A Bitter Cake to Swallow

When you’re a kid and don’t like something, people tell you it’s an acquired taste. Coffee, asparagus, molasses, and, later, I hope, beer and Scotch. It’s true that these tastes are more complicated than the ones a kid normally likes – as a kid, I would have been perfectly happy eating white bread, Capn’ Crunch, and chicken noodle soup every day until I died – but mostly, the tastes you’re supposed to acquire are the bitter ones. And you never believe the people who tell you this, because when something tastes so bad, why would you ever want to put the work into acquiring it?

Except you do. Your tastes change with age. A taste that was once simply bitter has turned out to be nuanced, and if you know how to pair that taste (coffee with milk and sugar, asparagus with hollandaise, Scotch with the unending trials of adult life), you learn to appreciate that it’s bitter in the first place.

There’s a whole movement out there for bitter foods. You could buy Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor by Jennifer McLagan. You could thumb through any collection of cocktail menus in any major metropolitan area and see that amaros are the new dessert martinis. You could go to Cupcake Royale in Seattle and ask for their Burnt Sugar gelato, which they warn you about if you ask for it but it is my favorite flavor forever and ever amen. Or you could throw together some bitter tastes yourself, which is what I did when I made the Bitter Cake.

Like all ginger cakes, apparently, this one is based on (and partially copied from) David Lebovitz’s Fresh Ginger Cake. It is slightly adapted, though, because I like orange with ginger and chocolate with cake, and because I don’t have (or regularly use) ground cloves, I omitted those altogether and subbed in allspice, for which I subbed out a portion of the cinnamon, as well. It’s flavor math. I suppose it’s more of a Ginger Orange Spice Cake with Dark Chocolate Orange Ganache, although to me, Bitter Cake seems like it would look much better on a recipe card.

ginger cake - unfrosted

The end result is a tad bitter. It is a lot dark. It’s deep, complex, and very grown up, so if you’re in the mood for a gum-searingly sweet devil’s food cake (and I completely support this, especially if it’s of the slightly grainy, preservative-laden cheap supermarket variety), you should look elsewhere. Or at least try a middle-of-the-road cake like chocolate stout (I recommend this one) or red wine chocolate (I recommend this one). Want something other than chocolate? Go jump in a lake.

Of course, you could make this less bitter, you know. You could add vanilla extract. You could dust it with powdered sugar. You could serve it with cream cheese frosting or a buttery, creamy vanilla ice cream (I suggest Snoqualmie’s Danish Vanilla Bean, although I suppose plain old Haagen-Dazs will do). You could even serve it plain with a tall glass of cold milk, and since it’s not terribly sweet, it’s basically breakfast. Or you could take a leap and try it my way.

Bitter Cake

  • 4 ounces fresh ginger (about a 2-inch piece), peeled and grated
  • 1 cup molasses
  • Zest and juice of 1 medium orange, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature, beaten
  • 1 ½ cups dark chocolate, chopped, or good quality dark chocolate chips
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Position the oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9 ½ inch springform pan with a circle of parchment paper.
  • Chop the grated ginger very fine with a knife, mix with the orange zest, and set aside. Mix together the molasses, sugar, and oil in one bowl, and set aside. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, allspice and black pepper.
  • Bring the water to the boil in a saucepan, and stir in the baking soda. When this is combined, pour the hot water into the molasses mixture and stir to combine. Then stir in the ginger-orange zest mixture.
  • Gradually whisk the dry ingredients into the molasses batter. Add the eggs, and continue mixing until everything is thoroughly combined. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour, until the top of the cake springs back lightly when pressed or a knife (not a toothpick! Dorie Greenspan says there’s not enough surface area plus I’m not a 70-year-old man so I don’t have toothpicks in the house) inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Cool the cake on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before removing it from the pan. To remove it, run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it, then remove the springform collar. Peel off the parchment paper and pan bottom and continue to let the cake cool on the rack.
  • To make the ganache, simmer a 1 ½ cups of water in a saucepan, and place a bowl on top (this is better than buying a double boiler, because if you do that then you’re a huuuuge sucker). When the bottom of the bowl is hot, add half of the chocolate and begin stirring with a spatula. Once half of the chocolate is melted, add half of the cream and continue stirring. Once this mixture is combined, add half of the orange juice and stir again. Repeat this process with the remaining chocolate, cream, and orange juice until the mixture is smooth, shiny, and pourable.
  • Remove the bowl from the saucepan and pour the mixture over the top of the cake. I garnished mine with a little bit of vanilla sugar because IT’S PRETTY, OKAY.

ginger cake - frosted

Back Pocket

My Saturday morning routine goes like this:

Wake up. Either see that it’s too early and spend 45 minutes trying to go back to sleep or just get out of bed, grumbling about how my schedule sucks and it would be nice to be able to sleep until 9am for once in my life.

Go to the bathroom to pee, wash my face, and pet the cat, who for some reason loves hanging out with me in there.

Make coffee. Feed the cat while coffee is brewing. Stand in front of the coffee machine and stare at it, psychically willing it to brew faster.

Get coffee, take it upstairs to the office, and sit in front of my laptop for a couple of hours so I can check up on – in this order – Facebook, Tumblr, Apartment Therapy, The Kitchn, Food52, and Foodgawker. Once every couple of weeks, I add Smitten Kitchen, Serious Eats and Amateur Gourmet to the lineup.

It’s on Saturday mornings that I think the most about food, because that’s when I have the time to read about it, look at photos of it, and write my grocery list and weekly menus. I’ve occasionally thought about how fucked up it is that I spend the first part of my weekend like I spend all of my workweek – staring at a screen – but have decided that this is actually pretty relaxing for me, and doesn’t carry with it the Monday-Friday jaw clenching and stress-related terrible posture.

This week on Food52, there was a feature about readers’ Best Back Pocket Dinner Recipes, which they define as “favorite go-to meals for when the going gets tough.”

These are meals that are thrown together easily, with ingredients you probably already keep in your fridge or pantry, and that satisfy you in ways that belie their simplicity and, sometimes, frequency. Stir frys are common, as are pastas. Eggs appear a lot, which brought me to my #1 back pocket dinner recipe.

Can we please talk about frittatas? Specifically, can we please talk about how simple and versatile and wonderful they are, especially when your boyfriend has purchased a cast iron skillet that is just the wonderment of my kitchen universe right now?

Goddamn, I love me a frittata. I love that I don’t think about making one until I’m walking home from the bus stop, when it’s dark and raining and I don’t have work the next day so I don’t have to think about hurrying to make something that I can quickly shove down my gullet before cleaning the kitchen and struggling to get maybe 6 hours of sleep before I have to wake up the next day. I love that I already own everything I need to make one, but that I can always stop at my neighborhood bakery and pick up a perfectly crusty loaf of whatever they have. I love that even the most labor intensive version is really just a bunch of preps, and that eventually, those unlovely piles of chopped onion, garlic, bacon, potatoes, kale, and bread will become a gorgeously rustic meal for the next few days. I love that I can eat it in front of Netflix with hearty dashes of hot sauce and ketchup while wearing my comfiest fat pants.

I love that I never think about taking a frittata’s photo, because it’s either on my plate, in my mouth, or waiting to be consumed as leftovers and never in any of those places for long enough to be photographed.

About En Cocotterie

This is not a food blog.

Well, it’s not your typical food blog.

Here there will be no shot-by-shot recipes brimming with crystal clear photographs, perhaps taken by a professional shutterbug spouse. There will be no cookbook-worthy testing. There will be no aggressive reservation hunting or restaurant reviews. There will be no giveaways. I do not have that level of my shit together. I am not in the business of empire building.

This is a food blog in the barest sense – it is about food.

It is about a person (me) who loves food, who loves eating it and cooking it and talking about it. It is here because I have another blog where I can talk about other things, and because, when I did talk about food over there, I found that I was creating a slippery slope for myself. Weeks would go by where all I wanted to talk about was food, and this would have been fine, except I built my following on dick and fart jokes, goddammit, and my readers want it to stay that way.

With En Cocotterie (my hybridization of en cocotte and coterie, see what I did there), I’ve given myself a place to discuss one of my most favorite topics. I can talk about food in my own way, take photos when I remember and not have to apologize when I don’t. So if you’re looking for yet another overachieving food blog, one authored by someone who is (probably) a stay-at-home mom, wife, or other woman of significant means with significant amounts of time and Photoshop training, then by all means, cruise on by.

But if you find this by accident and are interested in becoming part of the conversation – part of a coterie, if you will – then you are more than welcome.

Bring snacks.