Saturday, March 17, 2012

O'Chocolate Cake with Beer and Whisky

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Unlike the hoards who joyfully leap like a leprecaun from a field of shamrocks into a pseudo-Irish heritage excuse for beer and potato consumption, I have some legitimate Irish genes and the green eyes to go with it. My maiden name was in fact Americanized version of O'Doyle (ie: Doyle), but it is through my mom - with her Irish grandmother with a thick brogue and her dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins - that the real influence comes. Nevertheless, I have never identified as an Irish-American, and certainly haven't experienced most of the characteristic cultural elements that would give me any credibility as an Irishwoman. However, I have always been the one to share a bit-o-the-green on St. Paddy's Day, with shamrock stickers and soda bread galore (preferably, like a true American, with lots of glitter and plenty of butter respectively.)

Just a few short weeks ago, I posted about Will's birthday and the chocolate stout cake recipe that made four layers instead of the expected two. All that was needed was a half-batch of ganache to whip for a filling, and some frosting to ice the layers and I would have a just-as-good-as-fresh-baked cake for St. Patrick! (I'd wrapped the layers individually in tightly-sealed plastic wrap to freeze, and defrosted them in the refridgerator. I moved them from the freezer to the fridge first thing in the morning, and they were ready to assemble by late afternoon. They were still a bit firm in the middle, but the assembled cake sat at room temperature for a couple of hours and it was absolutely perfect and completely fresh by the time we ate it for dessert.)

To make the same cake layers into a completely different cake, I took the filling and frosting in a completely different direction, and used that as an opportunity to further stereotypize the affair with additional Guinness and whisky. A light whipped ganache with Guinness flavoring and a whiskey-tinged cream cheese frosting turned this chocolate cake into a divine dessert capable of scaring the snakes and the saints out of Ireland.

For Cake: Chocolate Stout Cake from Bon Appetit, September, 2002 (I found this recipe made enough for four 8-inch layers; I only used two for the cake described here.)

For Filling:
based on "Light Whipped Ganache" from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

1 cup whipping cream
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I used 2 ounces 71% and 2 ounces milk)
2 tablespoons Guinness (hopefully you like drinking it, because this is only a small part of a bottle/can and you will just have to drink the rest to keep it from going to waste... Slainte!)

Heat cream to gentle simmer. Chop chocolate in food processor. Pour heated cream through feed tube of processor while blade is running and process until combined and chocolate is melted. Pour into a bowl and fold in Guinness. Cool in fridge about two hours, stirring periodically. Once cooled, beat with electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

Note: This recipe will make more than you need to fill two layers, but the leftovers make for lovely piped decoration, or eating later with a spoon. Will dipped a banana in the filling with great results.

For Frosting:
5 ounces cream cheese, softened (this is what I had left over from a package after another recipe, you can use more or less if convenient)
1 stick butter, softened
about 2 cups powdered sugar (amount will depend on how much cream cheese you are using and how sweet you like it or what thickeness of texture you want)
2 tablespoons Irish whisky

Beat together cream cheese and butter until no lumps remain and texture is fluffy. Beat in sugar until smooth. Beat in whisky until smooth. Taste, and add additional sugar or whisky if desired for flavor or consistency.
To Assemble
Spread filling on cake layer to desired thickness. (From this recipe, you will have leftovers, which make for lovely piped decoration, or eating later with a spoon. Will dipped a banana in the filling with great results.)

This cake is dense and rich, but it is moist and so flavorful. It's sweet, but not too sweet. I was unsure about using a cream cheese frosting on it, but it was an excellent complement. Plus, as you can see from the photo, the slices are beautiful - clean and even, and the filling piped perfectly. I had some leftover green sugar, which added just the right sparkly touch to a shamrock decoration.

I don't necessarily recommend serving these two items together, though perhaps nothing says St. Patrick's Day as much as a bit o' overkill on the Guinness... my reasoning was that it was a better value to buy a six-pack of Guinness bottles than just a single draught can, so since the beer is already in the fridge, there's no harm in mixing up a batch of these chocolate Guinness puddings. Plus, these lovely ivory and kelly green Spode plates and teacups - while charming - don't get much use around our house during the rest of they year, because they do follow a fairly bold color scheme that would be a shame to ignore on March 17.

In previous years of hunting for Irish delights to cook up for the holiday, I had come across this recipe, and never would have chosen on my own to make it. However, my mom made it for us a couple of weeks ago and it was delicious so far beyond what I would have expected that I knew it was worth having twice in one month.  I made it exactly as written, but scaled down to 75% (my mom just made a half-recipe). We both were surprised that as written, it is to "serve 6" because it is quite rich and dense, and just a few spoonfuls are completely satisfying... the portion called out in the recipe would be pretty overwhelming. Nevertheless, the photo that accompanies the recipe is quite clever, and I can see the appeal in trying to serve it in a pint glass for festivity. My 3/4 quantity made 8 servings in teacups.

The only thing I would change next time is to either skip the Guinness syrup in the whipped cream topping, or add a bit of sugar... even though the pudding is sweet and benefits from a creamy foil, I found the Guinness flavor in the whipped topping to be too bitter and raw.

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