February 21, 2008
This was a project with many inspirations. I had been thinking about doing one of the chocolate cakes from Nigella Lawson’s Feast for a while now. I mean, how can you not love a cookbook that has an entire chunk in the middle devoted to chocolate cakes of various descriptions? It’s always the section I ended up in when I flipped through the book. I’ve been keeping up with Kate’s adventures in Ireland over at Accidental Hedonist and pining to be over in Ireland again myself, happily ensconced at a tiny pub with a creamy Guiness in front of me. Plus it was someone’s birthday at work and I had volunteered to make a cake. I felt like a chocolate Guiness cake was meant to be.
Apparently not. Let me get this out in the open right from the start – my first attempt at this cake was a complete failure. Dashing around trying to bake (and even more intimidatingly, ice) a cake before work was a bad place to start. I was trying to get the cake in the oven so it could cool in time to ice it, and, in the rush, added two and a half tablespoons of baking soda, rather than two and a half teaspoons. Trying to mix the flour and baking soda into the rest of the ingredients, the whole thing started foaming, which I assumed was just the Guiness at work. As the batter threatened to come up out of the pan I was mixing in, I began to worry that I was overmixing and would toughen the cake. I decided to go with a pancake batter theory that any lumps of flour would take care of themselves and dumped the whole thing into the springform pan I had so carefully greased and shoved it in the oven.
Twenty minutes later, I smelled the peculiar odor of burning Guiness as the cake crept up and over the edge of the cake pan and began to burn to the sides of the pan. “Nevermind that,” I said to myself, “I’ll just turn it out of the pan when it’s done and it will be fine.” When the cake had finally set in the middle, I pulled it out and put it outside on the back porch (in the twenty-degree weather) to cool quickly. Despite the burned-on cake on the outsides of the pan, the springform came off perfectly and I set to making my icing. It was only as I was icing the cake that I filched a crumb from the bottom, thinking to myself – “That tastes a bit odd, maybe it’s the Guiness” – before realizing my mistake with the baking soda. I cursed my inability to read and follow recipes as I finished the icing, then stepped back. It did look good and maybe it wouldn’t taste so bad after all, I justified. I had promised to bring in a cake and there was no time (or sugar in the house) to start again.
So I took it in, warning the lucky birthday recipient after he blew out the candles that I was unable to vouch for the cake’s edibility. The cake was cut as my coworkers gathered around in a tight huddle to taste what was truly an awful cake. The baking soda made it taste like brushing your teeth with Arm and Hammer, while little lumps of flour, far from having taken care of themselves, floated like little starch bombs throughout. One of the girls asked me what kind of nuts I had used, still trying to be polite. “Nuts?” I replied, before realizing she had mistaken the flour lumps for nuts, giving me the benefit of the doubt. Once it had been determined that the cake was to be headed for the trash (though some of the icing was eaten off the top first), everyone shared stories of their own worst kitchen mishaps, which of course made me feel much better. What else are friends for?
Nonetheless, I felt the Guiness cake had to be redeemed, so two days and a trip to the grocery store later, I started the whole process over again. I refined the process to eliminate flour lumps, excess baking soda, and sour cream (which I had forgotten to buy at the store, but thankful again for my store of powdered buttermilk, a cook’s best friend, simply substituted to no ill effect). I couldn’t face up to the whole cake again so soon, so I decided to take the cupcake route. And give myself plenty of time.
This time the results were solid. The cupcakes had a deep chocolate taste, moist texture, and no faux nut flour bombs. The Guiness was subtle, more of an extra hint of bitter that really complimented the chocolate, than a flavor of its own. The cream cheese icing, which includes heavy cream to, ironically, make it lighter, was creamy and not too sweet. Not quite the same as sitting over a pint in a proper Irish pub, but satisfying still.
adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast, makes 24ish cupcakes
preheat the oven to 350 degrees. set out cupcake pans with liners/bake cups.
1 cup Guiness
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
place the guiness and butter in a large saucepan; place over medium heat until butter is melted. remove from heat.
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
whisk together in a large mixing bowl.
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups sugar
add to mixing bowl and whisk to incorporate. add the guiness butter and incorporate.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3 tablespoons powdered buttermilk
sift into the mixing bowl, stirring to prevent lumps from forming. mix until throughly combined. pour into cake pan and bake 20-25 minutes. Check the centers of cupcakes with a toothpick. When toothpick comes out clean, remove from oven and place on a rack to cool completely before frosting.
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
place into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to remove any clumps.
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
cut the cream cheese into large chunks. toss into the food processor and blend, slowly adding heavy cream and checking consistency. frost cupcakes.