Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cake and Beer

I wanted to write about these a couple days ago, but there was a double-wallop of my first memoir class and the For Japan with Love blogger's day of silence.  The Japanese culture and its people have been a huge influence on my life, and their resilience during this unimaginable travesty is incredible.  Even though they have demonstrated such strength in the face of devastation and loss, they need our support.  If you are able to help, please lend your support to one of the organizations helping the people (and kittens!) of Japan.

All right, back to your regularly scheduled gluttonous musings.

Because of the aforementioned class on Thursday, I still haven't gotten my St. Patrick's Day corned beef and cabbage fix.  I came to terms with that, but I wanted to bring a little festivity to the day.  Just like on Mardi Gras, I've had to find bits and pieces of traditions in the face of the wonderful (but crazy!) trifecta of work, school and class.  What's the best way to distill celebration into a simple, portable package? 


Ah, cupcakes.  They've sadly become cliched since they skyrocketed to crazy popularity since Miranda and Carrie chowed on New York's Magnolia Cupcakes during the Aiden days.  Oh the Aiden days, when I was still only watch the series when HBO released a season on DVD.  Cupcake bakeries sprouted up all over the country, along with completely unnecessary cookbooks and curious cupcake couriers (ok, yes, I do want one).  Still, they are easy and clean to transport and serve, and to me taste a little more special than a slab of regular cake--each cupcake is frosted and topped by hand, making them individually special.  You have to put love in every single one.

A few years ago on Easter I made a dark buttermilk chocolate cake that used dark beer in the recipe.  I thought something similar would work well in cupcake form, topped with Junior Mints (because the flavor just screams green to me).  I used two products that are absolutely Irish to me:  the aforementioned Guinness, and Kerrygold Butter.  I probably wrote a hundred articles and ads for Kerrygold Butter while I worked at the specialty food company, touting its outstanding richness and creaminess, the result of well-loved cows grazing on the lush fields of the Emerald Isle.  The golden butter makes cakes fluffier, cookies chewier and pastries flakier.  It wasn't difficult because I totally believe it's true.  You could eat this stuff with a spoon and be happy, although probably incurring a heart attack.  Good butter does good things, especially when you're baking.

The beer is added to the whipped butter and sugar, which froths the dough up into what comes out looking almost like a mousse.  At the very end gently fold in whipped egg whites, which puffs the batter up even further.  It's a batter that needs to be handled with care, so don't overwork it in the Kitchen Aid or with the spoon.  You'll kill all those fragile bubbles that result in a light cake with a grown-up bitterness from the beer, coffee and cacao-heavy chocolate.  It's a pretty surprising cupcake, that's for sure.

The recipe calls for more bittersweet chocolate in the ganache, but I didn't want the cupcakes to be too bitter, so I used Toll House chocolate chips instead.  I was happy with this choice, since I love dark chocolate, but don't like feeling like I'm chewing on nibs.  The original recipe also instructs you to use cake rounds and create layers, but it makes exactly 24 (2 muffin pan's worth) of cupcakes.  Just bake them together for about 24 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Since you don't need quite as much ganache to do cupcakes as you do a big layer cake, I've cut it in half from the original recipe.  I ended up dumping tons of my leftovers down the sink, and nobody wants to see gorgeous, creamy chocolate go down the drain.  I could probably be arrested in France for letting that happen.  I'm sorry.

I was kind of bummed when I discovered my translucent green sprinkles got lost in the dark ganache, but I tried to be festive.  Notes for next time, I suppose.  I didn't hear any complaints outside of the ones inside my head. 

Promising your friends and family (but maybe not children) cake and beer is a sure way to endure yourself to even the most hardened holiday haters.  I think it's a much better way to observe St. Pat's than watery green beer, with much less of the hangover.  No promises about sugar comas, though.

Guinness Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

(adapted from original Bon Appetit recipe)

  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) salted butter, room temperature (Kerrygold!!)
  • 1 1/4 cups plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup Guinness beer
  • 2/3 cup freshly brewed strong coffee

  • 1/2 lb Toll House Chocolate chips
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp ground coffee

    For cake:
    Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.  Prepare 2 muffin pans by placing cupcake liners in each depression.  Try not to use Halloween ones like I did.  Kinda dorky. Place chopped chocolate in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water and set aside.
    Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and 11/4 cups sugar in large bowl until fluffy and pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolks 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in lukewarm melted chocolate, then stout and coffee. Beat flour mixture into chocolate mixture in 2 additions just until incorporated.
    Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in another medium bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into cake batter to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites in 2 additions. Divide batter into muffin pans by filling each cup about halfway.
    Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 24 minutes. Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans 20 minutes.

    For ganache:
    Place chopped chocolate in medium heatproof bowl. Combine whipping cream and coffee in medium saucepan. Bring cream mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally. Pour cream mixture over chopped chocolate; let stand 1 minute, then whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Chill chocolate frosting until slightly thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours (or for quick chilling, place frosting in freezer until thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes).  Use to top cupcakes after they have completely cooled.

    Top each with a Junior Mint, or a Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookie would also be diabolically delicious.

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