Blogging is a funny thing. When I decided to start Chocolate + Chard last November, I knew that I wanted it to be a space for more than simply the sharing of recipes. I wanted (and want) it to be a platform for sharing information about health and nutrition, about why the ingredients that I feature in my posts are not only delicious but also incredibly enriching for our bodies. I aimed for it to be personal and personable, compelling and inspiring--like so many blogs have been for me. I wanted to be a producer within and member of the foodie community of which I had, until that point, only been a passive receptor.
As it turns out, blogging in that vein is difficult. While I love it and am so surprised and thrilled every time one of you leaves a comment, writing continuously is also a challenge sometimes. I realize that this space has been quiet for the past few weeks. To be completely honest, I have been struggling to find the energy and focus to write this post. This is surely related to a number of factors, one of which is that there are too many narratives in my head circling this totally divine olive oil cake.
I want to talk about the genius baker who devised the recipe, Kim Boyce, and her book Good to the Grain from which it came. I want to talk about how light and moist it is, fragrant with rosemary and decadent with chunks of rich dark chocolate. I want to tell you that it very well may be my new favorite quick bread/cake, ever. I want to describe the delightful and inspired event where I brought this cake, shared it and photographed it: a casual gathering at a friend's cafe, where diverse people worked on independent projects in a communal space--reading, sketching, making origami cranes--that was augmented by a live string quartet and impromptu conversation. And I want to extol the virtues of spelt flour, which it is fair to say I am properly obsessed with. Figuring out how to address and weave together all of these discrepant narratives sent me into a bit of an incapacitated state, as I want to do this post justice but have had such trouble figuring out where to begin.
I suppose this writing so far is my explanation and apology for being absent for three weeks. And maybe a bit of it is me attempting to justify and understand the absence for myself. At any rate, this cake is absolutely stunning. It made its rounds in the blogosphere three years ago, when Good to the Grain was first published, so you may have already encountered it. But if you haven't--boy are you in for a treat.
Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain
Published back in 2010, this cookbook champions baking with whole grains not so much for their nutritional value as for their flavors and textures. Divided into sections by flour (ranging from whole wheat to spelt to teff), Boyce highlights the ways in which these atypical ingredients (which also happen to be much better for you than white flour) can enhance all kinds of baked goods. Her version of this heavenly olive oil cake uses a combination of whole spelt and all-purpose flour, but I have substituted the all-purpose for white spelt in my version. I find that it acts basically the same as all-purpose--barring the fact that it is less glutenous so may not rise quite as much--but it is far more nutrient-rich!
The Power of Spelt Flour
Spelt flour is an ancient grain--so ancient, in fact, that it is mentioned in the Bible--that was originally cultivated in Iran around 7000 B.C. and has expanded its growth to Europe in the past 300 years. A cousin of wheat, spelt contains less gluten and more protein than its most common relative, making it easier to digest (even possible for some people with gluten intolerance) and a great grain option for vegetarians (or, everyone, because we all need protein!). Whole grain spelt flour is an excellent source of fiber and contains a wider array of nutrients than many grains in the extended wheat family, including significant levels of manganese, copper, vitamin B3 and zinc. As it is a whole grain that hasn't been processed to the point of nutritional obliteration, spelt flour is best stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator (if you have space) or in a cool, dark place (if you don't).
Spelt has a mild nutty flavor that isn't as overpowering as whole wheat flour and adds a lovely dimension to baked goods. I have baked items that necessitate lightness--like scones--substituting up to half of the requested all-purpose flour with whole spelt to great success. In addition to whole spelt, two other varieties of the flour are available: light spelt, which has had some of the bran sifted out, and white spelt, which has had the bran and germ entirely removed. While the lighter white spelt isn't a whole grain flour, it still contains more nutrients and is less refined than all-purpose flour, making it an ideal replacement.*
*Nutrition information from World's Healthiest Foods and What's Cooking America.
(An Important Note)
...about this wholesome, flavorful, light and delectable cake. I have made it twice so far, the first time in a round cake pan, as directed. While I loved the flavor, it was so light and tea-cake-y that I thought it would be even more appropriate baked as a loaf. Enter baking, round two (photographed here). Yet this time around, I missed the previously more pronounced presence of the delightful top crust that the larger surface area of the cake pan produced. Consequently, I would recommend baking this in a round cake tin, as Kim Boyce instructs in her book. I guess she knew what she was talking about.
Kim Boyce's Rosemary + Dark Chocolate Olive Oil Cake (with spelt flour)
3/4 cup (85 grams) whole spelt flour
1 1/2 cups (153 grams) white spelt flour [if using all-purpose, 187 grams]
3/4 cup (170 grams) white sugar [or a less-refined substitute, like fine demerara]
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup (235 ml) olive oil [good quality, cold-pressed]
3/4 cup milk [Boyce calls for whole; I used almond]
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
5 oz. dark chocolate (70% cacao), from a thick bar chopped into 1/2" (1cm) chunks
1. Pre-heat oven to 350F / 180C / Gas 4. Rub a 9 1/2" (23cm) removable bottom cake or tart pan with olive oil and cover bottom with a round of parchment paper.
2. Sift the dry ingredients (the first five) into a large bowl, pouring any remaining bran into the bowl after sifting. Set aside.
3. In another large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the oilve oil, milk, and rosemary and whisk until thoroughly combined.
4. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and gently fold together with a spatula, until just combined.
5. Gently fold in the chocolate.
6. Pour batter into prepared cake/tart pan, spreading the top out evenly.
7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
This cake is delicious warm or cooled and will keep best wrapped tightly in plastic for 2-3 days.