It’s been almost two years since Phoebe and I first started the blog.
It’s been far longer—thirteen years—since we’ve been eating together. When you’re close friends with anyone, you start to get to know her tastes in breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner, but when you’re co-bloggers, you know those tastes in slightly more minute detail. Though I still have a hard time remembering the hierarchy of Phoebe’s fruit hatred (are oranges worse than pineapple? which is more abhorrent, kiwis or cantaloupe?), I currently have a fairly good idea of what will float Phoebe’s culinary boat. Whether it’s sharing a Thai lunch (one green curry, one pad Thai, two pairs of chopsticks), tossing dandelion greens into pasta carbonara, or picking up two iced coffees, mine with milk, hers with Equal on the way to a long catering gig, we do pretty well eating and drinking as a pair.
One ingredient that surely isn’t on Phoebe’s must-eat list is pepper, freshly ground or otherwise. But two years into blogging, and with a cookbook on the way, she and I more than eaters. We’re also cooks. You know, not quite professional, but close enough that we deserve to receive some decent kitchen equipment every now and again. And in my mind a classic pepper grinder qualifies as that. It’s useful when cooking, of course, and it’s incredibly handsome to set down on the table or coffee table when guests arrive. Welcome to the world of pepper mill ownership, Phoebe!
Now when most people get pepper mills, they don’t automatically think about baking. But this is a birthday—and I’m a sweets fiend. At first, actually, I thought I would make pepper-heavy mashed potato “cakes,” and stick pretty candles in them. Then I expanded my imagination. Before long, my mind flew to Alice Medrich’s Tiger Cake.
This cake is seriously unusual. If I didn’t trust Alice Medrich with my chocolate-eating life, I never would have made it for the first time several years ago. I was given her fantastic book Chocolat as a gift, and I immediately read through it cover to cover, baking as I went. I was drawn to the moist-looking marble cake, then confused as I read the ingredient list. Olive oil? And white pepper? In a cake?
The introduction to this recipe acknowledges readers’ potential confusion and nips it in the bud, explaining exactly how the olive oil and the pepper enhance the chocolate flavor, making it fruitier and nuttier without standing out. I modified the cake from its original version to include not just white pepper, but also freshly ground black. Which Phoebe has the tool to create a lifetime supply of.
Happy Birthday Phoebs! Here’s to many more years of cooking, blogging, and grinding pepper together.
From my kitchen, spicing up birthday sweets, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
½ cup natural cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup boiling water
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon finely ground white pepper
5 cold large eggs
1 cup cold milk or soy milk
10-12 cup tube or bundt pan.
Put a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat it to 350°F. Grease and flour the bundt/tube pan.
In a small bowl, whisk the cocoa power, 1/2 cup sugar, freshly ground pepper, and water in a small bowl until smooth.
In another small bowl, mix together the four, baking powder, and salt.
In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the 2 cups sugar, oil, vanilla, oil, and white pepper until blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. At the end, beat for an additional 3 minutes, until thick and pale. Stop the mixer, and add one third of the flour, beating just until blender. Add half the milk, then another third of the flour, then the last half cup of milk and third of the flour, always beating just until beaten.
Spoon out 3 cups of the batter into the bowl with the cocoa mixture and fold to create a uniform chocolate batter.
Pour one third of the plain batter into the prepared pan and top with one third of the chocolate batter. Repeat with the remaining batter, but don’t worry about marbling them—that’ll happen as it bakes.
Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for about 15 minutes, then carefully loosen and invert.
This cake keeps for days and is especially delicious on the second or third day, toasted.