks ago, I finished reading the galley copy of Eight Flavors that Sarah sent and I am, to put it mildly, so freaking in love with it. Not that expected to dislike it (though I always suffer from a faint anxiety that I won't like something a friend has written/painted/sung, etc. And WHAT THEN??!!), but damn, Lohman, kudos to you. The book comes out on December 6, and can be preordered here, here, here, here, and at your local bookshop, among other places. She's going to be conversing with Melissa Clark (!!!) at the LES Tenenment Museum on December 7 where I will be with bells on. Join me and we can fight our way to the front of the signing line together ;)! 

Slipper and toys and kids books, oh my! 

Slipper and toys and kids books, oh my! 

One tiny note: there is sadly as misprint of my recipe in the first edition. It's to be fixed for later editions, but in the meantime, what follows is the correct recipe.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake with Black Pepper Ganache
by me (!) from the book Eight Flavors by Sarah Lohman

The cake:
1 c (125 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 c (38 g) dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t kosher salt
3/4 c (170 g) red wine, something bold like a Cabernet or Malbec
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 stick (1/2 c; 113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 c (275 g) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat your oven to 350° and prepare a 9" round cake pan with butter/spray/cake pan primer and parchment. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Measure out the wine and add in the vanilla extract. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer and a large bowl), cream the room temperature butter with the sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy and lighter in color, about five minutes. Add each egg, one at a time, beating for one minute after each egg and stopping to scrape the side to the bowl often. 

On low speed, alternately mix in the dry ingredients and the wine/vanilla mixture in three parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Remove from the mixer when most of the dry has disappeared and finish mixing with a gentle hand. 

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an off-set spatula. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the sides start pulling away from the pan. Remove to a rack and let cool in the pan for five minutes before removing to the rack to cool completely. Note: the cake may sink some in the center. 

While the cake cools, make the ganache...

The ganache:
1/2 c (120 g) heavy cream
2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 c (85 g) bittersweet chocolate chips (pref. 60% cocoa +)

Pour the cream into a small saucepan and stir in the pepper. Set over medium-low heat and, stirring often, cook until bubbled start forming around the edge. Remove from the heat and let sit for 15-30 minutes depending on how strong a pepper flavor you want. 

To strain out the pepper grounds (keep em in if that's your thing), I put a layer of butter muslin in a strainer and pour the lot though that into a clean bowl, twisting and squishing on the muslin to get as much cream out as possible. 

I recently tried to do this the easier way by using a sachet (what a word!) of black pepper instead, but found it didn't impart nearly enough of the flavor into the cream. That said, not recommended.

Once the cake is cool and you are ready to ganache it...

Measure the chocolate chips into a medium-sized, heat proof bowl. 

Wash your saucepan and pour the strained cream back in. Set over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until bubbles form around the edge and the cream starts steaming. Pour the warm cream over the chocolate chips and let sit for a few minutes then stir stir stir in a smooth motion until you've got yourself a right lovely ganache. 

Spoon and smear and spread over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides or fully frosting the layer. 

Best the day it's made, or that night as it goes so very well with more wine, whiskey, or strong coffee. Also, not unpleasant cold from the fridge for breakfast the next day. A sort of kind of hair-of-the-dog, if you will.

Thoughts on the Perfume Cake (Project VICTORIAN CAKES)

When Sarah first contacted me about baking together—the Perfume Cake in particular—in the Fall of 2014, I had been planning a different cake project to kick off 2015. Her request drew me back into Caroline's book and planted the seed for the Victorian Cakes project.  

Much of what there is to say about the initial experiment Sarah covered with aplomb in her Etsy piece, but I have been thinking about this particular cake quite a lot and thought it worth it to add a few notes of my own. 

It was fun to try The Parlor Apothecary's Victorian Spirit blend, and I do think some of the reason it came out inedible is due to the quantity we added. Though it is the only cake I have ever thrown out—ever—I don't feel done with Perfume Cake yet.

I really do want to try it out with Violet since Caroline does mention that fragrant little bloom as the family favorite. That said, a natural Violet essence does not exist. I have thought about trying a few scant drops of synthetic Violet or even the liquor Crème de Violette, which would probably prove more palatable.

Violet aside, I recently had the chance to visit the home studio of Julianne Zaleta, the woman behind Herbal Alchemy (whose extracts Sarah mentions in the Etsy piece). Her space is dream-like, headily-scented, and an antique bottle lovers dream. As it was our first meeting and I didn't want to intrude, I found myself practically sitting on my hands to keep from photographing her entire place. We sipped seltzer water flavored with her own Peach essence out of delicate glasses and talked about cakes and perfumes and possible collaborative kitchen experimentation. I learned a lot in the little time I was there and really look forward to going back and tinkering more with fragrant baked goods!

Perfume Cake garners just a small mention in Victorian Cakes, it being a riff on Emily's Vanity Cake, but it certainly is a stand-out. More than any other recipe I have tried from the book so far, it thrillingly connects me and these experiments to those done by a group of sisters in a Chicago kitchen over 100 years ago.