Photo by Sally Schneider
I was about to make my tried-and-true Essential Chocolate Cake for an impromptu birthday dinner when I discovered two big problems. First, I remembered that the birthday girl, who loved chocolate, often made this very same recipe and did it really well. And second, I had only enough ingredients for half a recipe. What could I do to make a chocolate dessert special enough for the day, a recipe that my dear friend wouldn't find ordinary?
Desperate, I searched my larder for an interesting way to transform the cake, mulling malted milk powder, currants, pistachios ... Nothing seemed right, until a jar of applewood-smoked bacon fat in the fridge spurred a plan of action. Why not use bacon fat instead of some of the butter in the recipe? Bacon and chocolate have clear affinities.
I'd balance the richness with a few grinds of Aromatic Pepper—a mix of black, white, and pink peppercorns with allspice berries and coriander seed that I keep in a peppermill as an instant flavor enhancer. And I'd stretch the half batch of batter by baking it in paper cupcake cups, to make charming individual cakelets.
At the very least, it would be a gift of improvisation—a risky foray into unknown territory—in my friend's honor, which I knew she'd enjoy. If it worked, I'd have a celebratory dessert.
The half-batch of cake batter yielded six little cakes smaller, yet somehow more grown-up, than cupcakes. They were a HUGE success, served with a barely salted whipped cream. The subtle underpinning of smoky pig gave the chocolate surprising complexity. Aromatic Pepper provided hits of unexpected flavors. Everyone raved and tried to guess what made the cakelets unique and delicious.
And best of all: my friend loved the birthday "cake" created just for her.
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