Chocolate Stout Cake

I make a lot of cakes.  Well, that’s not true.  I used to make a lot of cakes.  And when it’s cold outside, I bake quite often.  You see, Craig and I have a battle over the thermostat every winter.  We need to have more insulation blown into the attic, and we should probably consider replacing the 40 year old aluminum framed windows.  But we haven’t.  We also have electric heat.  Yes, it’s a heat pump, but it still costs notably more to run than say… a gas furnace.  The benefit is that we have AC during the summer months, almost making the huge expense of heating our house during the winter worth it. During the winter months, our thermostat is set on 60 degrees while we’re home and awake.  53 when we’re not (we have snow dogs, they’re fine).  I sometimes nudge it up to 62, and when we have company, I’ll turn it up to 65-67.  But when I’m baking… The kitchen stays warm.  I’m not sure if Craig has figured out that the occurrence of baking really increases when I’m cold, but it does.  Regardless, I make a mean cake.  I have done extensive cake recipe testing, I have a very well-used copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible and it totally changed how I bake.  If you haven’t baked by weight, you probably have avoided it because it seems like too much hassle.  But you’re wrong. I was initially going to include a whole rant on baking by weight in this blog post, but it got a little long-winded (from you Laurel?  NO!!!), so it’s getting it’s own post.

Sour Cream Chocolate Stout Cake with Whipped Ganache Frosting

So without further adieu – This is the best chocolate layer cake recipe you’ll ever find.  I’ve found that all of the cake recipes that I really like use all-purpose flour instead of cake flour.  Cake flour has a significantly lower gluten content, making for a lighter, more crumbly cake.  The benefit of cake flour is that you can overmix it and still end up with a tender cake.  All-purpose flour tends to have a higher gluten content than cake flour, making it capable of holding together very well. The more you mix all-purpose flour, the more tough and chewy your end result is.  If you are very careful not to overmix all-purpose flour though, you end up with something that holds together much better and is a denser texture (though not chewy).  I’ve experimented with baking the same cake with cake and all-purpose.  The cake flour produced an almost crumbly texture while the all-purpose flour made a denser cake that held together nicely and felt moister in your mouth. That has been my experience with cakes, so I have just begun using AP flour in all of my cakes.  Besides, cake flour is EXPENSIVE.

weighing beer

This chocolate stout cake is my go-to chocolate cake recipe.  It’s from Bon Appetit in 2002, though I just found it on Epicurious.  It’s great.  Not too beer-y, but dense, moist, and super chocolatey.  It’s exactly what I look for in a chocolate cake.  Plus, the recipe makes like… a TON of cake. You get 3 layers.  9″ pans bake faster, but 8″ ones (which is what the recipe calls for) will make a super tall super impressive cake.  There’s something so dramatic about a super tall cake.  I rarely choose to bake in wider pans as a result.  I can think of few applications where a flatter cake would be desirable.

Besides the cake being awesome (and how could you not be with 2 cups of beer, a pound of butter, and more than a cup of sour cream?), there are a few tricks that I have learned through my extensive cake-testing experience… parchment paper, parchment paper, and parchment paper.  That shit will save your ass.  They sell parchment rounds, but I am honestly not organized enough to remember to order them before I bake a cake, and forget about them until approximately 3 hours before go-time on my next cake-baking adventure.  Plus they’re easy enough to make yourself.  Just place your pan on the parchment, trace around it, and cut inside the circle you’ve drawn.  Then you just need to make strips to go around the outside  That eliminates all of the great places for the cake to stick (and makes clean-up easier!).  I just spray the inside of the pan with Pam, use it to adhere my parchment, and add batter.

cutting out parchment rounds

Now the recipe says to bake the cakes for 35 minutes.  Whoever tested that recipe must be high.  It took mine well over an hour to bake.  I basically baked for 35 minutes, then rotated the cakes and checked every 10 minutes until a toothpick came out of the center cleanish.

parchment lined cake pans

I have a great recipe for a true European-style chocolate buttercream (which means no powdered sugar, giving you a beautiful, glossy, supple buttery frosting), but it’s lots of effort and I wanted to experiment with a whipped ganache.  So I made one of those instead, using 1 pound cream, 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, and a splash of Kahlua.   It was easy.  And it wasn’t sweet, which was a great contrast to something as sweet as a cake.  Ganache is what truffles are made out of… so this frosting is basically just whipped truffles… um… YES PLEASE!  I made it and had to let it sit overnight to cool enough to whip though. You know, because I left my oven on for HOURS on a hot summer night.

Sour cream chocolate stout cake batter

After the cake has been baked and cooled (at least a few hours, but overnight is ideal if it’s warm in  your kitchen), you just whip your frosting. I mixed up the ganache in a kitchenaid bowl, then just added the whisk attachment and beat the shit out of it til it was nice and fluffy. If the cake tops are not level, I suggest trimming them either with a fancy cake layer trimmer, or a bigass bread knife so they’re much closer to flat. I wrapped a cardboard round in a little foil (this makes transporting the cake much easier), and placed my first layer on, spread a little ganache on it, added another layer, put more frosting on that, and added the last layer… upside down. That gives you a nice flat top on your cake.  Then use an offset spatula (they’re pretty amazing) to spread a super thin layer of ganache all over the outside of the cake.  It doesn’t need to be pretty, it can have crumbs all over it, doesn’t matter, it just needs to be smoothish and even. At this point, if the cake seems precarious or slippery between the layers, get 3 shish-kabob sticks and spear through the cake to hold it steady. Then stick the cake in your freezer.  I let it sit for probably 45 minutes to an hour, but 10-15 is generally enough.  This will harden your crumb coat making any additional frosting you spread on the cake not mix with the crumby stuff, giving you a nice smooth, crumb-free cake without needing to pile tons of frosting onto it.  Pull it out of the freezer, remove your sticks, and frost with remaining frosting doing your best to either get it smooth, or pretend like the rough texture is intentional.  Then you can easily slide something flat under the cardboard and carefully lift it onto whatever dish you intend to serve it on.  If I’m going to be transporting it (which I usually do with cakes), I’ll stick a small glob of frosting in the center of my cake carrier and then put the cardboard round down.  It helps adhere the cake to the base so it doesn’t slide around during transport.  Because we were going to be travelling for nearly 2 hours on a warm day, I sealed up the cake carrier and stuck it in my deep freeze chest freezer for a few hours to solidify and hopefully not melt like crazy.  It worked.

Ruby enjoying her birthday cake

Craig’s grandmother LOVED the cake, and I got tons of compliments.  A few people told me that it was the best cake they’ve ever had, and this was a crowd of people that enjoy good food.  It probably was the best cake they’ve ever had.  That cake’s pretty amazing.  And of course I neglected to bring my real camera to the family celebration, so all I have are cell phone shots with bad lighting, but here you go nonetheless!

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 (16 oz)
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened), chopped (16 oz)
Splash Kahlua
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or spray three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line with parchment 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.

For Cake

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, checking after 35 minutes, turning, and checking every 10 minutes thereafter. Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes or longer. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely.

For Icing
Bring cream to a simmer either in microwave or in medium saucepan.  Pour over chocolate and let sit for 4-5 minutes.  Whisk until well-combined and glossy, add in Kahlua.  Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight until ganache has come to room temp or close.  Beat with whisk attachment in stand mixer, or with electric hand mixer until light and fluffy.  Icing will not be very sweet. 

Sour Cream Chocolate Stout Cake with Whipped Ganache Frosting

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