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Habit-Forming: Spiced Whole Grain Chocolate Cake with Salted Chocolate Frosting

A few weeks ago, I was listening to NPR in my car, as I often do. In between world news and the circus that is a presidential election year, came a refreshing story about forming habits. I learn about all sorts of things on NPR, and this day was no exception. The talk was about a new book, written by a New York Times business reporter, and its focus was on the formation of habits and, in particular, how brands and advertising can actually help us form habits. You may not think, if brushing your teeth is a habit, that this activity is just that: a habit you’ve formed. But how did it evolve? It’s likely when you were young, your parents instilled this habit in you. And their parents instilled it in them. And who instilled it in their parents? Possibly, the advertiser behind the very first toothpaste brand, which made people believe that brushing your teeth should be a habit.

All this talk about habits made me wonder about my own daily and weekly habits, and how difficult it is to break out of them. For example, try asking me to not eat something sweet after dinner. Or, try making me sleep on the left side of the bed. Give me the challenge of never again putting chapstick on my lips. Habits, I’ve found, can be both positive and negative influences in our lives. For example, in high school, I stopped drinking soda and began drinking only water, making it a habit to carry around a water bottle everywhere I went. This habit transitioned into drinking 8 or more glasses of water per day. I’ve made it a habit to exercise at least twice per week in some form or fashion (walking, going to an exercise class, riding my bike). Weeks when I get too busy or am traveling, I miss this healthy ‘addiction’!

I’ve been thinking: if  habits can become such an internalized part of our everyday lives, is the hardest part the commitment to actually make something a daily routine or decide to break the cycle? That very first day. Getting over the hump. We, as people, are inherently habit-forming creatures, after all.

There’s one (good) habit I’ve formed lately and it’s baking with whole grains. I give thanks to Kim Boyce and her incredible first book, Good to the Grain. Kim, I attribute my overflowing pantry to you! These days, it’s full of whole wheat, amaranth, barley, rye, buckwheat, graham, and corn flours. And, each time I decide to bake, I just can’t help dumping in a little of this and a little of that.

As a creative person, I think it’s actually healthy to revisit your habits, and decide which ones are worth keeping and which you should kick to the curb. The people I admire — be they writers, photographers, entrepreneurs, artists, or poets — are people who are consistently breaking habits; their own and others’. And today, I’m inspired by this call to break a few more of my own (baking with whole grains isn’t one of them!).

This cake, which I baked several weeks ago, was inspired by a stunning image from Heidi Swanson. She baked this gorgeous chocolate stout bundt and I was ogling over it for days, until I found the inspiration to create a cake of my own, in Kim’s book, of course. I don’t bake a lot of bundt cakes, and this one was a good reminder to use some of my under-loved baking-ware. I love spicy chocolate and I must say that the salty chocolate frosting was the special touch that took this spiced cake a little over the top. In a good, habit-forming, way.

Spiced Whole Grain Chocolate Cake with Salted Chocolate Frosting
Cake recipe generously adapted from Good to the Grain, frosting adapted from 101Cookbooks

Those of you on the receiving end of the April Pairings Box will enjoy this month’s Premium ingredient, cardamom (also known as the 3rd most expensive spice in the world!). Use it to also make this cake! Order your Pairings Box today.

1/2 cup of amaranth flour
1/2 cup of whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup of cocoa powder
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon of cane sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/2 stick of unsalted butted, diced into cubes
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup of milk
2 tablespoons of apple butter
1 green cardamom pod

For the salted chocolate frosting:

3/4 cup of powdered sugar
1/4 cup of cocoa powder
1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream
French Gray Sea Salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and generously grease (with oil or butter) a bundt pan. Flour it generously, making sure it’s well-greased and floured in all of the crevices.
2. Sift together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk in the brown sugar and 1/4 cup of cane sugar.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks (set the whites aside in a small bowl) with the milk and apple butter.
4. Stir the egg mixture into the dry ingredients until well-incorporated. Add the butter and beat on medium speed until fluffy and completely smooth. Break open the cardamom pod with a blunt object. Remove the black seeds and grind them as finely as you can with a mortar and pestle, or a spice grinder. Add the ground cardamom to the batter and beat briefly to incorporate. Transfer the batter into a separate bowl and clean the bowl of your stand mixer. Wipe it completely dry. Switch the beater attachment for a whisk.
5. Add the egg whites to the bowl of the stand mixer and whisk until they are light and fluffy. Add a tablespoon of sugar and whip until the egg whites are glossy and hold peaks (though not stiff). Scrape in half of the egg whites into the batter, folding in gently. Add the rest of the egg whites until fully incorporated.
6. Transfer the batter into the pan, smoothing the top.
7. Bake for about 30- 35 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking time, until the edges of the cake start to pull away from the pan and the top springs back lightly when you gently press down on it.
8. While the cake bakes, make the frosting. Combine 3/4 cup of powdered sugar, 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream in a bowl. Whisk until creamy and thick (thin it out by adding milk, no more than 1 tablespoon at a time).
9. Once the cake has been inverted, frost it and sprinkle it with French Gray sea salt, to taste.

Musical Pairings: Tanlines – Mixed Emotions + Spiced Whole Grain Chocolate Cake with Salted Chocolate Frosting

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Posted by Kasey

Kasey is the food editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. She loves dark chocolate, warm crusty bread, and traveling to new places. She speaks Russian, but does not like vodka.

  • Love this cake! Bring on the chocolate!

  • naturallyella

    I made Heidi’s version of the cake too with coffee stout. I love these bundt cakes (and I’m thinking I’m going to have to branch out an make more.)

  • schwemi

    Beautiful. I’m ready to make a new habit of whole grain baking!

  • Yes, Maria. Bring on the chocolate!

  • I feel like the world stopped when she posted that cake!

  • Thank you! It’s a good habit to get into…Plus, I really feel the different grains each add a unique element and make baked goods so much more complex.

  • I feel like I am forever questioning my habits and making sure I’m not doing something silly or inefficient out of habit. It is just plain amazing how adaptable people are to habits and their environment. Love your beautiful cake! I think we were all a little mesmerized by Heidi’s cake 🙂

  • Isn’t it funny how sometimes we make something a habit and it doesn’t even really make any sense? I remember how I used to have a certain route I’d take to work every day, until one day, I realized it was totally inefficient! Heidi knows how to hit a homerun, doesn’t she? I still want to try her stout cake, but I’m a little obsessed with this spiced version lately.

  • Salted chocolate… I think my body just tingled in places at the thought of it! I am a creature of habit as well… and I try to remain healthy in my diet. But it can be so hard. I think I need to start incorporating whole grains into my cooking more.

  • RachelG

    Wow. I love baking with whole grains, love chocolate and love cardamom… but I never, ever thought of putting them together. This cake has jumped to the head of my list of “must bake”! Also, the music was great too. That is the second time I’ve run into the Tanlines in the past few weeks. It’s now on my “must have” music list. Perfect Pairings! Thanks!

  • Looks absolutely delicious. I love the combination of chocolate and cardamom. Its so refreshing!

  • This is stunning. Bookmarking to bake this weekend! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Myfudo

    This is something i wouldn’t miss to try…Looks really delish!

  • I completely worship Kim Boyce and her book. My cupboards are always full of unusual flours/grains to be ground into flour and I love it. The little subtleties of each grain bring so much to desserts. I’m at the point where I always have to cut in some kind of whole grain flour when I’m baking, which is a habit I’m okay with. But I totally agree that the most creative minds are always trying to break away from habit/sameness/comfort.

    And this cake! So much goodness. Chocolate and gray salt are one of my favorite pairings too.

  • You crack me up, friend. Healthy habits can be hard to start, but once you get going…

  • You crack me up, friend. Healthy habits can be hard to start, but once you get going…

  • Chocolate and cardamom are a great, great combination. I’m thinking of incorporating this pairing into some granola! Glad you liked Tanlines, too!

  • Thanks, Spencer! I agree 🙂

  • Thanks, Sneh! Enjoy!

  • Thanks!

  • I am beyond impressed with the ability of one cookbook – a baking book, no less – to change so many people’s habits! It makes whipping up a batch of muffins so much more fun! Also, I’m totally with you on the chocolate + gray salt. When done right, it’s a killer combination.

  • sara

    beautiful! I made heidi’s stout cake, LOVED it. Halved it to make a single layer and it worked great. Such a good point about habits, they become second nature until we stop to notice we’re doing them. Sometimes they are good ones, but as you said, sometimes they’re bad (you think a sweet after dinner is bad? I find a sweet after breakfast too!). Anyway, super nice cake, lady 😉

  • Amanda

    Ummmm, call me stupid, but at what step do you use the cardamom pod? And, I’m assuming it should be ground up first??? Thanks!

  • Not stupid at all, Amanda! I just updated the recipe to include where you add the cardamom (right before you fold the whipped egg whites). Whole cardamom pods need to split open. The seeds are removed and then ground. Using whole pods ensures the richest flavor! Thanks again for pointing this out!

  • I definitely want to make Heidi’s cake still. I love the combination of chocolate and stout. My grandmother used to eat sweets after breakfast. I think good and bad can be relative 😉 Thanks for the sweet comment, friend!

  • Great post, Kasey! I have so many bad habits I’d like to change for the better but it’s so hard to break them. Also this cake looks KILLER! I’m obsessive about using whole grain flours, to the point that not a single recipe on my blog calls for all-purpose. I got King Arthur’s whole grain baking book for Christmas and I swear it sprouts a halo every time I open it, I love it so much!

  • Amanda

    oh good, I thought for sure I was just missing something! Thanks for the clarification!

  • Mmmmmmm! Cardamon and chocolate is my favourite taste combination–this is a must-try… thanks so much for sharing!


    I’ve heard you can create a habit after doing sth repetitively for 21 days. I’m trying my best, but it’s not easy at all. I love your pictures, very delicious 🙂

  • Thanks darling! I think we’re on the same wavelength when it comes to baking with whole grains 😉 I’ll have to check out King Arthur’s whole grain baking book!

  • Glad you like the combo! Thanks for saying hi!

  • Really?? I feel like I need to put this to the test and see if I can form or break some habits that way 🙂

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