This layered chocolate cake with ancho chilli paste and chilli-infused icing may be a modern creation, but the combination of chilli and chocolate is believed to have originated in Mexico with the Aztecs and has remained a popular pairing, in dishes such as the famed chilli and chocolate sauce, mole poblano.






Skill level

Average: 3.5 (84 votes)


  • vegetable oil, to grease
  • cocoa powder, to dust
  • 250 ml (1 cup) milk
  • 125 g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped
  • 220 g (1 cup firmly packed) brown sugar
  • 165 g (¾ cup) caster sugar
  • 250 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 eggs
  • 300 g (2 cups) plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Ancho chilli paste

  • 3 ancho chillies (see Note)
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) milk

Candied chilli flowers

  • 10 large red bird’s-eye chillies
  • 220 g (1 cup) caster sugar


  • 185 ml (¾ cup) milk
  • 6 red bird’s-eye chillies, chopped
  • 100 g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped
  • 590 g (2⅔ cups) caster sugar
  • 80 ml (⅓ cup) corn syrup
  • 185 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, chopped

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


You will need a sugar thermometer for this recipe.

Soaking time 20 minutes

To make ancho chilli paste, place chillies in a dry frying pan and cook over medium heat for 30 seconds each side or until fragrant. Transfer to a bowl and soak in boiling water for 20 minutes or until soft. Drain and pat dry using paper towel. Deseed, chop and place in a small food processor with the milk. Process to a paste. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 120°C. To make candied chillies, cut chillies into 5 segments, leaving each attached at the stem. Deseed. Combine sugar and 250 ml water in a small pan over medium heat and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Add chillies, cover and cook for 15 minutes or until soft. Strain chillies. You can reserve syrup for another use, if desired.

Place chillies, not touching, on a lined oven tray. While hot, using a skewer or tweezers, curl cut ends outwards so they resemble petals. Bake chillies for 15 minutes or until starting to harden (this may take longer depending on the chillies). Chillies will continue to firm on cooling. Set aside. Increase oven to 180°C.

Line the base of 2 x 23 cm cake pans with baking paper, grease the sides with oil and dust the sides with cocoa powder.

Place milk in a small pan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat, add chocolate and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat sugars with butter until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and chocolate mixture alternately, in 3 batches, beating well after each addition. Stir bicarbonate of soda and 80 ml boiling water into chilli paste, then fold through batter.  

Pour one-third of batter into one pan and bake for 25 minutes. Pour remaining two-thirds of batter into remaining pan and bake for 40 minutes. Cakes are ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

When cakes have cooled, using a serrated knife, cut larger cake horizontally into 2 pieces.

To make icing, place milk and chillies in a pan over low heat for 15 minutes. Strain into a clean pan, pressing to remove as much liquid as possible. Add remaining ingredients and cook over low heat until combined. Increase heat to medium and cook for 8 minutes or until a sugar thermometer reaches 118°C.

Remove from heat and whisk on medium speed for 4 minutes until slightly thickened; use immediately. Makes 3 cups.

Working quickly, place 1 cake layer on a serving plate. Spread icing over the top and towards edges. Top with another cake layer and spread top with  cup icing. Top with remaining cake layer and spread remaining 1 cups icing over top and sides of cake. Garnish with candied chillies. Rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before cutting as icing firms on cooling.


• Ancho chillies are from Herbie’s Spices (, Monterey Mexican Foods ( and Fireworks Foods (


Also written by Wendy Quisumbing and Peta Gray. Photography by John Laurie.