For many people who live in Alaska as I did, earthquakes are a fact of life. I still remember one of the scariest earthquakes I ever experienced while growing up in Alaska. I had just returned from the bathroom to my bed one night; suddenly, I heard a sound like a freight train. Then, the whole world was shaking! It passed quickly but took much longer for my pounding heart to slow back down.
As I continue my series of Alaskan recipes to inspire you with the flavors and dishes of The Last Frontier, I’m excited to share an unconventional choice that’s perfect for those who love baking. I’ve always enjoyed making cakes, and decided to try this one for Mr. V‘s birthday this year. It went so well that I had to share it too.
Minty like the essence of the Alaskan outdoors, dark chocolate like a cold Alaskan night, and dusted with sugar to evoke the “termination dust” that marks the arrival of winter – this Alaskan earthquake cake recipe is perfect for any special occasion… or just a day where you’re ready to book a trip to Alaska!
The Origins of “Earthquake” Cake
If you’ve never heard of earthquake cake, let’s start there!
The earliest reference to earthquake take was in a San Francisco International Airport restaurant review in 1988. (That’s not a surprise, as the Bay Area has lots of earthquakes too!) About the cake, it was purportedly said: “You don’t think they’re going to sell that cake, do you? It looks as if it’s been in an earthquake.” (source)
Earthquake cakes then spread from the West Coast to the Midwest – and from the chef’s kitchen into the home. In 1990, earthquake cakes made with boxed mixes began popping up in food writing, focused on Missouri. This came after an earthquake occurred there in September of that year – and scientists were predicting another, larger one (which never occurred).
Because the concept of earthquake cake has traveled widely through the country, from coast to inland and inspired by earthquakes, there are a number of different ingredients and recipes out there. Some include coconut, chopped pecans, and cream cheese; others include potato starch, heavy cream, and bittersweet chocolate (this one is similar to my recipe!).
Alaska’s Earthquake “Heritage”
(Photos courtesy of the USGS; L – bowed railways after the 1964 earthquake, R – an uplift from an earthquake in 2002.)
You might wonder why I decided to make an earthquake cake and say it’s “Alaskan.” Alaska is a very seismically active zone; it’s the most active in the U.S. and one of the most active in the world. Alaska is located on the Pacific Rim, and a number of plates and fault lines run through the state.
The most famous earthquake in Alaska occurred in 1964 on Good Friday (March 27th). It registered a magnitude 9.2 and the shaking lasted over four minutes. Whole cities in Alaska were completely destroyed, and the tsunami triggered by that earthquake affected Hawaii and Japan. It remains the second-largest earthquake ever measured.
(The largest earthquake ever recorded was the 1960 Valdivia earthquake, also called the Great Chilean earthquake, which registered a magnitude 9.4-9.6. After visiting Chile, I agree that it’s a super seismically active place and there’s a great Chilean drink called the terremoto you should try if you visit Santiago.)
While that’s the Alaskan earthquake you might know best, here are some stats about earthquakes in Alaska to show you why Alaska and earthquake (cake) just go together:
- 11% of the world’s recorded earthquakes happen in Alaska
- An average of 1,000 earthquakes occur in Alaska each month!
- There is one magnitude 7 to 8 earthquake every year – the most recent one you might have heard about was a magnitude 7.1 earthquake on November 30, 2018
Basically, earthquakes happen each and every day in Alaska; sometimes they’re big and cause damage – but most are so small you can’t feel them. Since Alaska doesn’t have a ton of desserts that are made “for” The Last Frontier, I thought Earthquake Cake would be a great candidate!
How to Make Alaskan Earthquake Cake
I always start by pulling together my ingredients. In this version, I tried to cut down on the sugar in the recipe, so I used erythritol granulated “sugar” and confectioner’s “sugar,” plus high cacao chocolate. It’s definitely not keto-friendly (which was my goal), but it’s at least a little closer to it!
Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, grease and dust your cake pan with the cocoa powder. Set it aside and make sure your oven is preheating.
Once you’ve got your pan ready, it’s time to dive into mixing ingredients. This is one of the more complex recipes I’ve made – and certainly the most complicated cake I’ve ever made (I should probably have started with one of those box-mix earthquake cakes!), so bear with me.
First up, you’ll want to melt your butter and add the chocolate. I used a mix of chocolates, all of the highest percentage cacao that I could find. This included the 72% forest mint and dark chocolate pictured earlier, and this gorgeous 72% Madagascar dark chocolate from Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate in Crescent City. Mix them until they’re fully smooth and blended.
Next, you’ll work with your egg yolks and sugar. Combine the sugar and eggs until mixed. Then add them to your chocolate butter sauce.
Next up, combine your egg whites and the remaining granulated sugar.
You might notice in the photos that my earthquake cake lacks a bit in the faults and cracks department. It’s clearly a very gentle earthquake!
In my recipe, I say you should combine your whites and sugar until you get stiff peaks – this is what will cause your cake to crack and collapse while it cools. I tried to do this by hand, but a combination of my poor whisking and the erythritol (non-)sugar I used, so I strongly suggest using a mixer if you have one.
Either way, once you’ve blended the sugar and whites, fold and mix them into your chocolate-yolk mix.
Pour your batter into your springform pan, and bake as directed below. The changing temperatures help set the cake – but also ensure it will collapse and crack as needed. Once the cake is fully cooled, pull it out of the oven and dust it with confectioners sugar.
Now you have a delicious, (outdoorsy) minty chocolate (Alaskan) earthquake cake with snowy peaks! You can cut and serve it as needed – and it keeps super well and doesn’t dry out since it’s so dense.
My Alaskan Earthquake Cake Recipe
Okay, here we go! Read on for my Alaskan earthquake cake recipe, which covers all of the above steps in exact detail. Even if you – like me – don’t have a mixer and can’t get stiff peaks, you can still make this dense, delicious dessert for a special occasion, or just because you’re dreaming of Alaska!
- 1 tbsp Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
- 8.5 oz Unsweetened Chocolate
- ½ C Unsalted Butter
- 6 Eggs, separated
- 1 C Granulated Sugar, divided
- 3 Tsp Sugar-Free Peppermint Syrup
- 1 tsp Confectioners Sugar
- Preheat your oven to 375°F.
- Grease the bottom and sides of your springform pan. Dust the pan with unsweetened cocoa powder.
- Break the chocolate into pieces and cube the butter.
- In a saucepan, combine the chocolate and butter over low heat. Stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture becomes smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside.
- Place the egg yolks in the bowl. Mix for 3 to 5 minutes, gradually adding ¾ cup of the granulated sugar. Continue beating for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the yolks are pale yellow and thick.
- Gradually add the chocolate mixture until just combined, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
- Add the peppermint syrup and mix until just combined. Set aside.
- Add the egg whites to another mixing bowl. Whisk until soft peaks form. Add the remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar and beat for 1 minute, or until stiff peaks form.
- Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture. Pour the batter into an 8" springform pan.
- Bake for 15 minutes at 375°F. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for 15 minutes.
- Turn off the oven, and prop the oven door open. Let the cake rest inside the oven with the door propped open for 25-30 minutes. The cake will collapse as it cools. (This is what you want!)
- Releasing the cake from the spring-form sides. Dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar.
And that’s it! Do you have any questions about making mint-chocolate Alaskan earthquake cake? Let me know in the comments!
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