Cast Iron

Aztec Two Step Coffee Cake

February 15, 2012
Author Notes

"Aztec Two Step" popped into my head when I heard what this contest was called. Then I had to set about learning what Aztec Two Step refers to (I didn't know), and then follow the path of chocolate from the Aztecs to Spain, and then the rest of Europe, with an especially helpful stop in Italy.
I found an amazing video at, which shows two women from Oaxaca (now living in LA) making "Mexican Chocolate" from raw cacao beans into the dried disc used to make the chocolate drink whirred with a molinillo. Then Blue Corn and Chocolate, by Elisabeth Rozin, told the story of chocolate from the Aztec court of Montezuma to the modern chocolate bar.
Two Step? I wanted something like a terrine with two different layers, two different colors.. Somehow ricotta seemed like a fit, and a spicy cocoa rub for pork roast was reinvented to come closer to the pantry of pre-invasion Mexico and the recipe in my head..
Helpful resources: Budino di Ricotta from Ada Boni's Italian Regional Cooking; Cocoa Rub from the blog
We loved the outcome, decided it was a coffee cake, and tried it warm, cool, and next day. Each is different, each is good. It is very moist at first, but the next day the moisture is redistributed and the texture much more firm. It has an endearing look, but it's not pretty. A sieving of confectioner's sugar, a spoon of barely sweetened vanilla whipped cream, sliced strawberries -- you can dress it up for looks and a bit of contrast, but the cake stands on its own.
My sources say that sugar was not used with cacao, and cinnamon was brought to Mexico by the Spaniards. Necessarily, liberties have been taken.
susan g

Test Kitchen Notes

My tasters and I thought that this unusual gluten-free dish resembled a terrine more than an actual cake (it contains no leaveners or fat other than what is in the ricotta cheese). But whatever you call it, this dish is certainly delicious. The eggs and ricotta cheese give this "cake" a lovely, creamy texture with just enough structure to hold it together. We all loved the cinnamon-infused chunks of Ibarra chocolate and the peppery, floral spice rub, which gives the finished dish a subtle but flavorful kick. We enjoyed this dish right after baking, but it is even better the next day when the texture has firmed up a bit. Make sure that you butter your pan really well, so that the cake unmolds without breaking and drain the ricotta cheese before adding it to the beaten egg, so that the batter is not overly moist. —cookinginvictoria

  • Serves 6 or more
  • "Aztec" Cocoa, Chile and Spice Blend
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1inch piece Ancho chile (dried, remove seeds)
  • Aztec Two Step Coffee Cake
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • zest of 1/2 medium organic orange
  • 1/4 cup Demerara sugar
  • 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3.1 oz. disk of Ibarra Mexican Chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon Demerara sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Aztec spice blend (plus more for dusting)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups part skim ricotta (1 pound)
In This Recipe
  1. "Aztec" Cocoa, Chile and Spice Blend
  2. In a small cast iron pan on low heat, toast the peppercorns, coriander, allspice and chile. When they have darkened a bit and become fragrant, remove from heat and let them cool. Grind in an electric spice grinder/coffee grinder until powdered. A little bit of texture won't hurt.
  3. Measure the cinnamon, salt and cocoa into a small bowl, add the freshly ground spices and stir. Inhale deeply and enjoy it! (This makes much more than you will use.)
  1. Aztec Two Step Coffee Cake
  2. In a small bowl, put raisins, espresso powder, orange zest, and 1/4 cup sugar, and pour the boiling water over it. Let it soak. Sprinkle the cornstarch over it and stir until smooth. Add vanilla.
  3. Turn the oven on to preheat to 375 degrees. Prepare a 1 quart loaf pan by "buttering" the bottom and sides very thoroughly with coconut oil (or butter). Take some of the spice blend you made and dust the pan so the buttered surfaces are covered with it.
  4. Break up the Ibarra disk along the markings. It is very dense! I found that deepening the groove with a serrated knife, then snapping it apart helped. Then it's not too hard to chop the pieces up (using a wooden bowl and chopper) to the size of chocolate chips. Use it all, chips and powder. Stir in the tablespoon of sugar and spice blend.
  5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a wire whisk until they are light and foamy, about 8 minutes. Gently whisk in the ricotta, 1/3 at a time, and try not to deflate the eggs. Carefully pour in the raisins, etc., with all the liquid.
  6. Pour 2/3 of the batter into the prepared loaf pan, using a large spoon to try to keep the raisins evenly distributed. With a dry spoon, sprinkle the chocolate mixture evenly over the batter. Add the remaining batter. Dust the top with a few pinches of the spice mix. Put it in the oven, on a middle shelf.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake 15 minutes more. At this point the top will be browned and the edges will seem stable, but the middle will still look soft. You can leave it in the turned off oven where it will continue to cook and stabilize, about 15 minutes. It will have puffed up, but will deflate.
  8. When it has cooled, run a knife around the sides of the cake and pry a little to loosen the bottom. Remove it to an oval or rectangular platter. Garnish if you like, and serve in slices. It is delicate but its "body" is better the next day.
  9. NOTES: Instead of a loaf pan, use any 1 quart baking dish, but adjust the baking time -- the center will be softer. You can use whole milk ricotta, but we were happier with the outcome using part skim, and you can drain the ricotta for a firmer texture. Brown sugar can be used in place of Demerara. 1/4 cup of brewed espresso can be used in place of the instant powder and water. There is no substitute for the Mexican chocolate -- it has a unique texture that shines in this cake!

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