• Yield: Serves 12

  • Time: 20 minutes prep, 35-40 minutes cooking, 1 hour total

In the early 1500s, Montezuma in his Mexico City palace drank chocolate daily, usually with red chile in it. Apparently the king knew that chile, in small amounts, amplifies and enriches the taste of chocolate. So does Jane Butel, the noted cookbook author and specialist in Mexican cookery, who generously provided the recipe from which this cake was adapted. At The Fort, it's a centerpiece of a birthday and anniversary ritual from which good-natured celebrants emerge with a photo of themselves in a horned buffalo or coyote hat.


Note: Splendid Table host Lynne Rossetto Kasper recommends that if you like very hot food, use the 2 Tbls. recommended in this recipe. If your palate is less accustomed to hot food, try using a dried ancho chile for a sweeter flavor. Seed and crush an ancho chile in a blender and use 2-3 tsps. of the ground chile in your chocolate chile cake.


Chocolate Chile Cake:

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)

  • 2 cups granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened, non-alkalized cocoa powder

  • 2 cups water

  • 2 tablespoons New Mexico medium ground red chile (Dixon is best)

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

  • 2 large eggs at room temperature

Chocolate frosting:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter

  • 3/4 cup unsweetened non-alkalized cocoa powder

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

  • 1 1/2 pounds confectioners sugar

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons bourbon

  • 3 tablespoons vanilla extract

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts


For the Cake

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the center of the oven. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with circles of parchment or waxed paper. Lightly dust the sides of the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.

2. For best results, use a mixer with a wire whip attachment. Combine the flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa and beat on low speed until well mixed.

3. In a medium saucepan, cook 1 cup of the water with the chili powder over medium heat until simmering. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

4. Add the softened butter to the dry mixture and beat thoroughly on medium-low speed. The mixture should be grainy. Raise the speed to medium and gradually add the remaining cup of water and the buttermilk. Add the eggs on at a time, beating well after each addition.

5. Slowly add the hot water/chile mixture and continue to beat just until well combined—be sure not to overbeat. Pour the mixture into the pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers of the cake comes out clean.

6. To cool, set the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Then turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the paper from the bottom, and immediately reinvert so that the risen tops don't flatten. Let sit until completely cool before frosting.

For the Frosting

1. Combine the butter and cocoa in a large saucepan and melt over medium heat. Stir in the buttermilk. Add the confectioner’s sugar a little at a time, stirring with a wired whisk between additions. Stir in the bourbon and vanilla. The frosting should stiffen as it cools. When it has reached a spreadable consistency, assemble the cake.

2. If necessary, trim the tops of the cakes so they are level. Place one of the cake layers onto a 9-inch round cardboard cake circle. Spread 1 cup of the chilled frosting over the cake layer. Sprinkle 1 cup of the chopped walnuts over the frosting. Place the second layer of the cake onto the frosted base. Use the remaining frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. Finish the top of the cake by holding the spatula at a slight angle and making several strokes to smooth the top. To decorate the cake, press the remaining walnuts against the lower half of the side of the cake and on top of the cake.

Served at Sam Arnold's Fort Restaurant in Colorado