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.
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
- 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.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10-inch springform pan and dust with the remaining 2 tablespoons cocoa powder.
- Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl. Stir in the chocolate.
- 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.
- 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.
- Let cool on a rack before removing sides of the pan.
- Toss the berries with the amaro and sugar, slightly crushing the fruit. Serve the berries with the cake.