Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cupcakes for a 21-Year-Old

Oh hey there. Remember me? I used to write blog posts here.

Yes, it's been a while. But to be fair, I've just gotten back from a six-week trip across Europe. It was supposed to be a five-week trip, but plumes of volcanic ash will not be denied. And I came back to Cambridge for a week in the middle, but it was Passover and so no baking was happening.

I went to many interesting and wonderful places and saw many interesting and wonderful sights, but for me this trip was all about the FOOD. After three months of English "cuisine" I was desperate for some good food, and I got it, both barrels. I ate schwarma in Jerusalem, crepes in Paris, tapas in Madrid, gnocchi in Bologna and the famous laugencroissant in Berlin. (Well, sort of: Rebecca sent me this before I left and I spent my whole week in Berlin looking for a laugencroissant. While I finally found one at the train station on my last day, I don't think it was actually a laugencroissant, since it had no salt or pretzel taste and seemed to be just a croissant. Disappointing.)

My main food pilgrimage, though, was to the French patisserie Pierre Herme, where are made the world's most famous macarons. I had heard them built up enormously by various sources and had to try them for myself. Yes, they cost a ridiculous amount of money for little cookies, but it was a 21st birthday indulgence!

Let me tell you: despite the considerable build-up they had received, they did not disappoint, even a little bit. They were heavenly! I got one chocolate, one caramel, one chocolate passionfruit and, on the recommendation of my hostess, one balsamic vinegar! I'm so glad I did - the balsamic vinegar was definitely my favorite.

I was even exposed to a little ethnic flavor in the old Jewish ghetto of Venice:

Venetian hamantaschen. The Italian name translates to "ears of Haman."

All in all, this trip was one of the best things I've ever done. But I am so glad to be home: back with my friends, my stuff and, of course, my oven! The first thing I did when I got home was look up a recipe to make, because I knew Rebecca and Rachel were going to kick me off the blog if I didn't update soon. I went with one that I've been wanting to make for a very long time but have never had the wherewithal to make in the U.S. with its stupid drinking age. Yes, that's right: beer cupcakes.

Now, I don't actually like beer. And I realize that alcohol gets cooked out of baked goods. I have known this since my friend Molly ate some rum-containing dessert when we were 17 and staggered around saying, "I think I'm drunk," until someone explained to her that the alcohol got cooked out. Then she magically sobered up. BUT ANYWAY. The liquor-purchasing age here in the UK is 18, so I've actually been okay for a while. But I thought, wouldn't it be appropriate for my first baking adventure as a 21-year-old to involve beer?

As I said, I've been wanting to make this recipe, from Dozen Flours, basically since I saw it. It looked, in a world, sumptuous. But so many of my housemates were still stranded across Europe as of Friday that I didn't want to make the whole enormous cake; I didn't think it would get eaten in time. So I halved the recipe and made cupcakes. But it must truly be a "mega" cake, because even after halving the recipe I still had 30 cupcakes on my hands.

At first, I found the cupcakes to be...well, not disappointing, but not entirely appointing either. (That's a thing people say, right?) It was sort of dry and nondescript, and the bottom of the cupcake stuck to its wrapper. I didn't have time to make the frosting because the Sabbath was coming so I let them sit overnight. And when I ate one the next day (with frosting), it tasted so much better! On Dozen Flours Julia said the cake tastes best after 48 hours, so I'm going to have one after lunch today - should be magnificent!

I've copied the recipe from Dozen Flours, which is for cake. If you want to make it into cupcakes, bake them for around 20 minutes.

Chocolate Stout Mega Cake

2 cups stout* such as Guinness (pour the beer slowly and don't include the foam in your measurement)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)

4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups full-fat sour cream, at room temperature

2 cups whipping cream
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
(if your ganache doesn't set, you may need several (1-6 cups) of powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides or 2 10 or 12-inch cake pans. Line with parchment paper. Butter paper. Bring 2 cups stout and 2 cups 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 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add about 1/2 cup of the stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and mix very slowly to temper it (this will help you to avoid scrambling the eggs) and beat just to combine. Repeat the process another three times (for a total of 2 cups) and then add the remainder of the stout-chocolate mixture.

Add the flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed - scrape the bowl a few times to look for hidden flour pockets but be careful not to over mix! Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely. Cover and store for a minimum of 24 hours before frosting.

For icing:
Bring cream to a very low simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours.

Place 1 cake layer on plate. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake. If you're only making two layers, use 1 cup between the layers and spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake.

Decorate any way you'd like or just leave it plain. Keep covered and store in the fridge or the counter.

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