Chocolate prune cake

Childhood memories of Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bars from the years we lived in England come to mind now and then. Pastelerias (cake shops) in Mexico make very tempting, creative cakes, evidence of European immigrant and foreign government influence. What about a chocolate cake that takes its inspiration from Cadbury’s raisins and almonds? Am I starting a new thing? No. Recipes for Cadbury cakes are all over the internet, mostly from the U.K. Every time I think I might have come up with a new recipe, I find it’s been on the internet for years. Oh well, here’s a very different chocolate cake from this immigrant, me. It’s made moist with prune puree, filled with almonds and raisins, and special enough that it will be our New Year’s Eve dessert and see us into 2021.

Prune puree works some kind of culinary magic, so that less fat and sugar still produce plenty of sweetness and tenderness. Only 1/4 cup of sugar is used, and 1/4 cup coconut oil or butter. Coconut oil seems to work its own chemistry, making for more tender cakes.

At the risk of sounding like a commercial for Costco, bakers south of the border can get very good Kirkland brand almendras (almonds), ciruelas secas (prunes), and chispas de chocolate (chocolate chips). But don’t go to Costco for pasas (raisins). Mexico’s markets and little stores have the best, tinted with reds and purples, and two to three times larger than raisins north of the border. They taste sweeter, too, but maybe that’s due to my own enthusiasm for these colorful morsels. In Mexico, you can find them in generically labeled bags or in bulk.

Our New Year’s Eve menu is yet to be planned. Maybe French onion soup with a cheese souffle. No tamales or atole tomorrow night, you ask? Well, when Emperor Maximilian thought he could rule Mexico, his plans failed, but the wonderful cuisine of France stayed. I don’t think we’ll be the only ones in Mexico enjoying French dishes tomorrow night. Bon appetit! I mean, Buen provecho!

The Chocolate Prune Cake is already baked, and because it’s extra moist, it will still be fresh and tender tomorrow evening. That is, if we don’t eat it all by then. You may notice there remained five pieces for the photo above. Will I ever learn to take photos, then eat?

For New Year’s Eve, Russ and I will be staying home with our pup, Yolo, enjoying each other’s company, maybe a movie, and definitely good food. May you enjoy the same. Feliz Año Nuevo!

Chocolate Prune Cake ~ 9 – 12 servings

  • 1.5 cups (10.6 oz/300 g) pitted prunes
  • 1 cup (6.7 oz/190 g) chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) melted coconut oil or butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup (4.5 oz/125 g) whole wheat pastry flour or regular whole wheat flour (for gluten free, see notes below)
  • 1/2 cup (1.65 oz/48 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup (1.75 oz/50 g) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (3 oz/85 g) almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (2.25 oz/63 g) raisins
  • Confectioner’s sugar to dust on cake (optional)
  1. Cut parchment paper to fit bottom of 8″ or 9″ baking pan. Grease and flour sides of pan.
  2. Simmer prunes in 1.5 cups (355 ml) water for 10 minutes, or until prunes are very tender. (See note below.)
  3. Puree undrained prunes, while still very warm, in food processor with 1/2 cup chocolate chips, eggs, oil and vanilla.
  4. Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C).
  5. Sift dry ingredients into large bowl.
  6. Stir prune mixture into dry ingredients with remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips, almonds and raisins.
  7. Pour into prepared baking pan and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until toothpick tests mostly dry. This is a very moist cake, so some crumbs will stick to toothpick when cake is done.
  8. Cook in pan for 5 minues.
  9. Run a thin knife around inside edges and invert onto cake rack to cool.

~ Notes

~ Prunes from Costco are very moist, almost wet. But if your prunes are the drier variety, use 1 3/4 cups of water to simmer prunes.

~ Pastry flour, with its lower gluten content, is preferred for tender cakes, but not available in Mexico unless you have a large supermarket that carries Bob’s Red Mill products. Most of us in Mexico will have to make do with regular flour, whole wheat or white.

~ For a gluten free cake, replace the wheat flour with Bob’s Red Mill 1 – 1 Baking Flour. According to Bob’s website, this flour can replace regular flour with an equal amount of Bob’s Red Mill 1 – 1 flour, cup per cup. I have not tried this, but it has very good reviews on Amazon.


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Star fruit upside-down cake

We decorated the Christmas tree this week, which is the official beginning of the holidays in our house. It’s not really a tree in the botanical sense of the word, but the cut-off, dried flower stalk of an agave plant. This is what campesinos use for their Christmas trees in Mexico, so we have been told, and it sounded like a good idea to us. With real pine trees, from Oregon no less, starting at $100 in Puerto Vallarta, our agave flower stalk is convenient (our lower front yard) and cheap (free). Once the tree is decorated, it’s my cue to start Christmas baking. Russ’es fruitcake is doused with spirits and spirited away, hidden from him until Christmas week. Tequila balls, aka rum balls north of the border, are ageing, and a bright, star fruit upside-down cake seems Christmasy with its golden, crosscut slices.

Star fruit, also known as carambola in Spanish speaking countries, are from tropical regions, but somehow one is thriving in our neighbor Chuy’s yard at 4,000 feet elevation in the mountains. In keeping with the local spirit of generosity, we received a large bag, too many for two people to consume. We are doing our best, eating star fruit every day in fruit salads, and now in an upside-down cake.

My favorite upside-down cake recipe is from Joy of Cooking, well used, stained, and somewhat tattered. It was my first cookbook, and is still the one I turn to most often. Where else could you read about steaming fresh bracken fern or making oxtail soup? Some of the recipes may be dated, but so many have been tried and true through the decades, and the recipe for Skillet or Upside-down Cake (page 607 in my 1967 edition) is one of them. The sweet-tart star fruit made a great cake topping. I confirmed this by eating two slices in a row.

Joy of Cooking calls for beating the egg whites, then folding in the other ingredients for an airy cake. As is my norm, I substituted whole wheat flour and used considerably less sugar. Years ago, I began decreasing sugar in baking recipes and found that taste buds easily adjusted. The palate’s senses are relative, it seems. What was once an OK sweet level is now so cloying in its excess. Use white flour and quadruple the sugar if you prefer the original recipe.

Star Fruit Upside Down Cake serves 8

  • 1/4 cup (2 oz/57 g) butter, plus 1 tablespoon (.5 oz/14 g) butter
  • 1/4 cup (1.8 oz/55 g) brown sugar
  • 6 oz (170 g) star fruit, sliced 1/4″ (.64 cm) thick, seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup (28 g) dried cranberries
  • 1 cup (4.4 oz/125 g) whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup (1.78 oz/50 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. If using a 9″ (23 cm) cast iron skillet, melt 1/4 cup (57 g) butter over low heat, stirring in brown sugar until sugar is dissolved and mixture is foamy. If using a cake pan, melt butter in a small saucepan and stir in brown sugar until foaming. Spread evenly in cake pan.
  2. Place sliced star fruit closely together, filling gaps between slices with cranberries.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 350F (190C).
  4. Sift flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl, and set aside.
  5. Whisk egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla in small bowl.
  6. Beat egg whites at low speed until frothy. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition.
  7. Fold in egg yolk mixture.
  8. Fold in flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, until there is no visible dry flour.
  9. Spoon batter into pan over fruit, smoothing it level.
  10. Bake for 30-40 minutes, checking with a toothpick for a dry crumb.
  11. Let rest in pan for 2-3 minutes. Slide thin knife around inside edge of pan and carefully invert onto plate, scraping out any butter/sugar that remains in pan.
  12. Serve warm or cool with crema, crème fraîche, or Greek yogurt. It goes without saying that slices are wonderful for breakfast with coffee or tea.

Notes ~

~ Star fruit is a fall and winter fruit. It is fully ripe when the ribs are starting to turn brown. The thin, outer layer of brown ribs can be removed with a vegetable peeler. A sweet aroma also indicates ripeness.

~ Slices make attractive garnishes on fish and other main dishes, and combine well with avocado and orange juice for a refreshing salad.

~ Whole wheat flour should be fresh, otherwise it can have a bitter flavor. For this reason, it’s best kept refrigerated. When fresh, it has a nutty, sweet flavor compared to white flour, which has no flavor at all. Anything baked with whole wheat flour not only tastes better, but has a higher nutritional content because the bran and wheat germ have not been removed. In Mexico, Espuma de Chapala Harina Integral is my choice for whole wheat flour, though it needs to be sifted for cake baking to remove the bran. Save the bran for muffins.


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Kuchen de manzana con migas

Just to set things straight, this is not a dessert from Mexico. It is from south of the border, but way south. In fact, south of the Equator. When thousands of Germans immigrated to Chile (and many other countries, including Mexico) in the 19th century, they took their recipes for breads, pastries and cakes (and beer!) with them. Kuchen de Manzana con Migas evolved in Chile, based on Apple Kuchen from Germany. It translates to Apple Cake with Crumbs, or crumble, as we might say.

There are German communities in Mexico, and I would like to think that somewhere a Mexican-German family is baking Kuchen de Manzana today. Maybe Frida Kahlo, of German heritage, baked this cake. Maybe Vincente Fox, the former president (whose immigrant ancestors changed their name from Fuchs to Fox), enjoyed it at his family’s table. In any case, this is a cake worthy of Chile’s and Mexico’s German immigrant heritage.

It’s apple time in Mexico, when small manzanas criollas, sometimes called manzanas nacionales, start making an appearance in the local grocery stores. They always used to have a wormhole or two, and be a little misshapen. That wormhole was, for me, a seal of not being sprayed. At least, I liked to tell myself that. Now the only ones I see are wormhole-less, sprayed no doubt, but still good and definitely better than the carbon footprint it takes to get apples from Washington State to Mexico.

This cake has three elements — an egg-rich, buttery, cake-like crust, an apple filling, and a streusel crumb topping. It is baked to my usual specs of using part whole wheat flour and less sugar. I used homemade, cultured butter, but sweet cream butter will work just as well. It took a few zen minutes to arrange the apple slices. Not to create a pattern, but to fit the slices as closely as possible. When ready to serve, dust the cake with azúcar glass (confectioner’s sugar) if you wish, but I think that might be gilding the lily.

Kuchen de Manzana con Migas serves 8


  • 1 cup (120 g) whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup (120 g) white, all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (1/4 teaspoon if using salted butter)
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (128 grams) very cold butter, cut into 1″ (2.5 cm) pieces
  • 2 large eggs


  • 1.8 lbs. (850 k) apples
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Crumb Topping

  • 1 cup (120) g) whole wheat flour (or white ( flour)
  • 1/3 cup (67 g) brown sugar or musovado, not packed (for those in Mexico, this is known as azúcar mascabado)
  • 8 tablespoons (113 g) butter
  • pinch of salt if butter is unsalted
  1. Line bottom of a 9″ (228 mm) springform pan with parchment paper. Butter sides. Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC) and adjust oven rack to center of oven.
  2. For crust, mix flours, baking powder, sugar and salt briefly in food processor or by hand.
  3. Add butter, and process just until mixture resembles cornmeal, or blend butter into flour mixture with a pastry cutter.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing just until dough starts to form a ball.
  5. Press into springform pan, pressing dough 1.5″ (38 mm) up sides of pan. Chill in freezer while preparing filling and topping.
  6. For filling, peel and core apples. Slice into quarters, then slice each quarter into 4 slices. Toss with lemon juice and sugar. Set aside.
  7. For topping, blend flour and sugar in food processor or by hand. Blend in butter until crumbly looking, and starting to form small lumps.
  8. Arrange apples slices on pastry crust, fitting slices closely to each other.
  9. Evenly top apple slices with crumb topping.
  10. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes, or until topping is starting to brown and apples test tender with a paring knife or skewer.
  11. Cool on cake rack 30 minutes. Run thin knife around inside of pan to release sides. Remove side of pan. Cool for one more hour before slicing. Refrigerate leftovers.

Notes ~

~ My grocery receipt lists these apples as “manzana criolla” — wild apple. But they are not wild at all. Apples originated in central Asia, and they likely arrived in Mexico with Spanish colonists. These apples from Pepe’s in Mascota are Galas, so Russ says, and I think he’s right. Galas keep their shape when baked, and their natural sweetness allows for a decrease of sugar in a recipe.

~ Other apples which maintain their shape and texture when baked include Granny Smith, Winesap, Pink Lady, Braeburn and Honeycrisp.

~ Mascabado sugar is Mexico’s equivalent of brown sugar. It is less refined than white sugar, containing some molasses, and comes either light or dark brown in color. Muscovado, also unrefined cane sugar, is the same thing.

~ Mangos, pineapples, and bananas are typically thought of as the fruit of Mexico, and it came as a surprise to us to discover an apple season when we moved here. Our part of Mexico, the mountains of Jalisco, grows peaches and plums. We have yet to encounter local cherries and apricots, but I’m hopeful.


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New World Chocolate Cake

It’s hard to imagine a world without chocolate or chile. We can thank the New World for giving us cocao pods, from which chocolate is made, as well as chiles of all kinds. This cake, so easy to make that even a baking novice would have success, is rich with chocolate and flavored with a subtle kick of ancho chile powder.

Ancho chiles are the dried form of fresh poblano chiles, the large, mild chile commonly used for chiles rellenos and chiles en nogada. Once dried, they take on a deep burgundy color and a complex, fruity flavor. I have become so enamored with ancho chile powder lately, that I’m adding it to to my morning cup of Pero, Russ’es glass of whipped dalgona coffee (which is having its moment), and a cream sauce tinted with light peach hues from the chile powder.

I know not everyone is a fan of chiles’ heat, but take my word that the pairing of chocolate and chile is a natural. If you are one of those who can’t handle chile, this still makes an excellent chocolate cake with the chile omitted, albeit, in my opinion, not the cake it would be with chile.

Use a very good quality cocoa powder. It makes a difference, as I finally learned when I gave Hershey’s the heave-ho after reading it was made with cocao beans harvested by child slave labor. Cocoa powder and other chocolate products labeled organic or fair trade indicate child slave labor was not used. Cocoa products so labeled are also a better quality, delivering a richer chocolate flavor. La Comer and Mega supermarkets in Mexico offer a good selection of organic products, including organic cocoa powder produced in Mexico.

New World Chocolate Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups/180 grams whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup/50 grams cocoa powder, unsweetened
  • 2/3 cup/145 grams sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup room temperature coffee, or water
  • 5 tablespoons melted coconut oil, or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F/180C. Grease and flour sides of 9″/22 cm round cake pan. Line bottom with parchment paper.
  2. Sift or whisk dry ingredients in large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk together wet ingredients.
  4. Pour wet ingredients into dry, and quickly stir until no lumps remain.
  5. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The top should spring back when lightly pressed. If the gently pressure of your finger in the center leaves an indentation, bake a few minutes more.
  6. Cool in pan until slightly warm. Run a thin knife around sides of pan, and invert cake onto a plate, then invert again right side up on serving plate.
  7. Serve when completely cool with lightly sweetened whipped cream dusted with cinnamon, ice cream, or crème fraîche (aka crema in Mexico).

Notes ~

For a coconut version, omit the chile powder and cinnamon. Generously coat the inside of the cake pan with coconut oil or butter, then coat the pan with dry, unsweetened coconut. Add 1/2 cup dry, unsweetened coconut to cake batter.

To slice cleanly, use the thinnest knife you have, sawing it slightly as you slice through the cake.

So what’s the deal with all the variations of how to spell chile? Chili is the bean and meat concoction, sometimes spelled chilli. Chile with an “e” is how the fruit (yes, botanically it’s a fruit) is spelled in the Spanish language, and since it originated in Latin America, that’s the accepted spelling.

Variations of this recipe have existed at least since WWII, when bakers made do with what was available. Without eggs and butter, this cake is vegan.


“Rosed” almond pound cake

Easy Recipe for Almond Pound Cake and Almond Paste

A cook book I have owned for almost twenty years has recently become a sort of bible for me. Aptly named The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum, it truly is a guidepost for how to make the best possible cakes in a home kitchen. Rose has a different method for mixing the ingredients, which results in wonderfully tender and moist cakes.  Instead of creaming the butter and sugar as most recipes do, she mixes the butter into the dry ingredients to coat the flour molecules, which prevent over-development of gluten. We want gluten for the chew in bread, but we don’t need that same chew in cakes.

Whenever I read any other cake recipe than hers, I mentally change the instructions and ingredients to her method — I “Rose” the recipe. Now I am using recipes that are not always hers, but always have her signature tenderness. Here is the first cake I adapted. This is also the very first entry on my blog, Cooking in Mexico.

The recipe is so high in fat, I call it a “Pound Cake Plus”. The recipe was sent to me after a failed baking attempt when it collapsed in the center. It was reported to be delicious, but needed help to maintain its structure. I wanted to bake this cake, but I also wanted it to look good. Any recipe can be corrected, and this one corrected beautifully. Using less fat, less sugar, the correct pan, and Rose’s mixing method made all the difference.

Both fat and sugar contribute to the tenderness of a cake, but overdoing these two can result in a cake so tender, it can’t maintain its structure  I lessened the fat only slightly by using two whole eggs instead of four egg yolks. I lessened the sugar significantly, though the recipe still contains enough when the amount of sugar in the almond paste is taken into consideration. I used a tube pan instead of a 9″ springform pan to provide more surface to support the cake, and finally, I mixed it using Rose’s method of blending the dry ingredients with the fat ingredients for a tender crumb.

“Rosed” Almond Pound Cake

  • 2 whole eggs at cool room temperature
  • 1 cup (242 grams) sour cream , divided
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups (228 grams) 50% whole wheat flour, 50% all purpose flour (if measuring by volume, sift then measure)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar (100 grams) (Pulverize sugar in food processor for 3 minutes or use fine granulated sugar)
  • 7 oz. (200 grams) almond paste (see below to make your own)
  • 1 cup (227 grams) butter at cool room temperature
  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Butter and flour an 8-9 cup tube pan or an 8-cup loaf pan. Line bottom of pan with buttered parchment paper.
  • Combine eggs, 1/4 cup of sour cream and almond extract in a small bowl.
  • Combine flour, baking soda, salt and sugar in a stand-up mixer on low speed for 30 seconds.
  • Add butter, almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup of sour cream. Mix on low speed until all ingredients are moistened, then increase speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes.
  • Scrape down sides of bowl. Add the egg mixture in three batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, scraping down sides of bowl after each addition.
  • Scrape batter into prepared pan, smooth top with spatula and bake for 50-60 minutes, checking after 40 minutes. After 40-45 minutes, cover with foil to prevent over-browning of top.
  • When a wooden toothpick inserted into cake center comes out clean, the cake is done. Let cool for 10 minutes in pan, then invert onto cooling rack. Remove parchment paper and, using a second cooking rack, gently turn cake right side up to cool completely.

As the photo attests, this cake has no problem maintaining its structure while still remaining tender, even when made with 50% whole wheat flour. It is so rich, that no more than a dusting of powdered sugar is needed. For a special occasion, serve with fresh fruit and whipped cream or ice cream.

*Almond Paste

In food processor, combine 7 oz. each of whole blanched almonds and powdered sugar. If you only have unblanched almonds, follow these easy instructions to blanch and remove the skins:

Pour boiling water over the almonds and let sit for exactly one minute. Immediately drain and immerse in cold water until cool enough to handle. Pat dry with a towel. Pinch each nut with your fingers to pop the nut out of its skin. This is easier than it sounds. Put in a skillet over moderately low heat until the nuts are fairly dry but not starting to toast.

Back to the food processor. Process the now blanched almonds and sugar until fairly fine. Add one egg white, a pinch of salt and one teaspoon of almond extract. At this point, it may be so thick that you need to pulse the mixture. It’s OK if the paste is not absolutely smooth,  as small pieces add some  texture to the cake. This will make enough for two cakes plus a little extra to eat by the spoon — it is that good! Freeze the extra for the next time you bake Almond Pound Cake. Or you can buy almond paste. It’s a little pricey, so consider making the paste, at least once, if only to see how easy it is to make and how good homemade almond paste tastes.


If you don’t have superfine sugar, pulverize sugar in a food processor for three minutes.

Update: Initially, I intended for my blog, Cooking in Mexico, to be mostly a baking blog. Instead, it found its own way and marched in the direction of Mexico, our home now for thirteen years. This unexpected development has given me a finely tuned appreciation for Mexican cuisine. I hope it does the same for you.
December 8, 2010

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