Chocolate cake. A dessert that’s so deeply infused into Western culture that it’s practically a throw away. It’s so ubiquitous that most of us have no recollection of our first taste. Was it a shock of sugar? A melting cocoa cloud on our infant tongues? A bitter, frosting-doused fudge gob? It’s curious to me that a century ago chocolate cake was just barely becoming integrated into popular consciousness (not too long after cocoa powder had been invented). Back when tropical fruits where considered excellent Christmas gifts (my family still puts tangerines in our stockings out of habit). Back before chocolate bars had been invented, before Lindt invented its silky, foil-wrapped truffle spheres, before we all realized that Whitmans chocolate-coated fondant confections are 100% gross.
There was once a time when chocolate cake didn’t exist.
Just take that in for a moment.
When was the last time you had a slice of chocolate cake and thought to yourself: “my great-great-great grandmother never tasted anything like this.”
The process of testing my own ideal version of chocolate cake really brought this to the forefront of my mind. Nothing gets me waxing nostalgic about family quite like baking. I frequently let my mind float off into my imaginings of what life was like for my female ancestors, what kind of food they made, what kind of baking techniques they mastered (or didn’t). My family mostly comes from Northern Europe (England / Ireland / France), Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Before they made their way to North America it’s 100% certain that chocolate cake never crossed their lips. Whereas it’s pretty likely that soda breads and simple sourdough-leavened rye, einkorn and spelt breads were on the table.
But cake? That was the purview of professionals, and as far as I know none of my ancestors were bakers or chefs. Although my mother’s mother was pretty well known for her charm in the kitchen. As a Nashville born-and-raised matriarch she was a big fan of good ol’ Southern decadence (lots of butter… and I mean LOTS).
So here I am, twiddling my thumbs in my kitchen, trying to figure out how I can make a chocolate cake worthy of the effort. How can I make a cake that’s wholesome but also delightful? That honors my roots but also sparks my experimental spirit?
After lots of testing, cursing, and confiding in friends (who gladly helped me eat through the early batches) I landed on this recipe. A healthy chocolate cake worthy of a holiday table or special occasion that comes together in a snap. It’s so easy I’m going to be making it as a casual treat all year long, sans ganache, perhaps with just a dusting of cocoa powder. I’ve been loving having this cake around as a treat for friends who pop by spontaneously. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one of my hippie friends who serves a towering slice of chocolate bundt cake doused in sea salt flecked ganache and sprinkled with rose petals as a casual snack like what this ol’ cake? Oh it’s nothing reeeaaally.
If I’m going to be an odd-ball amongst odd-balls, I might as well be one that serves cake, right?
My chocolate spelt cake is sweetened with maple syrup and made dairy free with coconut oil and coconut cream. I used strong brewed coffee to amp up the chocolatey flavor. And two farm-fresh eggs help to give this cake some much needed richness. Regarding the flour, I’ve tested this with stone ground spelt flour, white spelt flour and all purpose einkorn wheat flour (this brand). I wouldn’t suggest using stone ground spelt (which includes the bran and germ) as the extra fiber makes for a more dense cake. White spelt flour (whole spelt with bran and germ removed) is excellent and more commonly available — I get mine in bulk at Whole Foods. Einkorn is my favorite of the three as its soft buttery texture and low gluten makes for a springy, silky cake.
As you all might have guessed, I tossed some spices into this cake to give it a little pop. I couldn’t resist adding some of the cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla bean powder I got from my most recent Mountain Rose Herbs order — my staple spices for all of my cold season baking. Cinnamon and chocolate is a natural combination and it gives this cake a really subtle Mexican hot chocolate kind of vibe. Cardamom of course is my true love and it’s not frequently paired with chocolate, which is a shame. Cardamom’s shiny, feminine top-notes amplify the soft, malty flavors of dutch cocoa. And vanilla bean powder has so much more aromatic weight compared to vanilla extract.
I’ve been using Mountain Rose Herbs spices for over eight years now, which I’ve always bought in the bulk sections of my local hippie grocery stores. Nowadays I buy both in-store and online — their online shop includes a lot of spice blends and unusual herbs I can’t rely on my local stores to carry (it’s where I buy my pink rose petals, blue cornflower, calendula and sunflower petals y’all see me use in styling all the time). And their specials always rock too.
The ganache is wicked simple. Just heat up coconut milk, add cashew butter and chopped chocolate and voila! A creamy, smooth ganache perfect for pouring over your chocolate cake. I like to be sneaky and add reishi mushroom tincture to my ganache… I can’t resist an opportunity to add reishi to chocolate! Reishi has a bit of a rooibos and chocolate aroma, so you can’t really taste it at all in combination with chocolate. Learn more about reishi mushrooms here.
To finish off the cake I added a sprinkle of Cyprus salt flakes which have a pretty pyramid structure (quite the looker, as far as salt goes). And pink rose petals! I clearly cannot resist adding rose petals to everything.
Hope you all have a very wonderful start to your post-Samhain / Halloween, pre-Holiday days. And I hope you guys get a chance to check out my pals over at Mountain Rose Herbs. They have an amazing supply of bulk herbs, spices, dried edible flowers, seasoning salts, body care basics, tinctures and teas. They have the utmost commitment to Organics, Sustainability, Fair Trade practices and environmental standards. They use recycled and compostable materials for packaging and shipping (this is a biggie for me). And they are one of the most important companies supporting traditional grassroots herbalism.
This post was created in partnership with Mountain Rose Herbs. All opinions, words, photography and recipes are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this site!