- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2007

That chocolate is its own food group is not news. Recent research pointing to the antioxidant content of dark chocolate gives us more of an excuse to eat it. Dark chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a chemical often referred to as an endorphin, which the brain produces when stimulated by the emotion of love.

That chemical can cause a feeling of positivity, verging on euphoria, which may explain many people’s emotional attachment to chocolate, beyond its merely tasting so very, very good. No wonder the botanical name for the cacao tree translates as “food of the gods.” No wonder chocolate is the official Valentine’s Day flavor.

Keeping that in mind, here’s a celebratory cake that combines chocolate with cinnamon to both great and subtle effect. Mexican cooks have embraced this flavor match for centuries, and chefs in the United States are just beginning to catch on.

In this dense, not-too-sweet layer cake, there’s a touch of coffee flavoring in addition to the chocolate and cinnamon. It’s in the delicious mocha buttercream filling between the layers and on top that makes this worth the effort of putting it together.

A few hints for this cake: Ibarra chocolate is a sweet variety that is laced with cinnamon. You can find it in Mexican groceries or in the imported foods section of better supermarkets. If you can’t find any, use semisweet chocolate and a little cinnamon instead.

Melt the chocolate well ahead of time, so it can cool to room temperature. Wrap leftover cake tightly so it won’t dry out. The flavors deepen as the cake sits around.

Mexican chocolate cake with mocha buttercream

Nonstick spray for the pan

3 ounces Ibarra or semisweet chocolate

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate

2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon (increase to 2 teaspoons if using the semisweet chocolate)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 large eggs

1 cup milk

Mocha buttercream (recipe follows)

Optional toppings: cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa, confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously spray a deep 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray.

Melt the chocolates in a double boiler or in a microwave at low power. Set aside to cool.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl. Add the cinnamon, as well, if you are not using the Ibarra chocolate.

Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream at high speed with an electric mixer. Add the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Pour in the cooled chocolate mixture, and beat well until everything is incorporated.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, and stir until it is just barely incorporated, then pour in half the milk. Stir briefly, then repeat with another 1/3 of the flour and the remaining milk. Add the rest of the flour mixture, and stir just enough to blend. Don’t overmix, or the cake will toughen.

Spread into the prepared pan, and bake for 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before assembling and frosting. Makes 1 dense 9-inch layer cake, about 5 inches high, enough to serve 10 or more.

MOCHA BUTTERCREAM

You can make this while the cake bakes.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

3 cups confectioners’ sugar (possibly a little more)

cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

cup very strong coffee

Combine all ingredients in a medium-large bowl, and mix slowly until everything is moistened.

Beat at high speed with an electric mixer until uniform and fluffy. If it seems a little too wet to spread, you can beat in up to cup additional confectioners’ sugar.

To assemble: Cut the cake into 3 equal layers, using a long, serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion. Spread mocha buttercream between the layers, and stack them evenly. Spread the sides and top with buttercream. Artfully sprinkle the top with extra cinnamon, cocoa and confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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