Monday, January 14, 2013

Beer and Baking

When I was in high school, my father told me that if I drank enough beer I would learn to like it.  I spent the next five years or so doing my best to drink "enough" beer.  It never worked - beer is disgusting, bitter and nasty.  For the next ten years after that, I just thought that I was deficient in the drinking department.  There are very, very few alcoholic drinks that I like, and those are only the ones where you can't taste the alcohol.

I put this down to having an undeveloped/immature tongue.  Our parents used to tell us that we would like different foods when we got older, like eggplant and arugula.  But I never started liking any of those types of foods, and I just assumed that my tongue was the Peter Pan of my anatomy, doomed to be child-like forever.

I was complaining about this to a food guy, who looked at me like I was nuts (and to be fair, he may be right) and said, "You're a supertaster.  There's nothing wrong with you."

Supertasters are more sensitive to bitter tastes than normal tasters.  The wikipedia list of foods that supertasters hate is pretty true to my experiences, except that I like the more mellow types of green tea.  It also explains why I had such a hard time taking quinine and threw up afterwards.

So now I take a different approach to cooking, baking, and which ingredients I choose to use: if it's for other people, I use ingredients that are on the list because normal tasters like them; if it's for me, I only use ingredients that aren't on the list or which I know will have their taste covered up by something else.  The good news is that the taste of beer can be covered up easily in a lot of baking recipes so that it only comes out as a faint aftertaste.

That's good news because beer is one of the best liquids to use in baking.  It has both carbonation and gluten, and lifts dough and batter up to be light, moist, and fluffy.  Some people call beer a secret ingredient, but there's nothing secret about it.  Humans have been baking and cooking with beer for literally thousands of years.

Friend B's husband R is a beer guy, so if I have a beer-containing recipe that I want to try I just wait until there's an occasion in honor of R.  My thought process goes like this: "This recipe may turn out horribly, but R likes beer so he'll like it anyways!"  R is too polite to say, "Jesus Christ, this shit is terrible!  Not even beer can rescue it!" about a cake that somebody has made for him.

R's birthday was last week, so he got my second try at making a beer cake.  The first try was for something last year (Honey Spice Beer Cake) and this try was supposed to go along with the Italian-themed dinner party (Chocolate Stout Cake).  Both cakes turned out great, and the recipes only needed a little massaging.

The honey spice beer cake comes from Booze Cakes, a cookbook on using spirits and beer in baking.  The cake itself is lovely, moist and sweet and spicy, but the frosting part of the recipe was no good.  The chocolate stout cake comes from a longer line: originally from the Barrington Brewery in Great Barrington, MA, then written up in Bon Appetit magazine and put on epicurious, and finally, slighly modified on Smitten Kitchen.

Tips: to cream butter and sugar together, the butter needs to be soft but still solid.  Don't melt the butter all of the way.  You need the fats to stay together.  To get butter to the right consistency, you can leave it out overnight or you can microwave it in 10 second increments, stirring in between to keep it together.  What you want is a consistency like a firm pudding and with a light yellow color.  Then you can mix in the sugar.

All of the spices in the honey spice beer cake should be ground, not solid.  If you're worried about the freshness of the spices, you can buy solid spices and grind them up in a coffee grinder that is never used to grind coffee, only spices.

The brown sugar in the honey spice beer cake doesn't need to be light, you can use dark brown sugar if you have it instead.  The cake will just be darker than my pictures.

You should use a nice honey in the honey spice beer cake.  If your jar of honey has solidified, either microwave it in 5-10 second intervals for a plastic jar or put it in a pot of boiling water for a glass jar. The heat will melt the honey and make it liquid again.

I am not giving the frosting recipe that goes with the honey spice beer cake since it did not work.  I recommend a nice, lighter lemon-flavored frosting or icing to go with this cake, if you want to use a frosting at all.  It is moist enough to be fine without any type of topping.

The honey spice beer cake is baked in a larger pan, and I didn't have a serving dish large enough for it.  I cut the cake down to fit a lovely rectangular serving dish.  The cake is moist enough but still firm enough that it is easy to carve into different shapes.  Make sure to use a serrated bread knife for cutting.  You can easily cut this cake up to make shapes or letters or even words.

For the chocolate stout cake, use good quality beer and cocoa powder.  It will affect the taste of the cake if you use cheap ingredients.  I used Ghiradelli cococa and Guiness stout.

Coffee is a taste enhancer for chocolate, which is why it is in the chocolate ganache recipe.  You won't be able to taste the coffee, but it will make the chocolate taste more chocolate.

I recommend sifting the flour and other dry ingredients together in the chocolate stout cake recipe for some extra air and lift in the cake.

The chocolate ganache recipe is really nice and you can use it on lots of other cakes as well.  It was also too thick for "drizzling"; I put the cake on a serving plate and spooned the ganache over the top, where it slowly dripped down the sides for a nice effect.  You can skip putting the cake on a rack to do the ganache if the ganache is thick enough.

Ganache is done when it is shiny.  As the chocolate melts and the ingredients come together when you stir it, it is not completely cooked.  Once everything is mixed, keep stirring for another minute or so, when the ganache will become very shiny.  See the picture below.

I used an angel food cake pan instead of a bundt pan and the only result was that I had to bake the cake longer.  The recipe says to bake for 35 minutes but it took 50 minutes for my cake to fully bake.

This cake needs to cool completely in the pan before you take it out.  I let mine sit overnight and it was fine.  The recipe says to put it on a rack to cool, but I just left it on one of the stove burners.

Honey Spice Beer Cake
From Booze Cakes

3 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup salted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 ¼ cup honey
juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
1 12-ounce (honey) beer

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Grease and flour a 9 by 13 inch sheet-cake pan.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg; set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars for 3 to 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  Mix in honey, lemon juice, and zest.

Mix in flour mixture and beer in three alternating additions.  

Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool.  Frost if desired.

Chocolate Stout Cake with Chocolate Ganache
Cake from Barrington Brewery and Bon Appetit Magazine, ganache from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

6 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips
6 tablespoons heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon instant coffee granules

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Butter or spray a bundt pan well; make sure you get in all of the nooks and crannies. 

Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup 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 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using an 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 a rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. 

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cake to rack; cool completely in the pan, then turn cake out onto rack for drizzling ganache.

Carving the honey spice beer cake down to fit the serving dish.

The original frosting recipe that came with the honey spice beer cake.  This is why I'm not putting it on this blog.  The cake has a nice lemon flavor so try a lemon icing instead.
All the ingredients you need for the chocolate stout cake.

This is a churchkey: the round side opens bottles and the sharp side open tin cans (used before the hand crank can opener was invented).  Churchkeys are very useful.

You can use a hand mixer on low speed to put the ingredients together.

Baked cake.  Make sure to grease the pan higher than the cake batter will go because the cake will rise quite a bit.

Making the ganache.

This is the shiny texture you want in ganache.

The finished cake.

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