I am slowly growing fond of potatoes. For much of my life, I’ve held a strong dislike for the starchy vegetable, except when fried. What kid didn’t like mashed potatoes, you wonder? This one.
My long-established tater indifference is rooted in the fact that potatoes, improperly prepared, are bland. Insufferably bland. As in, only ungodly amounts of salt and butter will make the damn things edible, and at the point that you add that much salt/butter, you might as well just be eating french fries or a cake or, you know, bread with an ass-ton of butter on it. Beyond their flat flavor, mashed potatoes’ texture always grossed me out: I felt like I was eating wallpaper paste. Oven fries were often better seasoned than their smashed cousins, but they never achieved the perfect crispness of true fries. And boiled potatoes? I can’t think of a less inspired preparation of any food.*
Things turned around for me in high school when my parents first took me to Cecil’s, a Jewish deli in St. Paul. There, in addition to stacked sandwiches and chocolate pie rich enough to stand a fork in, I ate my first latke. Spread with applesauce, dotted with sour cream, the latke was a golden slice of heaven.** Thus began an experience I’d never had: potato cravings. I’d daydream about latkes, about piercing their crisp crusts with the side of my fork to reveal their pale, tender interiors. About ramekins of homemade applesauce, pink-hued and dusted in cinnamon. Imagine my joy at finally joining the tater-loving masses, and my subsequent sorrow when I failed to cajole my mother into making me latkes every weekend.
You probably thought this post was going to focus entirely on potato pancakes, didn’t you? It was, initially. Yesterday, some friends of ours were going to come over for potato pancakes and applesauce, but a sick cat prevented their leaving the house. I hadn’t yet created the latke batter — the recipe I was following advised that the potatoes not be shredded until just before the pancakes are to be cooked — but I had prepared the evening’s dessert: Chocolate Potato Cake. I know: I also thought it sounded strange until I read through the recipe.
Effectively a standard chocolate cake with a cup of mashed potatoes mixed in (for added moistness), the Chocolate Potato Cake is rich and light and splendid with a rugged schmear of buttercream frosting. It is not in any way dietetic, but that’s OK — neither are latkes. This dessert is a perfect way to use up leftover mashed potatoes and is delightful with a glass of pinot noir.
Lynn’s Chocolate Potato Cake (from The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash)
- 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups cake flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup butter
- 1 3/4 cup sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup mashed potatoes
- 1 cup buttermilk
Melt chocolate with vanilla; cool slightly. Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon. Cream the butter and sugar and beat in the eggs one by one. Add the chocolate and mashed potatoes. Beat in the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Pour into a greased 13×9-inch pan and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for approximately 40 minutes (or bake in two round 9-inch pans for 30-35 minutes). Cool before frosting. (Makes a 13×9-inch cake or two 9-inch layers.)
The only change I’d make to the recipe is to peel the potatoes. I used unpeeled, and though the tater skins weren’t terribly evident in the cake, I found one or two shreds (which I construed as having the consistency of shredded coconut). That said, the recipe is otherwise solid as printed.
There you go, potato fans. Now, to accompany your latkes, your twice-bakeds, your garlic mashed and kettle chips, you can have a slice of this decadent chocolate cake, which really doesn’t taste like potatoes at all. That’s potato purism in my favorite form: highly disguised.
*I probably could, but I’m not going to at this very second.
**If a belief in heaven is your bag.