Ah, December. The Christmas lights are shining and we’re all feeling festive. But here in Washington, D.C., the wind’s whipping up and chill setting in foretell the approach of winter. While it will never be my favorite season, it does bring its share of delectable delights: cookies, cakes, pies, truffles and my personal favorite — rich, dark beers.
I love beer, but I can live without the bitter, hoppy beers of summer. Give me a hearty, sweet stout, a rich, dark porter — brews you can really snuggle up with. One of my favorites is rauchbier — the perfect complement to winter’s dark, cold nights.
Rauchbier — literally “smoke beer” — is a German specialty. As the name suggests, the beer’s malts are smoked, often with oak or beechwood, which lends a delicious, smoky flavor. I once heard someone describe rauchbier as “drinking a glass of bacon.” I wouldn’t go quite that far, but if you like smoked foods, you may well enjoy the style.
Anyway, enough with the beer lesson — we’re here for a food fight! Adam and I have been kicking around the idea of making a stout-infused cake since last December. Well, to be more precise, Adam came up with the notion of making a Guinness cake, which is apparently one of his specialties. That left me wondering if I might counter his cake without getting too far off the beer path.
Luckily, I love experimenting with incorporating beer into foods. I’ve made stout cupcakes and a delicious coconut porter cake before, but I’ve long wanted to try something else: specifically, to bake the same treats with different styles of beers, and then conduct a little comparative taste test. Adam’s Guinness cake idea offered the perfect opportunity: would a stout cake sans stout … really taste any different?
I played with a few flavored beer ideas — pumpkin, hazelnut, coffee stout — but, in the end, couldn’t bring myself to purchase an entire six pack of any of them. If you’ve ever enjoyed the first four sips of a super-pumpkiny brew, only to find you couldn’t finish an entire pint of the stuff, you’ll understand.
Naturally, clever readers, you know where this is going. If chocolate cake is good made with stout, then surely it would be delicious (or, at least interesting) with a hint of smoke, right? I went straight for Schlenkerla’s Urbock, my favorite rauchbier, and set to work.
Well, the batter was delicious (yeah, I know I shouldn’t eat cake batter … but I just can’t help myself), but I wouldn’t say it was particularly smoky. It wasn’t particularly beery, either, for that matter. To compensate, I stirred in a dash or two of liquid smoke, poured the mixture into my buttered bundt pan and popped it in the oven.
The finished cake was gorgeous. I didn’t lose even a crumb of it to the bundt pan. And it was scrumptious, too: dark, moist and rich, with a hint of pleasant sourness complimenting the chocolate.ouldn’t eat cake batter … but I just can’t help myself), but I wouldn’t say it was particularly smoky. It wasn’t particularly beery, either, for that matter. To compensate, I stirred in a dash or two of liquid smoke, poured the mixture into my buttered bundt pan and popped it in the oven.
But smoky? Not really. A couple of my expert tasters caught the slightest bit of smoke, but certainly not enough to make the cake qualify as smoldering.
So much for my grand, smoky experiment. No matter. This simply means I should keep enjoying rauchbier just the way I like it — in a glass while curled up on the couch with a nice cozy blanket.
Rauchbier Chocolate Cake
1 cup rauchbier
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups + 4 tablespoons cake flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter your bundt pan. (I used melted better, brushed on with a pastry brush — worked like a charm). Simmer 1 cup beer and 1 cup butter together over medium heat. Whisk in the cocoa powder — mix it well to get all the lumps.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt together in a bow. In your stand mixer bowl or in a large bowl with an electric beater, beat eggs and sour cream to blend. Pour in the beer mixture and beat to combine — but don’t overbeat. Add in the flour mixture and beat on low, again, just to blend. Fold in any last unincorporated flour clumps with a spatula.
Pour batter into the prepped bundt pan. Bake until a toothpick or tester comes out clean, or has just one or two crumbs clinging to it — about 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool in the pan, then flip onto your serving plate.
I made a ganache topping using the Smitten Kitchen recipe, but it just turned out too thick, more like cake frosting, no matter what I did to thin it out. I obviously need to work on my glaze technique. You might have better luck than me. If not, I suggest a dusting of powdered sugar to keep things simple.