A couple of years ago I had the bright idea to do an issue of The Baking Sheet that baked with beer in as many ways as I could think of. My coup de grace was this Chocolate Stout Cake, the perfect indulgence for a St. Patrick’s Day party. It’s tall and majestic, a veritable Brian Boru of cakes.
While still in college I traveled through Ireland, and it happened that I arrived in Dublin on March 17. The Irish find our action spasm over their native saint a bit over the top; on the Emerald Isle it’s much more of an occasion to go to Mass, not party in the streets. (Anyone who’s been on Rush St. in Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day knows what I’m talking about. And that’s AFTER they turn the river green for the day. On purpose.)
But no Irishman I know would turn up his nose at this cake, sure as you’re born.
No matter how you decide to celebrate your inner or outer Irishness this month, our Chocolate Stout Cake is an amazing marriage of flavors for grownup tastes.
Once you’ve got a pint of good stout and your cake pans in hand, we can start. If you want to read the recipe first, click here.
Put the beer into a saucepan with the butter; heat over a low flame until the butter melts.
Pour in the cocoa, and whisk until the mixture is smooth.
Cool the mixture to room temperature. If you do this step first, the mixture should be cool enough to use by the time you need it. If not, stay tuned, I’ll show you how to hurry the process along.
Next, choose how big a cake you want. This recipe can be halved and baked in one pan, then split and frosted. If you want the full-sized cake, you’ll need three 8-inch pans, or two 9-inch pans that are at least 2" deep. Trust me, 5 seconds and a quick check with a ruler will save you an hour of cleaning the oven and a lot of bad smells.
Is the pan 9" from one inside edge to the other? Good. How deep is it?
Parchment paper circles are also an indulgence (and a great gift) for anyone who makes cakes on a regular basis.
Spray the pans, put in a parchment circle (you can trace and cut your own in a pinch), give it a spritz, then put a couple tablespoons of flour into the pan. Tap it all around until the pan is coated, then tap any excess into the second pan to repeat the process (you’ll probably need a little more flour for the next one).
The next step should be to make the frosting, it’ll need some time to chill and set up.
We’re frosting this cake with a bittersweet chocolate ganache, which is simply equal amounts of chocolate and heavy cream (by weight) with a splash of vanilla. I scavenged the pantry for bittersweet chocolate, and found a lump of leftover tempered chocolate from a photo shoot: the perfect kind of thing to use up in this recipe.
Everything is in the bowl, waiting for simmering cream to melt it.
Heavy cream is a staple in restaurants. Often chefs will use heavy cream that’s been painstakingly reduced by half to thicken sauces. I was all fired up to give you one of my favorite chef’s tricks about heating cream and keeping it from boiling over.
There are two tricks to this. First, you need a pot that’s at least twice as deep as the level of the cream you put into it. Second, putting a metal spoon or a ladle into the cream as it heats will break the surface tension of the simmering cream, and (usually) keep it from boiling over.
So I set up the pot, put a spoon in it, and stood there taking pictures of what happened next.
First it simmers, then it starts to climb....
Oh, how the mighty are fallen….
I realized (after a few choice words and half an hour of cleanup) that the pot I’d chosen was way too small for the volume of cream I’d put into it. Even worse, after I measured the hot cream I had left after my “accident," I had to heat another 4 ounces.
Back to the scale with the hot pan.
But this time, I got the picture I was after in the first place. The cream rises up as it simmers, but the spoon keeps it from going over.
Once the cream is poured on the chocolate, stir until the chocolate melts.
This takes awhile; once everything is smooth, add the vanilla.
Now tuck the ganache in the fridge and set a timer for 20 minutes. You’ll want to come back and stir every 20 minutes as the ganache cools.
Not thick enough yet.
Ah, now we’re talking. When the chocolate looks like this, leave it out at room temperature until you’re ready to frost the cake.
Let’s get the cake in the oven. Don’t forget to turn on the oven: 350°F. First, measure out the dry ingredients. I’m testing this home version of a baker’s scale from Salter. So far I like it a lot, mostly for the shape of the “sled," where the ingredients go. I was able to fit 4 cups of flour and 4 cups of sugar into it, as well as the salt and baking powder in the recipe.
I whisked them together to blend; now for the wet stuff.
Into the mixer’s bowl go the eggs and sour cream.
By now the beer and chocolate mixture should be cool; if not, set the saucepan in a little bit of ice water, as I did here, and stir it to bring the temperature down. This only takes 5 minutes.
Now add the beer mixture to the eggs.
Next, add the dry ingredients. This is the other reason I love this scale; the shape of the sled makes it much easier to add dry ingredients to the mixing bowl.
Once everything is combined, divide the batter between the pans. I do this with my scale, also. First I weigh the whole recipe’s worth of batter. I’m lucky enough to have a second bowl for my mixer, so I put the empty bowl on the scale, set it to zero to tare it, then put the batter-filled bowl in its place. The batch weighs just shy of 6 pounds(!) 5 pounds, 15 ounces, to be exact. 95 ounces of batter to be divided by as many pans are being employed.
The pans go into the oven; as you can see, the batter fills them halfway.
This is how things look after 20 minutes of baking.
Now the cakes are testing done; they’re shrinking from the sides, and a straw inserted in the center comes out clean.
Put the cake on a rack to cool for 15 to 20 minutes.
To take them out of the pan, run a table knife or nylon spreader around the edge of the cake to free it; then flip the cake out of the pan onto a plate, then back right side up (its parchment circle will still be on the bottom; leave it there for now) and return it to the rack to finish cooling completely.
When it’s time to assemble the cake, trim the top to be level. The layers will get stacked upside-down, but if you don’t take this step, the bottoms will crack because they’re flexing on the uneven surface.
Put the cake trimmed-side down on a cake plate. I like these glass plates because you can look through them to see that the layer is centered before flipping everything over.
Now cut some strips of parchment or waxed paper, and tuck them under the edge of the cake all the way around. This lets you make free with the chocolate frosting without fear of creating an irrevocable mess (something I’m way too good at).
Spread about 2/3 cup of the ganache on the first layer. Trim the second layer if necessary, and turn it over onto the first. The ganache is usually forgiving enough to let you slide the top a bit to get it lined up just right.
Now spread the frosting around the side of the cake. See why the parchment was a good idea?
Once the cake is covered, gently pull the paper straight out from underneath the cake, leaving the plate nice and clean.
I like to finish this beauty with a sprinkling of sugar shamrocks.
Read, try, and rate our Chocolate Stout Cake recipe here.