The Fort Recipe: Chile-Chocolate Bourbon Cake
(Excerpted from Proprietress Holly Arnold Kinney’s "The Fort Restaurant Cookbook”)
To celebrate National Chocolate Day on October 28, we wanted to share a recipe for one of our beloved desserts: the Chile-Chocolate Bourbon Cake. While this cake started as the house cake for birthday and anniversary celebrations, customer demand convinced us to put it on the menu as an everyday offering. We still serve a complimentary slice to anyone marking a special occasion at The Fort – and set a ceremonial headdress on their head, too, as the staff shouts “Hip, hip, huzzah!”
We make the cake with a little red chile to honor the ancient Aztec tradition of spiking their drinking chocolate with a little heat. This makes sense when you remember that it wasn’t until the Europeans took chocolate back to the Old World that anyone thought to sweeten it. Before then, it was made into a bitter, but much-appreciated, ceremonial brew. You’ll feel a slight burn in the back of your throat when you eat this, but that will quickly turn into a warm glow. The bourbon-flavored frosting adds its own kick. Celebrate National Chocolate Day and enjoy this classic Fort dessert at home!
1-2 tbsp. New Mexican medium ground red chile powder (Dixon preferred), to taste
2 c. water, divided
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 c. plus 2 tbsp. cake flour
2 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ c. unsweetened, non-alkalized cocoa powder, such as Hersey, Nestle or Ghirardelli (do not use Dutch process)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
½ c. buttermilk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
12 tbsp. unsalted butter
¾ c. unsweetened, non-alkalized cocoa powder
¼ c. plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk
4-5 c. confectioners’ sugar, to taste
2-3 tbsp. bourbon, to taste
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 ½ c. chopped walnuts, lightly toasted (optional)
For the cake (steps 1-5), preheat the oven to 350°F and place a rack in the center of the oven. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Lightly dust the side of the pans with flour, tapping out the excess and line the bottom with circles of parchment or waxed paper.
In a medium saucepan, cook the chile powder in 1 cup of the water over medium heat until simmering. Remove the pan from the heat, stir the vanilla and set aside.
Using a mixer with a wire whip attachment for best results, combine the flours, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa and beat on low speed until well mixed. Add the softened butter to the dry mixture and beat thoroughly on medium-low speed. The mixture should be a uniform grainy texture. Raise the speed to medium and gradually add the remaining cup of water and the buttermilk. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Slowly add the water/chile mixture and continue to beat just until well combined; be sure not to overbeat. Pour the mixture equally into the pans and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean.
To cool, set the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Then turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the paper from the bottom and immediately invert so that the risen tops don’t flatten. Let sit until completely cool before frosting.
For the frosting, combine the butter and cocoa in a large saucepan and melt over medium heat. Stir in the buttermilk. Add the confectioners’ sugar a little at a time, stirring with a wire whisk between additions. Stir in the bourbon and vanilla and continue to whisk until the frosting is smooth and glossy. The frosting should stiffen as it cools (in warm weather, you may need to refrigerate it). When it is still warm but has reached a spreadable consistency, you can assemble the cake.
If necessary, trim the tops of the cakes so that they are level. Place one of the cake layers on a 9-inch round cardboard cake circle. Spread 1 cup of the frosting over the layer. Sprinkle 1 cup of the chopped walnuts (if using) evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Finish the top of the cake by holding the spatula at a slight angle and making several strokes to smooth the top. To decorate the cake, press the remaining walnuts onto the lower half of the sides and on top of the cake. This cake is best when made 1 to 2 days before serving, as it gives the flavors time to blend.