On Labor Day weekend, my mom and I drove past a pumpkin patch. Beneath curly vines and leaves as big as plates sat fully formed pumpkins: bright orange, enormous, and begging to be carved.
“Already?” I said.
“No!” my mom said. “They put them there.”
Pumpkin patches? Staged? Alas, yes, at least in my neck of the woods. In September.
And so the pumpkin patch owners caved to pressure to produce pumpkins the second a cool breeze skirted in to subdue autumn humidity, just like Starbucks serves up pumpkin spice lattes way in advance of peak jack-o-lantern season.
No matter that it’s still early October. There’s pumpkin everywhere already. That must mean it’s time for cranberries, too.
Nope. Unlike their orange brethren, cranberries don’t emerge til a few days before Thanksgiving, when we make cranberry sauce or open cans of that jellied stuff. Then they disappear, unseen all year except in the rare scone or biscotti.
And that’s fine with me. My tastes veer towards the sweet and the rich. I can skip the pucker-y with no problem, whether you’re offering me a handful of Sour Patch Kids or planning to spoon beautifully jewel-toned but terribly tangy sauce on top of my turkey, which was completely fine unadorned.
Chocolate subdues those tangy cranberries with its rich creaminess. Beneath a cloud of cocoa, their tang becomes delightful, a fruity afternote to chocolate that’s slightly mysterious: is it cherry? raspberry? Nope, cranberry, in its new chocolate-covered form!
The rest of this cake is easy. It’s a classic butter-less chocolate cake whose flavor comes from a heaping portion of cocoa powder and whose rise is fueled by the volcanic combination of baking soda and vinegar. I use a simple vegan chocolate icing for the sake of consistency, but if you have a chocolate frosting recipe you love, feel free to sub that in.
Chocolate Cranberry Cake with Chocolate Icing
Adapted from Moosewood Cookbook: New Classics
Makes 1 8-inch cake
1 1/2 cups flour (you can use all white, or half whole-wheat pastry and half white)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola, safflower, or vegetable oil
1 cup chilled brewed coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 cup cranberries tossed with 2 tablespoons sugar, or 1 cup homemade cranberry sauce
Chocolate Icing (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Oil an 8-inch cake pan, then cut a circle of parchment and place it on the bottom. Oil that too.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Whisk together to break up any clumps in the cocoa.
In a second medium bowl, combine the oil, coffee, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix together until smooth. Stir in the cranberries or cranberry sauce.
Add the vinegar and stir – you’ll see light swirls of fizz form as the vinegar and baking soda react. Immediately, pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. If the cake is still liquid in the middle after 40 minutes, cover loosely with foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes, checking at 5 minute intervals.
Take the cake out of the oven and cool completely on a rack. When cool, frost with the chocolate icing.
Note: You can also bake the cake in individual ramekins. Reduce cooking time to about 20 minutes.
1/2 cup finely chopped unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/4 cup water
Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and heat at 20-second intervals until the chocolate is just melted. Stir until thickened and smooth but no more, otherwise you risk turning the icing grainy. Spread over the cake.