Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chocolate Stout Cake, Modification and Gift Thereof.

When my dad's birthday began to near, I decided that the best gift I could give him was not an impersonal DVD or some other mass produced thingamajig or gadget. When I think about gifts, my mind often goes back to Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Essay V: Gifts." In the essay, Emerson reflects on the nature and purpose of gift giving. In the second paragraph, Emerson explains it perfectly...
"Next to things of necessity, the rule for a gift, which one of my friends prescribed, is, that we might convey to some person that which properly belonged to his character, and was easily associated with him in thought. But our tokens of compliment and love are for the most part barbarous. Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing. This is right and pleasing, for it restores society in so far to its primary basis, when a man's biography is conveyed in his gift, and every man's wealth is an index of his merit. But it is a cold, lifeless business when you go to the shops to buy me something, which does not represent your life and talent, but a goldsmith's. This is fit for kings, and rich men who represent kings, and a false state of property, to make presents of gold and silver stuffs, as a kind of symbolical sin-offering, or payment of black-mail."

Following this thought, I decided that the best gift I could give my dad was a birthday cake, baked from scratch, in the spirit of his birthday. After much looking, I finally happened upon a cake that I thought he would truly appreciate, and enjoy, a Chocolate Stout Cake. I decided on this cake for a number of reason, including the fact that my dad does love beer, and stout, like Guinness, is one of my favorite styles of beer. Instead of using the ubiquitous Guinness, though, I decided to use my favorite American stout, Sierra Nevada Stout. It's a lot like Guinness, but with more chutzpah.

This recipe has been floating about the internet since after its original publication Bon Appétit Magazine, September 2002, and according to every review I read (and input at the BakeSpace forums) this recipe was to make a monster of a cake. Three 8-inch layers, with batter to spare. There was only one problem with this, and that is that I don't own a single 8-inch cake pan, nor could I really afford to go and buy three. I do however own a couple of 9-inch pans as well as a 9-inch springform that has produced good cake results in the past. So I decided to make a two layer 9-inch cake using a cake pan and my springform.

My thoughts then turned to the apparent large quantity of batter. I felt pretty certain that the two pans would not be able to accommodate so much batter, and not wanting to either guess too much about temperature and time alterations or throw away perfectly good batter, I instead decided to take the hard route and reduce the recipe by 1/4, which wasn't really that hard, and I ended up with some pretty reasonable measurements. I also went and replaced the sour cream with low-fat yogurt, just to make it a little less bad for you. (The recipe is at the end.) So I set forth hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. By that I mean making sure I had enough money to run to Harmon's and buy a cake, if all else failed.

Here are the results after baking the two layers.

Looking very good, so far. Actually, these look better than most round cakes I've attempted lately. Nice and flat without any sink holes.

The frosting is a bit on the odd side. I suppose that you would classify it as a ganache, though it's texture before completely set is more like a pudding. It is good though, deep, dark, rich chocolate flavor without being too sweet. A frosting for grown-ups, I suppose. I found it easiest to spread it on the cake before it had completely set up. It made for easier spreading and a cleaner appearance.

Et voilà!

Beautiful, and one of my better frosting jobs, to boot!

Oops, almost forgot the recipe.

Chocolate Stout Cake à la Tom


1 1/2 cups stout (such as Sierra Nevada Stout or Guinness)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/8 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)

3 cups all purpose flour
3 cups sugar
3/4 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/8 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
1 cup natural, plain low-fat yogurt

1 1/2 cups whipping cream
3/4 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line with parchment paper. Butter paper. Bring 1 1/2 cups stout and 1 1/2 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 1/8 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.

For icing:
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-ish cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake.

Culinary Epilogue (6:41 AM, 7/20/2007): The cake was delicious. It's pretty dense and rich, like a devil's food cake, and not too sweet. The stout, though not overt, adds a noticeable richness to the cake and a hoppiness that is especially tasted in the first few bites. When you sink your teeth in for the first bite, the beer announces its presence with gusto and ushers your taste buds into the chocolaty party, then steps aside and allows you to enjoy the cake, while itself staying off to the side, but keeping things interesting.


Amanda said...

Oh I want to eat it! Fortunately, you have posted the recipe. ;-)

-Kitchensqueen from Bakespace

Shaun said...

Tom - How lovely of you to bake something for your father. I find baking to be quite serious work, often demanding time and patience, thus fulfilling your aforementioned author's suggestion of giving of thyself as a gift. Marvelous job on the frosting, a task I have only handled once without much success.

Anonymous said...

That looks beautiful!