Are you as surprised as I am that this post is about chocolate?
My dislike of chocolate has probably been overstated. It is more like apathy. I just don’t care much about it, and chocolate will almost always be my last choice for dessert. It just isn’t my jam. But then, occasionally, chocolate crosses my path that makes me really happy—chocolate soft serve ice cream, for instance, or pain au chocolat. Bryan says I just like chocolate that isn’t very chocolatey, which is probably true. I think I like chocolate as an accent, rather than a focus. Except in the case of chocolate chip cookies, which I always hate. Um…. Enough about me, let’s talk about chocolate-juniper cake.
I’ll be honest, this recipe for a chocolate juniper cake caught my eye because of the milk jam-sweetened sour cream that is suggested as an accompaniment. But I was also curious about the combination of chocolate and juniper, and feeling adventurous, so I gave it a try. It is outstanding. Maybe the most exciting recipe I have tried in months. Sticks of cake are rolled in sugar and then caramelized in a hot pan (why doesn’t all cake have crispy-caramelized edges?!). The cake is served warm with a generous amount of the sweetened sour cream. It is perfect. You probably won’t hear me say that about a chocolate dessert for years, so get it while you can.
One of the beautiful things about this cake is its simplicity. Two bowls and a spoon, like we’re in the olden days. It is the perfect combination of simple technique and sophisticated flavor. The original recipe suggests for you to serve the cake with a milk jam crème fraîche (a couple of tablespoons of milk jam stirred into some crème fraîche), but allows a substitution of sour cream for the crème fraîche. I will always choose sour cream over crème fraîche, and did. Hell, I’ll choose sour cream over almost anything. Milk jam is amazing in many applications, but if you’re not up for making your own, you can substitute some sweetened condensed milk. It would be an excellent, and simple substitution. Also, the cake can be frozen for weeks, so you can save some for later.
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray
- 2 teaspoons (heaping) juniper berries
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 2/3 cups sugar plus more for coating
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon natural unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 13x9x2″ glass baking dish with nonstick spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper; spray the parchment with nonstick spray and set aside.
Toast juniper berries in a small skillet over medium heat until aromatic, 2–3 minutes. Let cool completely. Finely grind in spice mill.
Sift flour, 1 2/3 cups sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and ground juniper berries into a large bowl. Whisk buttermilk, oil, eggs, and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon water in a medium bowl. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Pour batter into prepared baking dish; smooth top.
Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 35–40 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Once cool, cover and chill in freezer until frozen, about 2 hours. Can be made 3 weeks ahead. Wrap in 2 layers of plastic; keep frozen.
Unwrap cake and invert onto a work surface; discard parchment. Using a long serrated knife, trim cake to form clean edges. Cut cake in half lengthwise, then cut each half crosswise into 1 1/4-inch–wide bars.
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour a layer of sugar onto a plate. Roll each bar in sugar, coating completely. Working in batches, caramelize cake in skillet, turning with tongs to brown evenly, about 30 seconds per side per batch (be careful; the sugar burns quickly). Serve warm, with Milk Jam Sour Cream or crème fraîche.