Language is a funny thing.  It’s easy to take it for granted if your life does not often intersect with those who don’t speak your language or, at least, don’t speak it the same way you do.

My life is constantly crossing paths with those much different from me.  Let’s just say a pasty white, unusually tall, gringa isn’t the norm where I work.  Most of my coworkers are Guatamalan, but my workplace is a true melting pot of Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Korean, African, African American, a huge variety of Latin Americans, Mexicans, and a few of us pasty white girls.

With very few of us being native English speakers, we have many funny conversations and miscommunications.  Today, I listened to a debate between three coworkers from three different countries who speak three different languages about the proper way to say the word stupid in English.  Not a word you would typically second guess right?  Is is stuuuupid, stupeeed, stoopid!!??

Or, what is the difference between the words hot, heat, hat, and heart asks one coworker?  Well, to us there is a great deal of difference between all those words, but now that you mention it, that would be really confusing…

My Vietnamese coworker asked me, “how many kindles do you have?”  After a lot of confusion, that translated into, “how old are you this year (kindles = candles)?”

Is it alligator or elevator…or do I have no idea what you are talking about (it was elevator)?  Chocolate mousse or chocolate mouse?  Sweet dough or sweet dog?  We call those cookies orejas de elefante (elephant ears), why do you call them palmiers in English? Well, actually that’s a French word…

Speaking of language and funny words, let me introduce you to Boca Negra, an almost flourless chocolate cake who’s name literally means “black mouth” in Spanish.  That translates into:  “eat this cake and your mouth will be covered in chocolate.”

And, speaking of melting pots, this cake is a unique partnership of ingredients.  Loads of dark chocolate combines with orange and chipotle peppers to create an incredibly assertive cake that will also have your mouth pleasantly burning with each bite.  The heat is combated by an unusual sauce made with tomatillos, vanilla beans, and brown sugar.  It’s not everyday that you see such a variety of ingredients come together to make one spectacular dessert that will keep your tastebuds guessing.

I think it’s time to expand our horizons.  Whether you bake a cake with ingredients that wouldn’t typically mesh or work and live alongside people with whom you wouldn’t typically mesh, there is no better learning experience than getting out of our comfort zones and having a lot of laughs (and tasty eats) along the way.

Boca Negra Picosito con Salsa Dulce de Tomatillo

Spiced Chocolate Cake with Sweet Tomatillo Sauce

Adapted slightly from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson

Makes 1 9-inch cake

Note:  Sorry for doubling-up on the spicy chocolate, but it’s just so good.  I used one bar of Green and Black’s Maya Gold chocolate for part of my chocolate because it has spices and orange added to it, but you can just use normal semisweet if you don’t feel like buying two different types of chocolate. Piloncillo is a solid piece of sucrose obtained from boiling down evaporated cane juice, it can be found at grocery stores that cater to Latin American populations or you may use brown sugar.


3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

10 ounces high-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

6 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

4 eggs

1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

Tomatillo sauce:

1 pound small fresh tomatillos

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

8 oz piloncillo (or 3/4 cup brown sugar)

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

1 (3-inch piece canela or cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan and dust with sugar, tapping out the excess.

Rinse chipotle peppers, split them down the middle and remove all the seeds.  Place peppers in a blender or food processor and pulse until a fine paste forms.

Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl.  Combine the orange juice and sugar in a small pot over medium heat and cook, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Pour over the chocolate and stir until melted and combined.  Add the butter, little by little, and stir until melted.  Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, then add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the chipotle paste and the flour and salt, stirring until smooth.  Pour into the prepared cake pan.

Place the cake pan in a baking dish or on a baking pan with high sides.  Carefully pour hot water to fill half the way up the side of the cake pan.  Bake until a thin, crusty layer forms on top and the cake is set, 50-55 minutes.  Remove the baking dish from the oven and place cake pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, make the sauce.

Remove the husks from the tomatillos, rinse them under cold water, dry with a towel, and coarsely chop them.  Put them in a pot, scrape the vanilla bean into the pot and add the pod, and add the brown sugar, water, sugar, and cinnamon.  Cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until the tomatillos are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove and discard the vanilla and cinnamon.  Transfer to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree the sauce to desired consistency (completely smooth or slightly chunky is just fine).  Let cool.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

To unmold cake, dip a small, sharp knife into hot water, dry it quickly, and run it around the edges.  Dip the bottom of the cake pan into very hot water for about 1 minutes and quickly unmold it by inverting it onto a plate or serving platter.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

To slice the cake, dip a sharp knife into very hot water and quickly dry with a towel between each slice.  Serve at room temperature with tomatillo sauce on the side.