Let me lead this off and say this recipe came straight out of The Italian Baker by Melissa Forti – a book bought because she looks like a majestic badass on the cover and the binding was curiously appealing (you need to see the actual book, then you will understand). No familial or childhood reminiscing about this bundt-y beauty. A little bit of internet research led me to believe the chocolate whisky bundt cake might be life-changing.
I’ll cut straight to the chase – it really is!
I don’t actually own a proper bundt cake pan, and thought this might be a good excuse to go out and get one of those gorgeous fluted Nordicware pans but once I got to my favorite cookshop they were all hovering around £40… which hurt my poor student heart. I settled on a much less expensive, but still heavy duty kugelhopf pan. (Now I have to learn to make a kugelhopf.) The result had less wow-factor than a Nordicware, but once this Ph.D. is in hand and the employers are clamoring at my door I will have all of the bundts.
But moving on to the actual cake… I used Jack Daniels instead of scotch. This is entirely because it felt wrong to use half a cup of perfect single malt scotch knowing that it was going in a cake. (Don’t judge me. I also don’t use my nice wine in cooking. I’m living my life, it’s working out just fine.) The result was a beautifully moist cake with the complexity of the bourbon, giving it a lovely spiced warmth. The smell that explodes out of the cake holder is pretty breathtaking.
As we’re talking about tweaks and substitutions, I used Hershey’s cocoa powder. It is difficult to get natural (non-dutched) cocoa powder in the U.K. and I brought the Hershey’s back with me the last time I was visiting home. The recipe doesn’t actually state natural cocoa powder in the ingredients list, but the fact that baking soda (bi-carb) is the only real leavener in the mix lead me to decision*.
*For anyone wondering what I’m talking about…
Natural cocoa powder: retains the natural acidity of the cocoa bean, easy to find in America
Dutch process cocoa powder: the ‘Dutch process’ happens when the powder is alkalized. Because the powder is naturally acidic, the alkalization neutralizes the acid.
Baking soda/sodium bicarbonate: is an alkaline leavener
SO… if you use Dutch processed (aka neutralized) cocoa powder with baking soda-only recipes, your bake will probably have a slightly different, tangier taste to it. Not an awful taste, but it’ll be there.
I’m tempted to say something like “always use the right cocoa” but the reality is, you might not really care… or want to spend a ton of money on multiple powders. I definitely don’t judge you (the Hershey’s might just be the only one in my cupboard at the moment, if I’m honest). But now you know a smidgen of the science and you can think about it while giving your recipe a big tangy middle finger, if you want.
Today’s Beginner Philosophy Lesson brought to you by: philosophy of mind
I’m going to underhand-pitch this one because there’s a lot of hard cocoa science going on in this post. Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that considers the nature of the mind. It’s thinking about thinking. If you’ve ever thought about what constitutes an emotion or the nature of free will, you were engaging with philosophy of mind.