chocolate amaro cake

I wasn’t always a bitter person. But my interest in singling out that particular tastebud over other basic ones has grown from what was once adventurous curiosity to a bona fide obsession. It’s a big leap. I had a childhood love of sweets and soft drinks (hello mouthful of dental work), but now I crave the opposite, along with heated spice and saltiness.

And I’m not the only one. Unlike Italians, who have been cultivating and cooking bitter foods for centuries – think of radicchio, rapini, arugula, and dark-roasted coffee “corrected” with shots of Fernet-Branca – American palates are just now getting caught up with them.

Just look at the Negroni. It was a lost and almost forgotten cocktail invented sometime in the early twentieth century and now it’s hard to find a bar or restaurant that doesn’t have a half-dozen variations  listed on its cocktail menu.

You won’t hear me complaining, though. A Negroni may still be my favorite drink (next to a cold glass of bubbly or a fresh-squeezed lime Margarita), but I often like to sip amaro all by itself, along with an ice cube or two, especially during the fall and winter. Amaros, like Campari and my favorite everyday Punt e Mes, supply the magical bitterness in cocktails.

But guess what? Although it’s not a sticky-sweet liqueur, amaro works well in dessert. An ingredient like dark chocolate, with its natural range of complex flavors, make it a great choice to partner with the dark, bitter-sweetness of amaro.

For this cake, I experimented with a recipe based on whiskey rather than the sweet red vermouth I doused the batter with. The result is super moist, not too sweet nor very boozy. It’s a big cake, but it keeps (and gets even better) for days.

chocolate amaro cake

Yield: one 10-inch cake/ 8 - 10 servings

This cake will stay tasty and moist for 3 or 4 days on the kitchen counter, wrapped well with plastic.


  • 4 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown or muscovado sugar
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, plus additional tablespoon for pan
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 cup amaro (I prefer Punt e Mes) or sweet red vermouth
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated or finely chopped
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • To serve:
  • 1 pint fresh berries
  • 1 tablespoon amaro
  • 2 teaspoons sugar


  1. Put the espresso powder, sugars and 1 1/2 cups of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking to dissolve. Stir in the butter and 3/4 cup cocoa and heat until butter is melted. Stir in the amaro. Pour into a large heatproof bowl and let cool completely.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10-inch springform pan and dust with the remaining 2 tablespoons cocoa powder.
  3. Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl. Stir in the chocolate.
  4. Whisk the eggs and vanilla into the chocolate mixture, then set a mesh strainer or sifter over the bowl and sift the flour mixture over the top. Fold in the dry ingredients to combine.
  5. Pour the batter into the pan and bake 55 minutes. Insert a cake tester into the center of the cake, and if it comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven; otherwise bake another 5 to 10 minutes.
  6. Let cool on a rack before removing sides of the pan.
  7. Toss the berries with the amaro and sugar, slightly crushing the fruit. Serve the berries with the cake.


  1. she lives! 🙂 I’ve been checking back periodically to see if you’d popped back up; glad you are back! i am a fellow bitter-lover & this recipe looks fantastic.

    • Hi Taina. Ha ha, yes I took a much longer than anticipated hiatus. But so glad to hear from you! Let me know if you try the cake.

  2. Good to see your post. I’ve been missing you! Many bitters in New Orleans. Come, visit!

  3. Ciao Karen! This cake is right up my alley; unlike you, I have always been a bitter person. Chinotto was my favorite soda when I was a kid, and to this day coca-cola tastes insipid to me (I’m not much of a soda drinker anyway). There are two ecently published books that focus on bitter flavors that I really like: Bitter, by Jennifer McLagan; and Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters and Amari, by Mark Bitterman. Thanks for sharing this recipe, I’ll be making it for sure.

    • Hi Domenica! Wow, Chinotto is serious stuff – no wonder you have a great palate as an adult 🙂
      I just caught up on a few Splendid Table podcasts and listened to both Jennifer McLagan and Mark Bitterman talk about their books, both inspiring.

  4. This is the kind of cake I’d slice off a sliver at a time… love the side of macerated berries!

  5. Just had our first piece…delicious! Thanks for the recipe ?

  6. Thanks for the recipe… I can’t wait to try with my family!

  7. I’m not sure my nieces and nephew would go for this, but this has dinner party written all over it. I can just imagine serving it with a little after-dinner liquor.

    You mentioned it gets better as it sits. Does it freeze well?

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