Pay dirt

Julie from Brunswick, are you out there?

I hope so, because this post is for you. A while ago, when I told you about the grain CSA we joined this year and the New York-grown spelt that came as part of our share, you wanted to hear more. I promised you that I would look into it, and I know it took a while, but this week, I did. I looked right into the face of a spelt flour, olive oil, homegrown rosemary, and dark chocolate cake, and Julie—we hit pay dirt.

This particular cake comes from a book I've mentioned a few times around here, Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain. It isn't a book that I fell instantly in love with, but the more I've used it, the more I've liked it. And after this cake, I like it even more.

The cake comes from a whole chapter dedicated to spelt flour, because according to Boyce, spelt can be substituted for plain-old whole-wheat flour in just about anything. It does especially well in cakes and muffins, she says, because it has a sort of inherent sweet, cinnamony-ness that bakes into a fine, sturdy crumb and is good at complimenting spice. The spice for this cake—rosemary—might seem odd, but somehow, with the chocolate and the olive oil, it's just right.

The key is to use fresh rosemary and top quality dark chocolate. The first time I made this I used Baker's chocolate, semi-sweet, because it was the only thing we had on hand, and I regretted it with every bite. Semi-sweet turned out to be too sweet—it was 54% cacao—and Baker's turned to out to taste, in big chunks, just the slightest bit like chalk. The second time around I went with two bars of dark chocolate chunks from the Chocolate Sparrow and was much, much happier with that choice. We also put down a dying rosemary plant with the first go-round, and the second time, with sprigs from a fresh pot I planted for the deck, that flavor was much better, too. Last but not least I'd say don't use too strong of an olive oil—something subtle and slightly fruity, maybe, but definitely not the fresh, green kind with bite.

Beyond that, it's fairly hard to go wrong. Boyce said to bake the cake in a tart pan, but since I like nice, moist centers, I made it into a Bundt round instead. I also added a bit more milk than the recipe calls for—spelt cakes tend to be dry, and again, I like mine moist—and I was happy with that tweak, too.

So Julie, here you are: a whole-grain spelt cake and—maybe if we all cross our fingers at once—an afternoon to cozy up with a slice of it in the sun.


The thing that I love about this recipe—which, as explained in the post above, is adapted from Kim Boyce's Olive Oil Cake in Good to the Grain—is how easy it is. It's the type of thing you can whip up in minutes, without any beating or special steps or fuss. I made it the other night in the midst of dinner preparations, and it took only 10 minutes, from thought to oven.

3/4 cup spelt flour
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup olive oil*
1 scant cup whole milk
1 and 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (about 70% cacao), cut into irregular but roughly 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a Bundt cake pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs to break them up, then stir in the oil, milk, and rosemary, and mix well. Mix these wet ingredients gently into the flour mixture, stirring until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate pieces, and pour the batter into the prepared Bundt cake pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top turns golden brown and begins to crack and the center is still moist but cooked through.

*Note: To make this cake even more local, I thought about using butter instead of olive oil, but decided against it in the end. Substituting butter in recipes that call for oil tends to make things a bit drier—some people say this is because the butter solidifies at room temperature, whereas the oil remains liquid—and since spelt already has a tendency to dry things out, this didn't seem like a good idea. That said, however, I think it might be a risk worth taking. If you decide to experiment, just be sure to melt the butter so that you can mix it in rather than cream it.


Anonymous said...

Hi Elspeth,
Thank you so much for including this spelt recipe. I can't wait to try it...and perfect timing too, since the rhubard gingerbread is almost gone! I've adapted a lot of your recipes to use spelt and they've come out great. Just an FYI, but one trick I've learned is to substitute some of the whole spelt with white spelt...not quite as nutritious but helps the consistency for lighter weight baked goods. Happy baking! Julie

Elspeth said...


I'm so glad you saw it, Julie. It's hard to know who's out there peering in from behind these screens!

Glad to hear you've been trying spelt all along, too, and interesting note about the white spelt flour. I haven't tried my hand at making white flour with any of our CSA grains yet, but I've been thinking about it.

I can't imagine it would be that hard—I've noticed that after a coarse grind through the Kitchen Aid, the nascent "flour" is a mixture of what looks like white flour and hulls that haven't been ground down yet. I've been thinking that if I sift the grains at that point, I could get some white flour and then use the leftover germ/bran to make granola, as many recipes call for an addition of wheat germ or bran to the oats. Not sure if that makes sense, but if it does I'm sure the same principle would apply to spelt!

Hope you enjoy the cake, and glad to hear your voice.

All the best,

Kelly said...


tracy said...

As the recipient of some of this cake I have to tell you it took my husband from being a 1 slice of cake guy to a 3 slice of cake guy in seconds flat and he is still talking about it. I did wish for a little butter though so I took a thin slice of it one morning and grilled it in a cast Iron pan. Oh My!!!! The slightly melted chocolate combined with the crisp buttery edges and bloom of spice in your mouth makes it lip smackin' good as my grandmother used to say. That day I became a 3 slice girl.

Elspeth said...

Kelly, Yum is right!

And Tracy, I am so glad you are a three slice girl. I have a hard time believing that Swede actually ate that much cake, but maybe it was the chocolate that swayed him! I like the idea of toasting it with butter—maybe I'll do that with the last slice this afternoon.


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