Chocolate Stout Cake
Recently (okay, not so recently), I was recruited to make a friend’s birthday cake. I didn’t confess at the time, but this was my first ever layer cake. If I had owned up ahead of time, I’m not sure I would have been trusted with the task, but once I had committed it was too late, and I was forced to learn.
This isn’t any old birthday cake. This is The Cake that Alice makes Every Year and it’s always amazing and delicious and it’s become a tradition and a birthday staple and I had to make it just perfect. Ha. Fortunately I had extra of almost everything…
It started off simple enough. Beer. Guinness, to be precise, but I think any stout would have done (I might use a microbrew if I’m trusted with this task again). But beer and chocolate, the basis of any solid relationship. Except that this is a cake, so of course it got more complicated.
Butter and beer.
Butter and beer and chocolate.
Butter and beer and chocolate and sour cream. Wait, that wasn’t in the lineup. I think there are eggs in there somewhere, too.
Butter and beer and chocolate and sour cream and eggs and flour and (finally!) suger! Up until this point, the batter looked amazing but it was so bitter that even I had a hard time licking up the occasional splatters. (Okay, not that hard a time. I still did it. But it was bitter.) After this stage, the flavor coalesced into real cake batter. Still not sweet, but really, really good.
Here’s where things got interesting. The recipe says use buttered parchment paper in the pans. I thought I would be clever and use silicone pans instead of metal, and that then I wouldn’t have to use parchment paper at all! Or butter the pans! Um… Don’t ever let yourself think you are more clever than a recipe, especially if you have never made that recipe before, especially especially if you have never made the thing that the recipe is supposed to make before, even from a different recipe. (I know, that was a terrible run-on sentence. I was trying to make a point. Don’t do it.)
Everything looks nice and shiny; perfect, right?
Watch what happens when I try to take the layers out. Are you watching? Did you see it? Mess! It’s not a layer – it’s half a layer and half a silicone pan full of cake. Not exactly what I had in mind….
This is what it looked like the next morning, when I made another half a batch of batter and actually used the parchment paper. Remember what I said before? Don’t ever think you’re smarter than the recipe.
Now for the really fun part. Icing. Gosh I love icing. Technically I think this would be called a ganache, but let’s not get fancy here. It’s sweet, and it covers the cake. It’s icing.
I wasn’t sure this part would work. The recipe says to warm up the milk, and then just dump the chunks of chocolate in. I wasn’t really up to the chopping task, so my chunks were pretty big. But I learned my lesson, and I followed the darned recipe this time.
Espresso powder, then chocolate.
Look how well it worked! Whisked smooth and delicious! (Sometimes things splash when you whisk, you know. And you have to clean up spills as you go…)
A little more time on the stove, and then I let it cool in the fridge until it was spreadable. Note for future: make sure you have room for the pan in the fridge.
Once the icing was thick enough, we got down to business. This was the totally new part, and my very first challenge was that I didn’t actually have a plate big enough or flat enough. I eventually faked it, so this plate works, but it’s not ideal. If you’re going to do this often, make sure you have an actual serving plate, not just dinner plates.
The first layer iced up easily enough. Since this one won’t be visible, I didn’t worry too much about getting it particularly even or pretty, I just worried about glopping icing. It was actually pretty much fun – I used a silicone spatula and glopped and spread until I was ready to move on.
Adding the second layer was actually a bit difficult. I couldn’t get directly above the cake, so I couldn’t tell where to put it to center the layer. It definitely ended up a bit off; there a slight overhang on one side, but I didn’t take pictures of that.
Icing the whole cake was not as hard as I thought it would be. I did make quite a few thin spots that I had to fill back in with extra icing, but otherwise it spread really easily. The texture of the icing was perfect for this; when I’ve tried to ice things before (cupcakes, generally) the icing wasn’t cold enough or thick enough, and it didn’t cooperate as well. The other nice thing about this icing was that once it was on, it stayed on. It didn’t try to drip off as it warmed back to room temperature, it hardened a bit and acted like real cake icing. What a concept!
It wasn’t the most attractive cake ever made, but it sure was good, and I wasn’t chastised for failing my assignment. I was even around when it was eaten, and quite a few people had seconds. (Small seconds. This is a really, really rich cake.) So I guess that’s what counts, right?
Chocolate Stout Cake
Bon Appétit, September 2002
- 2 cups stout (such as Guinness)
- 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/3 cups sour cream
- 2 cups whipping cream
- 1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Butter three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides.
- Line with parchment paper.
- Butter paper.
- Bring 2 cups stout and 2 cups butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat.
- Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth.
- Cool slightly.
- Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in large bowl to blend.
- Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend.
- Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine.
- Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed.
- Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.
- Divide batter equally among prepared pans.
- Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
- Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes.
- Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely.
- Bring cream to simmer in heavy medium saucepan.
- Remove from heat.
- Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth.
- Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours.
- Place 1 cake layer on plate.
- Spread 2/3 cup icing over.
- Top with second cake layer.
- Spread 2/3 cup icing over.
- Top with third cake layer.
- Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake.