Coffee Cake with Chili-Chocolate Crumb

This is the sort of cake you’d expect to discover at a café. Serve it with coffee or brewed chocolate (page 29).

Makes one 9 x 13-inch cake
Takes 60 minutes

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Chili-chocolate crumb
1/3 cup chopped nuts
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon chili flakes

Coffee cake
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plant milk
1/4 cup applesauce or blended apple
2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar

Follow the instructions for the base, then the crumb, then the cake.


Combine the flour, sugar, oil, cinnamon, and salt in a mixing bowl. The “crumb base” is 3/4 cup of this mixture. The “cake base” is what’s left after the crumb base is removed.

Chili-Chocolate Crumb

Combine the crumb base, nuts, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and chili flakes.

Coffee Cake

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Stir into the cake base the following ingredients: raisins, walnuts, chili powder, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix in the plant milk, applesauce, and lemon juice.

Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Gently press the chili-chocolate crumb onto the top of the batter. Bake for 35–40 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan, then gobble it all up.


Mesoamerica: From the Olmecs to the Triangle Trade

Cacao is called the food of the gods, and for much of its history it has also been the food of the elite. While it may have been a staple for the Olmec or pre-Olmec peoples who originally cultivated it in Central America and the Amazon basin, we have no solid evidence. By the time of the first written records—Classic Maya burial inscriptions from 1000 CE or earlier—chocolate was reserved for ceremonial occasions, or for the wealthy.

black and white illustration of a cacao tree

When Hernán Cortés took over Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, Aztec law and custom had put similar limits on chocolate consumption. The Aztecs were unable to grow cacao near their capital because of its latitude, so they relied on trade for some of their supply. The rest came as tribute from those conquered in battle—a sort of feudal arrangement.

The Spaniards at first relied on the same network of trade and tribute established by the Aztecs to provide their cacao. That wasn’t sustainable in the long run, with the Spanish appetite for chocolate growing and native Americans decimated by invasion and disease. Cacao supply eventually dropped and prices jumped. Former conquistadors were running out of American empires to conquer and saw a new opportunity. They established themselves as landowners and claimed the native people as their property along with the land. We did not find sources that centered on the native actions and perspective related to these horrors.

The new Spanish bureaucracy established a system known as encomiendas, estates owned by Spaniards who mined or grew crops and relied on indigenous people for labor. In theory, the Spanish encomenderos were responsible for the lives and health of their subjects. In practice, the only service provided by many encomenderos was conversion to Christianity. Encomenderos may have believed they were saving souls, but converting the slaves did little to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Priests like the Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas made Spanish royalty aware of the situation, and new royal decrees gave some protection to native Americans. Indigenous peoples were given back certain (limited) rights, and the encomiendas were slowly dismantled, returning the land to other forms of ownership.

The new laws said nothing about slavery in general, so plantations switched to a labor force imported from Africa. Most of the major European powers with equatorial colonies took part, sending ships in the continuous cycle known as the triangular trade. They exchanged manufactured goods for slaves in Africa, then crossed the Pacific to deliver slaves and pick up cacao, which they took back to Europe so the route could be repeated.

Portugal’s Jesuit missionaries were Spain’s major rival in the cacao trade. The Jesuits sent indigenous people to collect cacao that already grew wild in the Amazonian rain forests, in addition to enslaving or employing them on plantations. As in the Spanish colonies of Ecuador and Venezuela, though, smallpox and measles destroyed the native workforce. These diseases and other factors brought Brazilian cacao production to a near halt.

black and white illustration of quetzalcoatl's head

In some legends, the god Quetzalcoatl is credited with bringing cacao to Mesoamerica.

Stone Soup

pan pot saucepan

This is the sort of recipe where you can add or substitute any vegetables that need to be saved from a rotten future. Turn the freezer inside out looking for that forgotten bag of green beans and rescue that rubbery carrot from a future decomposing in the compost bin. Use that rock-hard bit of ginger that has been in the fridge for aeons. Substitute fresh ingredients for powdered and powdered ingredients for fresh. Serve the soup over stale bread or whatever grain has been abandoned to the furthest reaches of the cupboard.

Makes about 4 cups
Takes 40–60 minutes

3 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon diced chili pepper
1 large onion, chopped
1 head of garlic
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons powdered turmeric
1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup peanuts or cashews
1/3 cup raisins
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups soup stock or water
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Put the oil, cumin, and pepper in a large saucepan* over medium heat. After 1–2 minutes, add the onion. When the onion starts to look translucent, stir in the garlic, cocoa, turmeric, and ginger.

After the onions are cocoa-turmeric in color, add the mushrooms, peanuts, raisins, and finally the tomato paste. Add the stock and let the soup simmer for 20 minutes.

If you like a chunky soup, you’re done; stir in the cilantro. If you prefer a creamier soup, add the cilantro and then blend the soup with an immersion blender. Salt to taste, and serve over a hunk of stale bread.

*We totally just went back and forth over whether a “saucepan” was a pan or a pot. The internet** solved our debate. A saucepan is illustrated for your edification.

**At the time of this writing, “internet” is supposed to be capitalized. By the time this cookbook goes to print, it will officially be lower case!

Stone stew: Omit the soup stock and stale bread. Try it; we liked it!

Brief History of Vanilla & Vanilla Mole by Amy Bugbee

cacao with vanilla

A brief history of vanilla

by Amy Bugbee

Imagine, if you will, the rain forests of tropical Veracruz, thick and shady, enjoying ocean breezes and mountain water. The small cacao tree shaded underneath the great canopy of taller green above, its vividly colored pods hanging, and woven up its trunk grows a leafy vine, a beautiful orchid, producing fleeting flowers, and if the tiny Melipona bees reach them in time, long green fruits will hang heavy from it.

Vanilla had been cultivated as a staple for food, ceremony, and currency by ancient Mesoamericans long before the Aztecs conquered their lands, and an eternity before the Spaniards sailed up in the 1500s. Once Europeans got their hands on the vanilla bean they developed an unquenchable desire for the fragrant pods. It was coveted by kings, used as medicine to cure numerous ills and maladies.

Demand for the vanilla bean grew high, and this was a problem. The vanilla vine took years to produce a single flower, the flower bloomed for only a single day, and the

bean took months to grow. Once the bright green bean was long and fat, it was picked, sun dried and cured in a process that took many more months, and while the Aztecs enjoyed trade with the Spaniards and others, there was only so much to go around.

Money-hungry sea merchants snatched up the plants and attempted to grow them in tropical climates all over the South Seas, but returning even five years later they found nothing on the vines. Why? This was the question of the century, and the next century, and the next. It took literally hundreds of years for anyone to figure out the secret only the Melipona bee knew! It took until 1841, when Edmund Ablius, a 12 year old slave on the Reunion Islands, figured it out.

Edmund had cracked the code with a toothpick-size piece of bamboo. Even today, every single vanilla orchid is hand pollinated in exactly the same way! No machine can do this, only the agile hands of practiced farm workers. Drying and curing remains a lengthy process. Think of this the next time you see a vanilla bean, think of the luck of its being, and all of the ancient peoples, and the people of today who have painstakingly aided in its existence, and how difficult and long it’s journey to reach you has been!

Vanilla Mole

Mole comes in a variety of flavors, but it’s the mole with cocoa in it that’s famous. Mole is famously time-consuming to make, but you end up with a versatile, complex sauce that in this case, is vanillicious.

Makes enough mole to cover 1–2 pounds of tofu
Takes 3 hours, optionally let sit overnight

6 dried ancho, pasilla, or guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 vanilla beans
1/2 cup sesame seeds, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 cloves or 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
6 black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds or pine nuts
1 corn tortilla, quartered
5–6 tomatillos
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 small onion, quartered
3 cups vegetable broth
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1–2 pounds tofu, sliced or cubed and fried until lightly browned on the outside
Quinoa or rice, prepared per package instructions
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

In a medium bowl, cover the chile peppers and vanilla beans with hot water. Let them stand for 30 minutes.

In a large skillet, combine the 1/2 cup of sesame seeds with the anise, cumin, coriander, cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon. Toast over moderately low heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and let them cool completely. Grind the seeds and spices to a fine powder and set them aside.

In the same skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the vegetable shortening. Stir in the raisins, pumpkin seeds, and tortilla. Cook the mixture over moderately low heat until seeds or nuts are toasted and the raisins are plump, about 5 minutes. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a large bowl.

Add the tomatillos to the skillet and cook, turning, until they are black on all sides and soft, about 12 minutes. Transfer the blistered tomatillos to the bowl.

Add the garlic and onion to the skillet and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer the garlic and onions to the bowl and let cool along with the tomatillos, raisins, pumpkin seeds, and tortilla.

Once the contents of the bowl have cooled, transfer to a large cutting board. Peel the garlic cloves and coarsely chop along with everything else.

Melt 1 tablespoon of the vegetable shortening in the skillet. Stir in the ingredients that you have just chopped and add the spice powder. Cook over moderately high heat until warmed through, about 3 minutes.

Drain the chiles and vanilla beans, and add to the skillet along with the veggie stock. Partially cover the skillet and simmer for 1 hour. Remove from the heat.

Remove vanilla beans.

Add chocolate and maple syrup. Let sit for 5 minutes or until chocolate melts.

Transfer the contents of the skillet along with the chocolate to a blender and puree until smooth. This may require more than one batch depending on the size of your blender.

Season the mole sauce with salt and pepper.

At this point you can let this sauce sit overnight to truly meld the flavors, or cook the tofu and prepare to serve it.

Brown tofu, pour mole over tofu and simmer.

Serve over quinoa or rice. Garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds and the cilantro and serve.

Candied Nuts

This recipe is excellent for coating in chocolate.

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon water
2 cups nuts

Cover a large plate or cookie sheet with parchment paper, waxed paper, or greased foil. If you need a hard glaze, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Mix all ingredients except the nuts in a heavy pan on medium-high heat and stir occasionally for 3 to 4 minutes, until the sugar dissolves completely and turns golden. Add the nuts and reduce the heat to medium-low, and keep stirring the mixture for another two minutes, until it turns golden-brown.

If you want the harder glaze, put the pan in your preheated oven. Stir after five minutes and put back in for another five to ten minutes, keeping a close eye on them to catch the bright, shiny glaze. They burn easily if left too long.

Spread the candied nuts on the baking sheet to cool for ten minutes or so before breaking them into chunks. These chunks can now be used in chocolate recipes. Yields enough candied nuts for 2 batches of Fruit and Nut Chocolate Bars (page 163).

Spiced Peanut Butter

This is another recipe made in collaboration with Wendy Batterman. It works well with a variety of powdered spice mixes—consider substituting karha masala, curry, 5-spice, pumpkin pie mix, or ras el hanout for the garam masala. Depending on whether it matches the spices you choose, add a little shredded coconut!

If you’re opening a fresh jar of unmixed peanut butter, you can drain off the separated oil and use it to cook the spices.

1 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons peanut oil or olive oil
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons shredded coconut (optional)
Powdered sugar (optional)

Gently sauté the spices and coconut with the peanut oil over medium-high heat to release the flavor of the spices. Let the sautéed spices cool for an elegant blending. Mix the spice blend in with the peanut butter, cocoa powder, sugar and salt.

Salad Brownies

This unique summer-fall hybrid was a bright idea that’s so wrong it’s exactly right. It looks like a brownie, but it tastes like a brownie salad.

If this is for a potluck, make the brownies ahead of time; they taste better the next day.

Makes one 8 x 8-inch baking pan
Takes 60 minutes

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded zucchini
1/2 cup apple sauce
1/2 cup raisins (or dried cherries)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup aquafaba (chickpea juice)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, oats, cocoa powder, curry powder, baking soda, and salt. Squeeze the excess liquid from the zucchini into a nearby houseplant. Mix in the zucchini, apple sauce, raisins, pumpkin seeds, chocolate chips, aquafaba, and vanilla.

Pour the batter into a greased 8 x 8-inch baking pan. Cook in the oven for about 45 minutes; a fork will not come out mostly clean, so just keep them in the oven until you start to worry about them burning.

: Substitute flour for the oats and walnuts for the pumpkin seeds and you’ll get a brownie that is basically normal. These brownies are on the cakey side, but you won’t even notice the zucchini.


Pozole is a traditional Mesoamerican soup so old that it was said to be made in Aztec times with human flesh. These days, it’s usually made with pig (which is apparently quite similar). This plant-based pozole is enhanced by a few unconventional ingredients.

Hominy and chipotles en adobo can both be found in cans at the Mexican food section at the grocery store. You can reserve the hominy water to make a corny cup of hot cocoa.

Makes 5 cups
Takes 60 minutes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 chipotles en adobo, chopped
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 cups cooked black beans
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
4 cups of vegetable stock
1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk
1 (15 ounce) can hominy
Soy sauce
Condiments (optional)

Put the oil in a soup pot over low heat, and stir in the chopped onion. Wander off and come back in 15 minutes. Add the chipotles, tamarind, and cumin and stir constantly for another few minutes. Stir in the black beans and cocoa powder and cook for another few minutes so that these flavors can all blend together.

Add the stock and coconut milk, increase the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the hominy and cook another 10 minutes. Season it to taste with soy sauce.

Serve with tostadas, cabbage, onions, avocado, lime wedges, salad turnips, or radishes.


Stuffing is a crucial—and coveted—part of our Thanksgiving dinners. This particular stuffing has been a huge hit at Thanksgiving potlucks. Serve alongside the mashed potatoes on page .

Makes 3–4 cups
Takes 30 minutes

4 thick slices of bread
1/2 cup shredded kale
1/2 cup shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup diced dates
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Toast the bread. Mix the kale, cabbage, dates, nibs, oil, and vinegar in a large bowl.

Soak the bread in water for about three minutes, then wring it out like a wet towel and crumble it into the other ingredients. Toss everything together and salt to taste.

Let the stuffing sit for 20 minutes before serving.

Sautéed Broccoli Trees

When I was a child, I loved to pretend that broccolis were miniature trees. We wanted to highlight how to use cocoa butter for a subtle cocoa flavor when sautéing, and broccoli qua broccoli was a natural choice.

Makes about two cups, or 800 tiny nibbles
Takes 10 minutes

1 head broccoli, chopped
1/3 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon cocoa butter
1 teaspoon minced ginger

In a saucepan, combine the broccoli, stock, cocoa butter, and ginger. Sauté your trees by cooking them over medium-high heat while tossing everything for about 5 minutes. Salt to taste.

Serve over rice or eat it straight from the pan.