Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Baking ambivalence: chocolate spice bread

When I came across this recipe in David Lebovitz's book, The Sweet Life in Paris, I was immediately intrigued. The ingredient list was unusual, calling for cocoa, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and fennel seed; both honey and sugar; and four eggs (two whole plus two yolks).

I wanted to make the bread but something didn't seem right. Why was it called a bread and not a cake? Chocolate bread sounded...weird, but not entirely off-putting. I decided to make it.

It's a simple recipe, although it does have a few more steps than some of the other quick breads and cakes I like to make. There's lining the pan with parchment paper, which requires tracing and cutting, whipping the eggs with the honey, melting the chocolate with the butter, lots of gentle folding, and sifting the dry ingredients. For some reason, I have an aversion to sifting. Don't ask me why. I just bare my teeth a tiny bit, like a little wolf, when I see the words, sift together.

This is what it looked like before I turned it out. You'll notice I got a little messy when pouring the batter in. I call it homespun. I've noticed that if you call things homespun or rustic, you can get away with being sloppy.

What did it taste like? you're wondering.

It's not super sweet, which is maybe why it's called a bread. But it looks and acts like a cake and would be good with whipped cream or ice cream. Then, to confuse matters, it's more dense than cakey, calling to mind a brownie that got kidnapped and sold to the spice trade.

Friends, this is a strange recipe. I like it, but I don't. It has a deep chocolate flavor, which I enjoy, and the spices provide a complex background. They are not subtle, and I like that; there's no doubt they play nearly as prominent a role as the chocolate itself, which comes in two forms, melted semisweet and unsweetened cocoa powder. This cake would be good for those who like their desserts to be thought-provoking.

Simpletons like me, though, we like chocolate cake to taste like chocolate cake--or sometimes like rootbeer cake. Also, I like frosting on cakes. Cakes without frosting are sad. It's not the Great Depression, people. We can afford to make frosting now. No wars are being won by serving naked, homely cakes.

Another weird thing is that after the cake is cooled you're supposed to wrap it up and let it sit for 24 hours. What? Who lives in a household where things like this happen? In my house, things are baked, cooled for maybe five minutes, then eaten with abandon, fingers and mouths be damned (and burned).

I wish I had liked it better. I had high hopes, sort of. But those are the breaks. I'm not typing out the recipe, either. Guess I'm feeling a bit peckish this week. But if you email me, I'll scan it and send it to you.

And that's all I have to say about the chocolate spice bread.


  1. Strangely enough, your ambivalence has piqued my curiosity: please send the recipe! Sometimes I make chocolate muffins from one of the King Arthur cookbooks, and they too qualify as chocolate bread. Too rich (shockingly) for breakfast but also slightly too dense and bready to pass as cupcakes. And yet I keep making them...

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post. Your description of this sort of cake, not quite brownie, lack of frosting (People the war is over!) and the spice is as prominent as the chocolate really tempts to you to consider making it too.

    I especially liked the part of about baked goods cooling for five minutes and "eaten with abandon, fingers and mouths be damned"....Love it.

    You have inspired me to make this recipe. I would love a copy of the recipe, if possible. My email is fvknapp@embarqmail.com

  3. A cake -- or bread -- by any name is just plain good! ;)
    Well, at least in my book....

  4. Intriguing. I'm not sure if it's something I'd make myself, but I almost want to just to find out what I think about it.

  5. Thats funny, I really like sifting things...is that weird? To me there is something pleasant about tapping the mesh sieve against the heel of my hand... subconscious longings to play the tambourine perhaps?

    Great post!

  6. I, too, have had a lifelong aversion to sifting. Funny. (I've also never been a morning person. how I ended up in the profession I did is pretty much a total mystery.)

    As for the cake, maybe it's supposed to be eaten with ice cream or sauce or both. I have a hard time with chocolate and spices, particularly cinnamon. I love it with ginger, though. Hmmm...

  7. Ha ha, I only sift icing sugar because that REALLY needs sifting but usually dispense with it for flour. Never really had a problem so far :) Interesting sounding cake/bread though, fennel seed and chocolate has definitely piqued my curiosity...maybe when I get to the bottom of my "to bake" list I'll get the recipe.

    ps - I just made a "cake" that turned out more bread like :)

  8. I have never, ever heard of fennel seed and chocolate together - definitely sounds different. But it looks amazingly moist! Since it's not very sweet, maybe drizzle a little warm chocolate sauce over the top and a dollop of fresh whipped cream?? :)

  9. You know, it does look kind of like a brownie. When you were listing out the spices, I was hoping cardomom would be in it. Maybe trying it with that spice would take it to another realm? ;-)

  10. let it sit for a day? ain't gonna happen. when i bake something, it's intended for immediate consumption. :)
    interesting HOMESPUN recipe--i enjoyed reading your thoughts on it.

  11. I was totally hoping for cardamom in this one! We made the other two cardamom desserts you already suggested, so we need another to justify the $15 ground cardamom purchase. Alas. Great post though; I laughed out loud multiple times - especially at the image of you bearing your teeth, wolf like, at the prospect of sifting.

  12. Mister Jary & Velva: I'll email you both the recipe today or tomorrow. If you try it please let me know your thoughts!

    Carolyn: you're right, I suppose it doesn't matter what it's called!

    Bob: That was my thought as well.

    Hollow Peas: Ha! The tambourine idea made me laugh.

    Sophie: thank you!

    Camille: glad to know there's another anti-sifter out there. And yes, i think a sauce or ice cream would be a nice addition.

    shaz: good luck making it through your to-bake list, if it's anything as long as mine! :)

    Domestic Adventurer: I think your suggestions are right on the mark!

    Ben: I know! If I make this again, cardamom is definitely making its way in.

    grace: Thanks :)

    Ash: Thank you! You could certainly add cardamom to this if you wanted to...I think it would be perfectly good. Since it's part of the ginger family, it would be at home among the other spices.

  13. WEIRD baked but I think the texture looks great! haha... and it does look really scrumptious LOL! Btw, don't forget to collect the sunshine award from my blog ya! Cheers.

  14. David is great. I like the flavor profiles he comes up with, and I love that he's not a sugar whore.
    But I probably wouldn't have made this recipe.

  15. I'm sorry the cake/bread was not to your liking. I really appreciate your honestly. I'm not fond of involved recipes that don't meet expectations when finally done. Most of his recipes are terrific. Have a great day...Mary

  16. My Little Space: Hey thanks! I'm heading over to your blog right now...

    cookiecrumb: Yeah, I like him too, even though this recipe was a little weird.

    Mary: I guess not every recipe can turn out the way you hoped, right? Still fun to try 'em out though.

  17. I think chocolate and spices are an excellent combo but I am not sure about how i feel about it as a "bread" thing. Seems like it wasnts to be a cake daaaaaahling. ;)
    *kisses* HH

  18. This post is really funny!
    What I thought was strange was the fennel seeds. Anyway the ingredients sound like a cake, not bread. (Would frosting have helped?)
    Love your comment: naked, homely cake. I mean, the photo looks good. Dense and moist. Like a cake. Oh well. Can't have perfect every time.
    Not going to ask you to scan for me.
    Perhaps David Lebovitz was having a peckish day when he decided to include it his cookbook?

  19. I may have to try this. I have the book, but this recipe didn't jump out at me. I think I'd definitely have to change the fennel for cardamom. I'm putting it in just about everything these days, but in chocolate cake it's heaven. Chocolate bread? Dunno...

    I love the writing in this post, HD. Great work!

  20. HH: definitely cake not bread!

    Barbara: thanks! You know, I usually like DL and I don't think this recipe was a mistake...just not exactly what I was in the mood for, I guess!

    Kate: Yes, I am definitely on board with swapping the fennel for cardamom. I think that would be a great idea. Chocolate "bread" is weird, right?!

    Thanks for the compliment about the writing :)

  21. Haha...
    Again with the root beer cake! ;)
    When I see "sift" I automatically grab my whisk and just whisk the ingredients together. Quicker and I really think it gets the job done.

  22. Hungry Dog, you need never sift again. I do the same as oneordinaryday....just whisk away. Rose Levy Beranbaum recommends whisking also. So you will be in fine company!
    Very quirky, not to mention funny post. I always enjoy reading your stuff.

  23. Ha.....chocolate.........bread. Looks lovely

  24. oneordinaryday: I can't seem to not mention the rootbeer cake. I know you understand! ANd thanks for the whisk tip, I'm going to do that from now on.

    Pam: Whisking it is. Thanks for the compliment--you know I love your blog as well.

    Kitchen Butterfly: thanks!