Thursday, October 8, 2009

Chocolate Stout Cake, aka Baking with Guinness

What better way to include others than chocolate cake? Oktoberfest concluded this week, which means that you all will probably have some leftover beer sitting around...and even if not, why not make a cake loaded with stout (read: Guinness-like beer!), coffee, and dark chocolate? This is a nice dark cake, not too sweet, with a rich ganache icing - and I've been told it gets better over time (it didn't last long enough in my house for me to taste it on day 2). If you don't overwhip the egg whites like I did this last time, the cake should end up light and moist. The Guinness also lends a subtle yeastiness to the cake, a quality I appreciate when using it in this beer bread.

So here you go! Enjoy the remainder of the stout left in the can or bottle after you apportion some for the recipe:

Chocolate Stout Cake
from Bon Appétit (see original recipe for notes on beer)

ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 1/4
cups all purpose flour
teaspoons baking powder
teaspoon baking soda
teaspoon salt
tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) salted butter, room temperature
1 1/4
cups plus 3 tablespoons sugar
large eggs, separated
cup chocolate stout, regular stout, or porter
cup freshly brewed strong coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans, line each with parchment paper on the bottom inside, and set aside.

Melt chopped chocolate in a double boiler and remove from heat.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter and 1 1/4 C sugar together until light and fluffy (about 2 minute). Beat in egg yolks one at a time. Add melted chocolate, then stout, then coffee. Beat in flour mixture in two additions until just incorporated.

With clean dry beaters, whip egg whites and remaining 3 T sugar until stiff but not dry. Then fold 1/3 of whites into the cake batter, then the remaining whites in 2 additions.

Divide the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the top of each with a rubber scraper.

Bake about 30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pans on a rack for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of each layer and turn out onto racks to cool completely.

Ganache Icing
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (54% to 60% cacao), chopped
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

Place chopped chocolate in medium heatproof bowl. Combine whipping cream and espresso powder 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 (try to whisk without incorporating air bubbles). 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).

Using serrated knife, trim rounded tops from both cake layers so that tops are flat (optional). Place 1 cake layer, trimmed side up, on 9-inch-diameter tart pan bottom or cardboard round, then place on rack set over baking sheet. Drop 1 1/4 cups frosting by large spoonfuls over top of cake layer; spread frosting evenly to edges with offset spatula or butter knife. Top with second cake layer, trimmed side down. Spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake.

DO AHEAD Can be made up to 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let cake stand at room temperature at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours before serving.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Foodie: Exclusion or Embrace?

If you click on this photo of celeb chef Rocco DiSpirito, you'll find an interesting article about his pitch at the recent BlogHer food blogger conference: he was representing Bertolli frozen foods. Rocco's presentation received quite mixed reviews amongst the audience, some of whom on principle rebelled against the idea of frozen pasta, and others who found it to be a satisfactorily convenient option for their lifestyles. The tension between these different responses brings to my mind some observations I've been making this past year about the foodie community, and I'd love to hear what others think.

For myself, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a foodie; I've always disliked the term because of the exclusive and often expensive taste it implies. I have to admit that it's hard not to judge other people on their food preferences the more time I spend trying different foods, but at the same time, I believe being a foodie should be about loving food.

As I meet more and more self-proclaimed foodies, I am realizing that loving food does not mean loving all kinds of food, having an objective standard by which to rate food, or knowing about all foods. Like anyone else, foodies usually have a few areas about which they know a lot, because that is what they love most, and as a result they spend a lot of time thinking about that food, trying related restaurants and stores, and making it in their own kitchen (hence all the baking posts on this blog...). As in other parts of life, very few people know something about everything, and even fewer are experts in it all.

Foodie status also does not mean doing away with personal preferences; for example, I do not usually care for tomatoes (often too acidic for me, cooked or raw) or for slippery slimy food (sorry, raw fish is not appealing to me yet). I am more willing than I have ever previously been to try things that I have not typically liked, but these proclivities haven't disappeared yet, and will probably be around a while. I know I am not the only food blogger about whom this is true!

We all also have different levels of appreciation of different aspects of food; I have a high preference for aesthetically pleasing food (visually, texturally) since I view food as art - that is, a sensory expression (right? all senses are involved!). As a result, I almost never post on food of which I do not have a photo, and am very unhappy if I only have a mediocre photo of it, because that is the only sensory experience that you as the reader get from a blog post on food. But I know others rate visual aesthetics and creativity of presentation lower than I do, which means that I have had meals that I LOVED with folks who didn't really care for the same meal.

Knowing all this, I increasingly prefer to hear from people why they have the opinions about food that they do. Why do you think the restaurant/dish/cuisine in question is good? If the answer to this question is not given, I am far less likely to put stock in the evaluative statement. I am certainly guilty of making blanket statements at times, but I TRY to be good about qualifying what I say, at least with "I like" or "in my opinion," if not a "because," just so it's clear that I'm stating my preference and not what I think is an unquestionable objective judgment about whatever food item.

I'm not saying this just to complain, but just to say that I hope that food for you is about discovering what you love, enjoying it, and sharing that passion with others. Shouldn't food be about inclusion and not exclusion? There are plenty of other ways to judge and classify people in the rest of life.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Summer Food Summary

Somehow it's October and I am realizing that all of September passed without a blog-peep from me! As always, silence on the blog does not mean that I haven't been cooking or eating, so here's a photo summary of some summer highlights...before fall leads into the holidays and it's next year already. Enjoy!

Caramelized White Chocolate has not fallen off my radar yet, and has now been featured in ganache form as macaron filling and ice cream topping. Slightly burned white chocolate is its close cousin (an incident which revealed that my new oven runs hot!) whose butterscotch flavor may still be suitable for a gingerbread, more to come on that...

And more vegan cupcakes, in mint chocolate and salted chocolate incarnations...

As well as fabulous paninis at Surfas, well toasted but not greasy, filled with avocado smear, pesto, and otherwise lovely ingredients. Tasted a very nice chocolate cannellé there too, which may or may not have been eaten prior to the panini.

Figured out my favorite way of presenting and coating marshmallows - cut out with cookie cutters (much cleaner look than cutting into squares), coated with granulated sugar. A pleasing light crunch on the outside of the light, barely chewy marshmallow. Still loving rose flavor, and tried it out combined with almond extract. These babies are all about texture, although I still get more insecure about serving these to people than anything else - I'm always afraid they will not live up to people's marshmallow expectations, and they'll think they're strange. Made a lot of these when my oven was down!

Tasty Persian lamb shanks with saffron and sour cherry rice (okay, so my dinner companion ordered this, but it was more photogenic and unique than what I ordered!).

Banana lumpia, fried in phyllo dough with caramel sauce at Gerry's Grill. If this is Filipino dessert, I need to try me some more Filipino desserts!

Discovered I can get full on Farmer's Market fruit samples...these peppers at SF's Ferry Building aren't fruit samples, but they are pretty.

And intense, creamy, thick hot chocolate at Bittersweet Cafe. What a way to welcome the fall.

Stay tuned for this year's Oktoberfest treat: Chocolate Stout Cake. Nothing is more natural than baking with Guinness!