Warm Spiced Chocolate Cake Recipe


Earlier this year I was sent some of the new chocolates from Valrhona to play around with. While I made quick work of the rest of them, one stood out in particular: Xocopili, smooth balls of chocolate flavored with a myriad of spices, including a heavy dose of cumin.

Frédéric Bau, a professor and head chocolatier at the fantastic Ecole de Grand Chocolat Valrhona, developed this blend. Except for the life of me, I had no idea what to do with it.


One bite, and any taste of fine bittersweet chocolate was followed by the musky and odorous taste of cumin mixed with other spices. I’d occasionally reach in the plastic bin, pluck out a round of chocolate, and eat it. Only to regret that decision a few seconds later, and I’d snap the lid back on and stow it away.

My friends at Valrhona told me it was developed for professional pastry chefs, but I was wondering what kind of pastry chef wouldn’t make their own spice blend for their chocolate confections, so they could control the amount precisely? And in the case of one pastry chef I know, intimately, he’d certainly omit the cumin.

unbaked cakes

So I started making frequent batches of mole, drawing a blank as to what to do with the rest of it, especially in terms of dessert. When I noticed the expiration date a-callin’, I pulled out my recipe for Warm Individual Chocolate Cakes, and adapted it using this chocolate.

Parisians seem to like cumin with chocolate, surprisingly. Although many of them don’t share our love of hot or spicy food, for some reason they find the combination of chocolate and cumin more intriguing than I do. I haven’t figured out why, but if Valrhona ever wants someone to develop another spiced-chocolate blend, I’m available.

However all friends, both American and French who tasted these cakes, liked them lot. I mean, what’s not to like about a warm, just-from-the-oven, oozing chocolate cake with a scoop of cool Pineapple Sorbet melting over it? Still, next time I make them, I’ll stick with regular Valrhona chocolate, or another one—sans cumin.

In the meantime, I’ve got a half a bin of Xocopili left.
In case anyone else has any ideas they care to share…

chocolate cake
Warm Individual Spiced Chocolate Cakes
Print Recipe
Makes six cakes
Adapted from The Great Book of Chocolate (Ten Speed) Robert Sternberg, who founded ScharffenBerger chocolate, told me the recipe which I based this version on, was the best individual chocolate cake he’d ever had. Which was pretty high praise! The great thing about these hyper-chocolate cakes is they can be made in advance, left at room temperature for an hour or two, then cooked at the last minute. You can also refrigerate them and let them come to room temperature before baking them off. I like to serve them with cool sorbet alongside, as a contrast to the rich, deep chocolate flavor. Chocolate sauce is optional, but always welcome.
10 ounces (285g) Xocopili, or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons (60g) salted butter
4 tablespoons (50g) sugar divided
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon brandy or rum
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
big pinch of ground cloves
a few turns freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
2. Butter six heatproof coffee or custard cups. Dust the insides with sugar and tap out any excess.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, melt the chocolate and butter over a pan of simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in half of the sugar, then the yolks. Then mix in the vanilla, brandy, and spices.
4. In a clean, dry bowl, whip the egg whites until fairly stiff. Beat in the sugar, and whisk until the whites form soft, droopy peaks.
5. Fold one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder, just until incorporated. Don’t overfold.
6. Divide the batter into the prepared cups.
7. Bake the cakes for 10 to 12 minutes, just until the tops feel firm. Once done, remove the cakes from oven and cool for a minute before serving.

Serving: If you wish, unmold the cakes onto plates for serving, or serve as is. Top with a scoop of ice cream, sorbet, or a dollop of whipped cream.

Related Links and Recipes

Xocophili chocolate balls are available at Chocosphere

You can find Xocopili in Paris at G. Detou

Valrhona chocolate’s website

Pascale’s coup de foudre for Xocopili.

The Best Chocolate Sauce, Ever (Recipe)

Very Chocolate Cookies (Recipe)

More interesting chocolates

Chocolate Idiot Cake (Recipe)

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  • August 12, 2008 5:05am

    I know what you mean about the Xocopili – definitely not the spice blend I would have chosen, either. I went to a Valrhona workshop in the US where the chef had used it in some kind of crab dish that consisted mainly of alfalfa sprouts. The chocolate flavor was basically nonexistent.

    Personally (and professionally, I guess), I prefer my chocolate unadulterated. The only spice I tolerate is chili – cinnamon in particular turns me off. Unless salt counts as a spice… chocolate is almost always enhanced by a little sea salt!

  • August 12, 2008 5:29am

    Hmm… how much salt would I need to add if using unsalted butter?

    You can use an 1/8th of a teaspoon of sea salt, not table salt. -dl

  • Lu
    August 12, 2008 6:56am

    David, what actually is a good technique for chopping a big piece of chocolate like Scharffen Berger or Callebaut with a knife without it flying all over the place? I bought a chocolate chopper from King Arthur and it put holes in my cutting board. I didn’t care for it. Thanks, Lu

    The best way to chop a big piece of chocolate is to use a serrated bread knife, and keeping your fingers well out of the way (I use the heel of my hand to push the blade down), shave pieces in a downward motion from the corner. The corners are easier to shave than the long ends. Once one corner is done, rotate the bar and do the same on another corner. -dl

  • August 12, 2008 7:12am

    You’re killing me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Would you like to come over for tea this afternoon?

  • August 12, 2008 7:14am

    Adding cumin to chocolate really does take it in a Mexican direction, though I’d probably want to add a bit of heat (chile powder?) for balance, and maybe some sugar… I recently did a Mexican chocolate pots de creme, which might be delicious with this cumin-spiked chocolate, too.

  • August 12, 2008 7:50am

    My dad was from Mexico, and I remember many Mexican chocolate treats. I know cumin can easily overpower anything. Maybe Valrhona just needs to cut back to give it the barest hint of that earthy taste?

  • andrew
    August 12, 2008 7:59am

    now chocolate is more my style! Much better than plums.

    But cumin in chocolate? hmmm.. dunno about that. I know there is a trend to put chilli in chocolate as well, but really, why waste good chocolate?!!

    So in this instance, why on earth waste good valrhona?

  • August 12, 2008 8:07am

    hmm… i’m not parisian but i’m not shoked by the association cumin/chocolate. I’ve not tried it yet, maybe that’s why :D

    why not trying a recipe of spiced chocolate dry biscuits, but something that should be eaten as crackers : with salted meals or sprays.
    i don’t know with what, and how, but for sure this would be unusual !

  • August 12, 2008 9:57am

    The cumin would overpower the chocolate. I often reduce it in savory dishes, even though I love it, in order not to offend the other spices… :-) I like the flavors in your individual cakes and they sound so sinfully rich. I also love the expresso cup presentation, simple yet elegant.

  • August 12, 2008 10:39am

    Hmmm…Seems like this chocolate could be good with coconut, banana, or maybe even coffee. Incidentally, the smell of cumin never fails to remind me of the Old El Paso taco seasoning my mom used when I was a kid.

  • david
    August 12, 2008 11:15am

    How about putting the chocolate in a big vat of chili? I think there are many recipes out there which call for cocoa powder. Or could you bake these chocolates into a savory bread, such as a Mexican themed jalepeno/cheddar type of bread. Personally, it sounds gross to me, but if anyone can do it and make it look gorgeous, you can!! These pictures are great, by the way.

  • Sandy
    August 12, 2008 11:30am

    Wow!! That is delicious looking and I plan to make it this week. Thanks for the diet buster!!! BTW, I LOVE my new Canon 40D!!! Thanks for all the great advice here about your camera and lenses. I got the 60mm macro as you suggested! Cha, Cha, Cha! Great pics!!!! Thanks again for your great blog!

  • Susan
    August 12, 2008 12:10pm

    That’s why they sent it to you. They couldn’t figure out what to do with it either. Maybe you could add it to a rub for ribs?

  • August 12, 2008 12:49pm

    How about making an unsweetened mousse, or even a whipped ganache, with the chocolate and then setting a scoop of it to melt over a grilled steak? Served with polenta that might make quite an interesting dish. Not that I’ve tasted the chocolate, I’m just imagining it.

  • August 12, 2008 12:57pm

    The earlier comment about using the cumin-chocolate as a rub for ribs is a great idea. Cumin and pork go so well together – think Mexican chorizo!

    In central Mexico, especially at Christmas time, the candy vendors sell these weird little candies that are a bumpy sugar jawbreaker exterior with a cumin seed in the center. Give an American kid one of those candies and watch his face when he gets to that cumin seed! It’s a hoot.

    When I make any chicken soup, I dropped in 3 whole cumin seeds into the stock and it adds a wonderful, slightly elusive flavor to the soup. I learned that from my Mexican mother-in-law. I don’t think the chocolate-cumin balls would work, though.

  • Helen in CA
    August 12, 2008 12:59pm

    In the recipe, I gather you add the spices (and liquors) when you add the yolks?

    Helen: Good gosh, I think I am losing my mind! Must be the cumin : )
    Spices, etc..are added after the yolks. Thanks~ dl

  • Brenda
    August 12, 2008 1:27pm

    I think cumin smells (and often tastes) like very masculine sweat. So maybe some kind of product that combines the two, like a sauce that can be applied and…removed? Well, it *is* Paris. Surely someone would be game.

    Or maybe a kind of stew with pork and the cumin chocolate and lots of chile? Like a stew-y mole?

    Or some fruit and chopped cumin chocolate salsa?

    Or maybe chocolate covered chile-flavored potato chips? (We have the new chipotle Kettle chips here which are positively addictive and would be fabulous covered in the cumin choco.)

    Or, perhaps an admission of defeat and a ceremonial flushing?

  • Audrey in Oregon
    August 12, 2008 1:30pm

    Hi David,

    I agree, cumin with chocolate is strange. I did want to tell you I bought the Perfect Scoop and am really enjoying it. I have the roasted banana and malted milk ice creams in my freezer now. I thank you but my hips and arteries don’t!

  • Lu
    August 12, 2008 1:37pm

    DL, thanks for the great tip; I don’t believe that’s a tip I’ve ever come across. (I’ve been wanting to say that I really like the new website design – and your new way of responding to your posters, immediately following the comments.)

  • August 12, 2008 2:05pm

    Cumin and chocolate… I am intrigued by this…

  • August 12, 2008 2:25pm

    Thanks everyone for your ideas for using up the last of the cumin chocolate. (I have about 1#, 500g, leftover still to go…)

    The idea of a rib rub and chili are appealing, as well as a chocolate spice bread. If anyone has a kick-backside chili recipe, I’d love to read it. I have some Rancho Gordo beans that are itching to be used up, too.

    Although I’m not as desperate to get rid of those beauties!

    Sandy: Glad you like that lens. I love mine, but you have a better camera than me now. And I’m jealous!

    Susan: LOL!! Yes, that must’ve been what they were thinking.

  • August 12, 2008 2:38pm

    Since you’re the ice cream master, I think you should make your own version of the always classy Choco Taco.

  • M
    August 12, 2008 4:43pm

    I agree with one reader that chocolate is much better than plums. Sometimes, though, too much chocolate can be too much of a good thing. Anyway, these cakes go well with cherry compote.

  • August 12, 2008 6:05pm

    >>You can use an 1/8th of a teaspoon of sea salt, not table salt. -dl

  • Sandy
    August 12, 2008 8:02pm

    Well, I live in Kansas. I am so totally jealous!! I will trade my camera for your “Sweet life in Paris!!” ;-)

  • Suzanne
    August 12, 2008 9:30pm

    What kind of chili powder do you use? The ones here (California) are (1) inconsistent, (2) contain varying type of chiles, and (3) may contain other ingredients, like garlic. Do you mean cayenne for heat?

    Also, for a recipe suggestion, since people love spiced nuts, why not make a toffee with almonds or pecans and cover it with the spiced chocolate?

    The nuts sound like a good idea, too! I’ve been using Rancho Gordo chili powder, which I got last time I was in San Francisco. But I often use piment fort from my local Arab spice market, since there aren’t many choices here. -dl

  • Kirsten
    August 12, 2008 10:26pm

    Hey Sandy – I live in Kansas too! I would also much rather be in Paris right now . . . someday maybe.

  • annie
    August 12, 2008 11:18pm

    I know, how about buying a slingshot and whipping those unsavory little pellets at your smelly neighbor? Would the chocolate give you away?

  • Y
    August 13, 2008 2:24pm

    Unusual. I never had cumin in chocolate. Perhaps I should try it. However, I’m not into combining spices with chocolate. As always, it looks wonderfully delicious!

  • August 13, 2008 10:13pm

    At first I thought the chocolate balls in the picture were the cakes in the title – you had me stumped about how to make cakes that shape and texture!

  • Ellya
    August 14, 2008 7:22am

    an idea for Xocopili use : in a sauce for chicken?? Like in a curry recipe (without coconut, I’d say instead of coconut, the chocolate will give the sweet and creamy touch)… I think it exists in Mexico.

  • Ruth
    August 14, 2008 12:11pm

    How about a Xocopili chocolate and mixed dried fruit muffins? I was thinking dried apricots, raisins, dates, mango. Cumin for me always suggests middle eastern and there is a large selection of dried fruits that are also prevalent in that cusine. I think a muffin (or possibly fruit cake-esque) would go well to marry the spices together with the chocolate and dried fruit. It may mellow out the spices just enough. Just a thought that came to me over having this topic knocking around in the back of my head for awhile.

  • Ruth
    August 14, 2008 12:13pm

    How about a Xocopili chocolate and mixed dried fruit muffins? I was thinking dried apricots, raisins, dates, mango. Cumin for me always suggests middle eastern and there is a large selection of dried fruits that are also prevalent in that cusine. I think a muffin (or possibly fruit cake-esque) would go well to marry the spices together with the chocolate and dried fruit. It may mellow out the spices just enough. Just a thought that came to me over having this topic knocking around in the back of my head for awhile.

  • August 14, 2008 12:50pm

    Alejandra had a good idea. And as for the tastes of American v. French, I like spice with chocolate but I like spicy foods even more! :)

  • August 14, 2008 2:59pm

    I’m excited that you tried this out! I love a good chocolate spice cake, but admit I was surprised to hear that the French went for it as well. Funny how individual tastes can be… Eager to hear what you decide to do with the rest of the chocolate!

  • August 14, 2008 9:48pm

    I believe I’d go for the mole. Of course, it’s been done and done. The little individual cakes sound good though. I have a similar problem, in a way, to yours. What to do with a quantity of an unusual food. My cashew tree has all these fruits that the nuts hang from. Cashew apples. Last year I made wine, which turned out a bit too interesting for my taste. Maybe it will improve in another year? I made a pickle, but the vinegar and spices overpowered the cashew apple flavor. If you or anyone has any ideas I’d sure appreciate hearing.

  • Linda
    August 15, 2008 12:20pm

    How about white chili with chicken, white beans and sour cream – served hot with one of these little devils plopped in the center?

  • Claire
    August 18, 2008 7:10pm

    I would be tempted to be simple and try using it to make a really lovely and moist chocolate loaf cake, like this one http://www.recipezaar.com/137303 (which I love), perhaps served with an english custard? I think the moistness of the cake and the softness of the custard would perhaps downplay the spice’s intensity, without trying to mask it.

  • August 19, 2008 4:28pm

    I must be mad but I love Xocopili and I even eat it on its own.
    I remembered having tasted a coktail with vodka and chocolate while I was at Valrhona and it was great.
    Mercotte has some recipes using xocopili on her blog here : http://www.google.fr/custom?sitesearch=mercotte.fr&q=xocopili

    If you need any help with the translation, I’m here.

  • August 27, 2008 11:41am

    Mercotte sent me some xocopili and xocomeli a couple of months ago and beside grating it on faisselle or petit suisses, I was not sure how it would turn out in cakes, but I am convinced now!!

  • September 3, 2008 10:38am

    These cakes look amazing, with OR without the cumin ;-) I love how you’ve made them in cups!

  • September 29, 2008 11:07am

    i want to agree with someone above suggesting to make ice cream with that chocolate. i have to agree that the combo does a little weird, tho, i like my cumin in indian stuff or bread, but i’m not so sure about the chocolate. tho you never know, maybe ice cream would be nice with it.or maybe a version of pain au chocolate?

  • Megh
    November 22, 2009 6:47pm

    i put too much chilli but the cake was amazing. like chocolate fondant.
    thanks David.

  • January 27, 2010 2:37pm

    I made these the other night for a friend and her family using bittersweet chocolate. Oh. My. God. So amazingly simple and delicious to make. I served it with your cinnamon ice cream (from The Perfect Scoop) and everyone loved it!