A Cage-Free Chocolate Cake


Photo by Margaret Tung

To try Black Bean Chocolate Cake, click here for the recipe.

While I was living in New York last summer, I vowed to live as wholesomely as I could on the stipend I earned as a museum intern. I made free-range chicken. I went to the Grand Army Plaza farmer's market and bought greens, berries, apples, and yogurt. I tried.

I won't deny that living my life this way made me feel really good about myself--but it was hard to stick to. Every time I left the house, the sweet smell of waffles topped with strawberries, whipped cream, dulce de leche, hot fudge, and other toppings of your choice emanated from the Wafles and Dinges truck on 7th Avenue. I couldn't imagine surviving the sticky heat of a New York summer without giving in to the cool tartness of Yogo Monster or Pinkberry. The sad fact was, however, that neither of these treats fit into my summer plans to eat as locally and organically as possible.

I'll admit I slipped a few times. There were so many foods I loved that my newly developed ideals made me morally opposed to eating. And my wallet started wincing every time I needed groceries.

The eggs and cocoa would be the most expensive ingredients to buy organically. But they were the main ingredients, and copping out would amount to a cake without principle.

These two challenges became particularly acute when I was in the mood for dessert--organic sugar can be hard to find in mainstream supermarkets and chocolate, one of the most popular treats and flavors in the country, isn't local. Eggs--a staple in many recipes for baked goods--at first seem to be one of the more morally manageable ingredients. Not only are eggs a food staple in America, these days local egg producers with cage-free chickens that are grass-fed are more available to the public than they used to be, due to interest and demand.

But, as others have noted, eggs have one of the greatest disparities in price between the "eco-friendly" version and the typical industrial farm-produced cartons at the grocery store. A half-dozen free-range eggs, sold by farmers who let their chickens graze and run free in a grassy pasture, at least for some period of their lives, cost me six bucks. Back in my world as a student in New Haven, cage-free organic eggs, which are the closest to food godliness at Shaw's, cost me about $3.60. And then there's the standard, factory farm-produced kind, which can go for under two dollars.

Still, I was determined to find a dessert that was sustainable, affordable, and tasted great. I adapted this recipe for black bean dark-chocolate cake into a dish that incorporates sustainable and local ingredients in the best way I could manage now that I am back in New Haven, stipend-less and on a tight budget. When I was coming up with my grocery list for the dessert, I knew the eggs and cocoa would be the most expensive ingredients to buy organically. But they, along with the canned black beans, were the main ingredients, and copping out would amount to a cake without principle.

This recipe, which makes between 12 and 16 servings, is surprisingly intense and moist, and has a great depth of cocoa flavor; so much so that a little did a lot to satisfy my chocolate craving. And, though it seems outlandish to use pureed black beans in place of flour, I'm sure that the creaminess of the beans had a lot to do with the moistness of the cake. If nothing else, if you make this recipe you'll be getting your share of protein and fiber in a delicious dessert.