500 years ago or so, strange and exotic food items from the New World began their trans-Atlantic voyages to the Old World. In turn the Old World sent some of their favorite food items Westward. The story of tomatoes is legendary with the Italians being one of the few countries to quickly and lovingly embrace them. And pigs, olives and wheat quickly established themselves in the New World. But by far, the most popular gift from either world was the the Aztecs sent Eastward...... xocolatl, or chocolate.
Chocolate comes from the tropical cacao tree which grows it's cacao fruit at an easily reachable level making them easy to harvest. The shell of the cacao fruit is easy to crack and the pulp surrounding the bitter seed rather tasty. While the cacao fruit pulp made man and monkey happy, man discovered that when he ground the shiny, bitter and ate it, it gave him an energy boost that could either wake him up in the morning or keep him awake at night, which ever he needed. It's stimulant properties had been discovered and appreciated. So much so that gradually over time, xocolatl evolved into a drink - such as it was - for the ruling classes and for ritual, including those heart wrenching human sacrifice for which the MesoAmericans are so well-known.
The Spanish court took to the new stimulant drink because, well, because it was a better pick-me-up than brandy at 8 AM in the morning, especially for the royal kids of the court. Other European royal courts weren't quite so enamored of chocolate as it was being called until a royal wedding brought the ruling families together. The game of one-oneupmanship as practiced by the royal families on that matrimonial party scene went to the Spanish and their fabulous drink. Their party tent became the most coveted invitation, not in small part due to the fact that they were serving this terrific drink they called chocolate. And as evolution is wont to do, the drink gradually changed as competing royal families tried to do each other one better by adding or subtracting ingredients until eventually chocolate as we know it emerged.
Back in Mexico sugar, canela (cinnamon) and ground nuts were added to the xocolatl and pressed into tablet form in order to make it more usable and palatable to the ruling classes. It was later vigorously frothed in a special pot with a special utensil to make a rich hot chocolate. Because of the added sugar, Mexican chocolate is not the easiest chocolate product to use in cooking. It tends to be grainy and since baking is based on formulas, sugar quantities in recipes often have to be adapted. But it is possible, after some experimentation, to successfully bake with Mexican chocolate.
North of the border Abuelita (a Nestle product) and Ibarra are the most common Mexican chocolates found. Over the last year I seem to have collected quite an assortment of chocolate from my travels around Mexico. Since I had more than I could possible use I decided it was time to reduce the inventory and made the Mexican Chocolate Streusel Cake from Mexico, One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless.
I'm a pretty good baker, I really enjoy the process, not to mention I have a terrible sweet tooth. There are a couple of things that I usually do to help ensure the success of each recipe I make when I bake. One is that I read through the recipe several times before starting to make sure I understand it, and I don't make big changes in the recipe formula. The other thing that I do is to get everything lined up. measured out and ready to go before I start baking. Kind of a common sense thing, but not everyone does it. So, back to chocolate, Mexican chocolate. I ended up using 3 varieties of Mexican chocolate --
Popular, which I purchased in Monterrey and which I really like.
Uruapan which I picked up in Patzcuaro. I was a little disappointed in it as I felt it was more like Abuelita or Ibarra. And finally I used a little bit of chocolate that had been grown and hand made in Michoacan
This is actually an unsweetened chocolate containing no added sugar, canela or ground nuts. It is suitable for baking. I used about 2-3 oz. of this chocolate and about a pound of the other two brands
Because of all the additives in Mexican chocolate it's a more brittle and not as easy to chop as other chocolates.
That white line you see in the chunks of chocolate above is sugar, and as you can also see, the product has a tendency to get crumbly or come off in big hunks.
This is the hardest and messiest part of making the cake.
About half the chocolate is reserved for the cake and the other half is put into a food processor along with 7 tablespoons of butter an egg yolk and 1 cup of flour.
It's lightly pulsed until crumbly with some large lumps
As with most cake recipes you start off by creaming fat and sugar together, in this case 2 sticks of butter and 8 oz of cream cheese and 2/3 cup of sugar
The objective is to get the sugar to dissolve into the fat which will encourage tenderness and evenly distribute it all though the batter. Next, come the eggs. 4 of them added 1 at a time beating them well between additions until each egg has been well incorporated
Here I detoured from the written recipe and added 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Vanilla is a natural with chocolate and especially Mexican chocolate. So, since it wouldn't significantly alter the formula for the cake I added it and think it perked up the flavor.
The dry ingredients, flour and baking powder, sifted, go in last and are mixed only until incorporated.
And finally, that reserved chocolate was folded into the batter
Into the pan
Add the struesel
And into a 350* oven for 30-35 minutes
This cake is surprisingly rich as a result of the cream cheese and moister than I had remembered. Rick Bayless recommends serving it warm, it's not bad cold, or at room temperature either. A couple of baking hints -- I would recommend adding the vanilla and I would make absolutely sure that the baking powder is still active. Once a can of baking powder is opened it will loose it's power to puff relatively quickly. If you can't remember the last time you used an open can of baking powder, replace it before you bake. The streusel topping is heavy, which means that the batter is going to need all the puff power it can get in order for the cake to get a decent rise.
In addition to being a nice dessert cake, in a pinch, this could also do double duty as a breakfast coffee cake since the crumb is denser and coarser than a regular layer cake.