Sunday, October 16, 2011

Spice cake three times sweet with bourbon soaked raisins

You may have noticed. One of my favorite ways to eat spice is in sweets and baked goods. When it became fashionable to add chile to chocolate à la mode aztèque (and, soon thereafter, to all kinds of chocolate desserts), I jumped right on that bandwagon, and have remained on it ever since. Three of my very favorite desserts on this planet are spice cake, mince pie, and triple ginger cookies with white chocolate chips. Years ago, when I worked as a line cook for the B&O Bakery in Seattle, one of the bakers there made a garam masala spice cake with caramelized pears and chocolate ganache. I could have gone without the ganache, but the earthy perfume-y notes of the garam masala in contrast with the caramelized pears was a revelation I could not turn back from. I like my candy spicy too. Just a few months before creating this blog I made a pumpkin seed brittle with sea salt and pequin chile powder that became a quick household addiction. [I will reduplicate it for another seasonally-appropriate entry, soon].

This cake was the product of last-minute improvisation. Last night was the annual, obligatory, French and Italian department party, an occasion I always dread and always end up enjoying despite myself. I only read the invitation a few hours before the party and realized it was a potluck-style event. It seemed a nice occasion for a cake. I love showing up to parties with a cake. I mean, who makes cakes these days, anyhow? So it was decided. The only problem was, I only had 1/3 cup of sugar left in my pantry, not nearly enough to make a whole cake. Right next to it, though, I had a bottle of strong blackstrap molasses and a container of raw local honey my mom sent from Seattle. So it was decided; I would make the cake with sugar, molasses, and honey. Those three sweeteners together, with the inclusion of freshly ground cinnamon, Tellicherry black pepper, and clove––and brought just over the top with a layer of bourbon soaked raisins––filled my house with the most intoxicating smell that has ever emanated from my oven. The flavor and texture were great as well, and I received a ton of compliments at the party, but my memory of the cake is fixated almost exclusively on that smell. It smelled like everything I love: butter, caramel, spices, and bourbon. Taste-wise, the cake is not too sweet, pleasantly moist, and has just enough of a kick from the black pepper to make you wonder, "what spice is this?", but not so much that it tastes like a pepper mill. If you want to make a sweeter version, I might warm some honey, poke the cake with toothpick holes after it's been out of the oven for 10 minutes or so, and glaze it (no, soak it!) with the warm honey. 

1 to 1 1/2 cups raisins soaked in bourbon [ideally] overnight
1 stick of butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup raw honey
1/3 cup molasses
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 T cinnamon
1 T finely ground Tellicherry black pepper
1/2 tsp cloves
1/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together and set aside. Cream butter, sugar, honey, and molasses together until homogenous. This works best if the butter is a bit softer than room temperature, which is easy if you live in a warm place like Texas. Add the eggs [also room temp.] one at a time, making sure the mixture is homogenous. [But don't worry if it curdles a little bit; the dry ingredients will bring it all back together.] Then add the flour mixture and the buttermilk and beat until the batter becomes smooth. Pour out half of the batter into a greased and sugared 8- or 9-inch cake pan. Arrange the bourbon soaked raisins evenly along with any excess bourbon-raisin juice [which will caramelize around the edge of the cake; deliciousness!] and then carefully spread the rest of the batter on top of the raisin layer. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean. Dust with powdered sugar or glaze it with a mixture of bourbon, cream, and powdered sugar.

Note: with only a two-hour time frame I cheated with the raisins by microwaving them drenched in bourbon for 30 seconds, letting them cool and soak, and then microwaving them again, and so on, until they started to become plump.

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