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Secret Sweet and Spicy Holiday Cakes PDF Print E-mail

By Dave DeWitt

I heard a rumor that some holidays were approaching, so being my usual politically-correct self, I'm not going associate these recipes with any particular religious, ethnic, or patriotic holiday.  It's a mix-and-match dessert cake scenario.

For centuries, cakes have been some of the most traditional desserts served on important occasions.  From weddings and baptisms and even funerals, cakes have helped us commemorate the beginnings and endings of life's important moments.  As food historian Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat observed, “In Little Red Riding Hood's basket, like the butter, the cake shows her respect and love for her grandmother better than any words can do.  In all the folk rituals where gifts are solicited, from Roman times on, cakes have been given to children, who represent both our past and out present.”  That's a lot of pressure to put on one little dish! 

But despite Twinkies and prepackaged cakes at supermarkets, dedicated bakers like my wife Mary Jane have preserved the old recipes as well as experimenting with new ones.  And this experimentation requires the use of chile peppers in one form or another.

Why don't you serve these to guests without telling them what's in the desserts?  That should stimulate the conversation and liven up the party.

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake with Red Chile Ganache

Photo by Dave DeWitt


Mary Jane's recipe is based on one by the Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten), but the shoeless TV cook wouldn't dare to use red chile powder!  You will need a springform pan for this cake since it would be difficult to get it out of a regular cake pan in one piece. If desired, you can use semisweet chocolate instead of bittersweet in the filling, and the cake will be slightly sweeter.

The Graham Crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10 crackers, crumbled)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

The Chocolate Filling:
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 tablespoon instant espresso coffee
1 3/4 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon real almond extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

The Red Chile Ganache:
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon New Mexican red chile powder
1/4 cup heavy cream (or a little more if needed)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  To make the crust, place the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until combined. Pour into a 9-inch springform pan. With your hands, press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan. Bake the pan for 12 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Put the bittersweet chocolate in a ceramic bowl set over a pan of simmering water, or use a double boiler.  Add the espresso and stir until the chocolate is just melted. Set aside until cooled to room temperature.

To make the filling, cream the cream cheese, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and almond extracts, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the bowl and beater, as necessary. With the mixer on low, add the sour cream, and the cooled chocolate mixture. Mix thoroughly and pour into the cooled crust.

Bake for one hour. Turn the oven off and allow the cake to sit in the oven with the door opened wide for 1 1/2 hours. Take the cake out of the oven and allow it to sit at room temperature, until completely cooled.

For the ganache, place the semisweet chocolate in a ceramic bowl set in a pan of simmering water, or use a double boiler.  Add the red chile powder and stir it completely into the chocolate.  Add the cream and stir into the melting chocolate.   Set aside until cooled to room temperature.

Remove the cake from the springform pan by carefully running a hot knife around the outside of the cake. Leave the cake on the bottom of the springform pan for serving. Drizzle the ganache over the top of the cheesecake.

Yield 8 to 10 servings
Heat Scale: Mild

Photo by Sergio Salvador

Not Your Aunt Bertha's Fruitcake
Before you go on to another recipe, stop and give this a try!  This is not the famed "traveling fruitcake" recipe—the the mythical fruitcake that never spoils and is never eaten! Nope, this is a green chile fruit cake, new and improved, and sassier than ever.

3 cups chopped pecans (about 12 ounces)
2 cups chopped candied pineapple (about 10 ounces)
3/4 cup chopped dried mangos
1/3 cup chopped candied orange peel (about 1 1/2 ounces)
1 3/4 cups plus 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup  butter,  at room temperature
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
1/2 cup green chile, roasted, peeled, stems and seeds removed, chopped
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon banana extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
Powdered sugar

Position the oven rack in lowest third of oven, and preheat to 250 degrees F. Grease and flour a 12 cup bundt pan.

In a large bowl, mix the pecans and fruits with 3 tablespoons flour.  In another large bowl, cream the butter with the  sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs 1 at a time.  Stir in the green chile, vanilla, lemon  and banana extracts.  Sift  the 1 3/4 cups flour  with the baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the batter and stir until blended. Mix the fruit mixture into batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake until it turns golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 2 1/2 hours. Cool in the pan on a rack for about 15 minutes.  When the 15 minutes is up, turn it out onto the rack to cool. Dust with powdered sugar.

Yield: 12 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

Mandarin Orange Walnut Piquin Cake

Photo by Sergio Salvador


This citrus delight is simple to prepare and and just tart enough to complement the sweet-hot glaze. It is also nice when made in a bundt pan.

2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
2 eggs
2 small cans mandarin oranges
1 cup walnuts, chopped
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

The glaze:
1 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
6 piquin chiles, seeds and stems removed, ground or substitute 1 teaspoon cayenne

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, eggs, oranges and juice from the can, walnuts, baking soda, salt and vanilla. Mix by hand, being careful not to over mix. Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 45 minutes.

Place the brown sugar, butter, milk, salt, vanilla and piquin powder in a sauce pan. Stir the mixture and bring it to a boil. Let the glaze cool for about 5 minutes, then drizzle it over the cake.

Yield: 8 slices
Heat Scale: Hot

Red Hot Chiles Carrot Cake
This recipe is from David Paul's Lahaina Grill in Lahaina, Maui. This dessert may make you sing and is a guaranteed hit at any fun affair. It's also a really pretty cake, and is especially attractive when you save an assortment of chiles to garnish the platter.

3/4 pound butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups shredded carrots
10 piquin chiles, seeds and stems removed, ground finely in a spice mill (or substitute 1 teaspoon ground cayenne)
2 ounces simple sugar syrup
2 ounces cinnamon schnapps
1/4 cup chopped pistachios

Frosting:
1 cup water
1 pound sugar
1 cup egg whites
2 pounds unsalted butter
1 pound softened cream cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Whip the butter, sugar and the vanilla together until creamy. Add the eggs in four portions until the eggs are absorbed. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon and add the dry mixture to the wet mixture in four portions. Next fold in the carrots and the piquins. Place the batter in a 10" round greased and floured cake pan, and gently tap the filled pan to remove any air bubbles. Bake for approximately 1 hour. Test the center of the cake with a toothpick; when it comes out clean the cake is done. Place the cake on a wire rack to cool. When cool, cut the cake into three layers. Moisten the layers with the syrup and schnapps.

For the frosting:
Place the water and sugar in a large sauce pan and, using a thermometer, heat the mixture to 121 degrees F. Let the mixture cool to 95 degrees F., then using an electric mixture, whip the egg whites into fluffy peaks. Add the liquid sugar to the egg whites in a slow, steady stream. Add the butter and cream cheese in small chunks. Whip the mixture into a smooth, creamy consistency. Frost the cake between the layers and assemble. Frost the outside of the cake. Coat the outside of the cake with chopped pistachios.

Yield: 16 pieces
Heat Scale: Medium

Red Chile Chocolate Cake with Pineapple Mango Chipotle Glaze
This cake was made at the Pace Salsa Chef's Challenge at the 2012 Fiery Foods and BBQ Show. Recipe courtesy of chef Kaitlin Armstrong.

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 2/3 cups sugar
1 cup + 2 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup + 2 tablespoons water
1 cup + 2 tablespoons canola oil
5 large eggs

3/4 cup pineapple juice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 tablespoons hot New Mexico red chile powder
3 10" round pans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour the pans.

In a large bowl, sift or whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and cocoa. 
Add 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of pineapple juice and 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Mix for 1 minute.


Add eggs, 3/4 cup of pineapple juice and the vanilla. Mix 5-6 minutes with a whisk, 3-4 minutes with a hand mixer.


Pour into pans, bake, test by placing and removing a toothpick through the center at 25 minutes. When toothpick comes out clean, loosen from pans and then put back in the pans. Let cakes cool for 15 minutes. Keep in the pans, wrap in foil, and put in the freezer for at least 2 hours.

Glaze:
2 1/2 cups Pace brand Pineapple Mango Chipotle Salsa
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons water

Place first two ingredients into medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until brown sugar is dissolved. Put mixture into food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

Mix together cornstarch and water.

Place salsa mixture back on heat. Bring to a slow boil. Whisk constantly while adding cornstarch mixture to avoid lumps.
Glaze should coat the back of a spoon with only a slight drip.

Bring cakes out of the freezer and pour pineapple glaze over the top of each layer, stacking each layer on top of the previous layer.

Yield: 8-10 pieces
Heat Scale: Mild

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