Damp, cool, and quieting the birds, a grey fog kept me under the covers this morning. I wanted to stay in bed all day, to tell the truth, but I knew that there was something leftover downstairs, something worth getting up for.
Let me say this: last night, I did not drink to excesses of hilarity one often finds around college dorms, bar-ridden neighborhoods, or wannabe Irish folks every March 17th. I did not start drinking green beer at 10am. I did not sing Irish Gaelic songs I didn't understand just because I had enough alcohol in me to think it was a good idea to sing—it is never a good idea for me to sing. I did not wear a “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” pin (because it would be a lie, and hopefully ECG doesn’t have to believe I’m Irish to want to kiss me), nor did I sport one of those odd, green upside-down octopus-legged hats I saw around this year.
I did, however, wear a vintage green dress and host a party. It really wasn't as much of a St. Patrick's Day party as it was an excuse to get people I like all in one place. The night held few resemblances to other St. Patty's Day celebrations, but one essential Irish ingredient made a spectacular appearance. Some of you know it by its silky darkness, by its caramel bite, or by the taupe head that beckons like a down comforter on a frosty night. Yes, I'm talking about stout. Last night, I enjoyed a just-cool bottle (or two, or maybe even three) of the stuff; nevertheless, where stout made its show-stopping appearance was in the dessert.
I’ve used stout in chili and long-braised dishes before, and I’ve read quirky recipes for stout ice cream, but I’d never baked with it before. I’m so glad I did. This cake is worth the effort, the four cups of sugar (four cups, necessary to soften the edges of the unsweetened cocoa and dark beer, but still, four cups!) and the use of three cake pans. It is a tower of bittersweet, moist, chocolate glory, and even if it leans, as mine did, you won’t be disappointed.
Chocolate Stout Cake
I found the recipe for the cake on Epicurious, but I didn’t want this cake to have the ganache frosting listed with the original recipe. I wanted something fluffier and tangy-er, and this April's Martha Stewart Living had just the answer on page 219, which served to beautifully frost the layers and the top, but wasn’t enough to frost the sides. When I make this again, I may double the frosting recipe to cover the sides as well. It’s a lot of cake to cover.
For the cake, you will need:
2 cups stout
2 cups butter
1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups sour cream
To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and generously grease three 9” cake pans. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper, and grease the paper.
Warm the stout and butter in a saucepan over a low flame (or low heat on an electric stove) until the butter has melted. Whisk in the cocoa powder, and continue whisking until the mixture is smooth. Cool the mixture enough to dip your finger in—you don’t want it so hot that it will immediately cook the eggs with which it will mix in a minute.
Stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, or in the work bowl of your mixer, beat together the eggs and sour cream. Pour in the chocolate stout mixture, and beat on low speed so that all wet ingredients are well-combined. Remove the work bowl from the mixer and fold in the flour mixture. Continue to stir only to the point where the ingredients are combined; don’t worry if you still have a few small lumps here or there, as it is more important not to overmix than it is to have a homogenous batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.
Bake the cakes about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick, when inserted in the middle of the cake, comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and place on racks to cool for ten minutes, after which, turn the cakes out onto the racks to cool completely.
For the frosting, you will need:
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
A pinch of salt
5 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter
4 ounces of cream cheese at room temperature
7 ounces of melted bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup of sour cream
When the cake is ready to frost:
Sift the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside.
With your electric mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese until the mixture is relatively fluffy, then gradually add the sugar mixture. With your mixer on low, add the chocolate and sour cream. Use the frosting immediately.