Sunday, March 4, 2018

Chocolate Porter Cake

As I mentioned on Facebook and on Twitter (@The_Messy_Apron), many of the recipes posted here in the month of March are characterized by the inclusion of dark beers and Irish cream liqueur. This easy chocolate cake carries on that tradition in especially delicious fashion.

This recipe is utterly simple and makes a single-layer 9-inch round cake, making it just the thing for curing a mid-week chocolate desire. It comes together quickly and is wonderfully chocolatey, with an additional bittersweet note from a dose of dark beer. I used a vanilla porter to make it, but you could use some of the Guinness you’re planning to serve at your St. Pat’s party, or an oatmeal stout.

For being so deep and rich with chocolate and a dark brew, this cake is surprisingly soft and fluffy in texture. At the same time, it holds up well to the ganache I poured over the top to serve as icing. I have to admit that I couldn’t taste the vanilla porter in the cake, perhaps because of all that chocolatey goodness, but I think it’s bubbly tendency may help the cake be as soft as it is.

If you didn’t want to use beer, I think you could make a nice cake with milk instead. I’m hoping to try coffee or espresso to see what happens. There are also many other ways you could top this cake, whether it be with a buttercream frosting, cream cheese frosting (like the one on this cake), a simple glaze, or a fudge, caramel, or fruit sauce poured over individual servings of naked cake.

Hmmm. All of these ideas seem worthy of experimentation. Maybe more chocolate cake should be in my future!

Chocolate Cake with Porter and Ganache Topping
Adapted from Food52

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine salt
1 large egg
½ cup sour cream
½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
¾ cup dark beer, such as Guinness, oatmeal stout, or vanilla porter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9-inch round cake with cooking spray and coat it evenly with flour. Cut a circle of parchment paper the size of the pan (trace the pan) and place it inside the prepared pan. Set aside.

2. Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a medium-size bowl.

3. In a large bowl, beat together the egg and sour cream. Beat in the melted butter, beer, and vanilla extract.

4. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir together with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until well combined.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, smoothing it out evenly. Bake at 350 F for about 35 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out free of wet batter.

6. Cool the cake in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

7. When the cake is cool, heat the cream and chocolate chips together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Continue to cook and stir until the chocolate has completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Spoon or pour the ganache evenly over the cooled cake, allowing some of it to run over the sides. Refrigerate until the topping is set.

Makes about 8 servings.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Rye Soda Bread

I have come to the conclusion that I really need to make soda bread more often. Sure, I usually remember to make a loaf in March because of the whole “Irish Soda Bread” thing, but that’s not enough. A nice crunchy-crusted round loaf is such a big pay-off for the small investment of time and talent it requires. Perhaps it’s not a perfect sandwich bread, but there are more things to do with a nice loaf of bread than make sandwiches.

I recently made the Rye Soda Bread in Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson, one of my favorite blog and cookbook authors. I didn’t make mine quite as craggy and crunchy as the bread in the original recipe, but I did make a delightfully flavorful and extremely useful loaf. I ate it for breakfast alongside eggs, as a lovely accompaniment with this soup, and on its own, toasted and buttered with one of my many-cups-a-day of coffee.

This bread comes together like any soda bread recipe, more like a biscuit dough than a quick bread or yeast bread dough. It needs only a brief kneading, more to finish the mixing and to coax everything into place than to develop gluten. Slashing the loaf before baking not only gives it some room to expand as it bakes, but also creates some extra surface area for more crunchy crust.

I really like rye breads, so was excited to try this unyeasted loaf. I used a stone-ground rye flour, which is about all I can usually find. All this whole grain stuff does not make this bread crumbly, though. It’s soft, but firm enough to hold up as you slice through the crunchy crust. I added caraway seeds, which I also love, but they are not necessary if you do not like them. If you wanted to take this into a sweeter range, you may be able to add some currants or raisins, just like you might find in a white-flour version of soda bread.

I certainly hope to have more opportunity to make this delicious bread, especially since it’s getting difficult to fit as many yeasted loaves into my life as I would like. It’s so delicious with soups and even just all by itself. And I’m certain its whole grainy goodness is much healthier than the chocolate cake with ganache I hope to tell you about soon!

Caraway Rye Soda Bread
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson

2 1/3 cups stone ground rye flour
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 cups buttermilk

Additional flour for your kneading surface
Additional buttermilk for brushing the dough

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.

2. Combine the rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking soda, caraway seeds, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together to combine well.

3. Pour in the buttermilk and stir together just until the dough comes together in a shaggy, moist ball. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface.

4. Knead the dough gently just long enough to be able to form it into a smooth ball. Place the ball of dough on the prepared baking sheet.

5. With a sharp knife, slash several deep cuts in the top of the ball of dough. Brush the dough all over with buttermilk.

6. Bake at 400 F for 45-55 minutes or until the bread has a dark, crunchy crust and is baked through (the bread will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom). Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 1 big round loaf that will last a few days. Leftovers are good lightly toasted.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Carrot Cake

Luckily, carrots are delicious, since, as I mentioned in the previous post, I have a lot of carrots. They’re delicious and really, really useful. Utilitarian, even. But for some unfathomable reason, I can’t remember that I’ve ever made a carrot cake. Not in this year of beautiful carrots nor any other day, month, or year. What the heck is wrong with me?

I’m happy to say that at least some problems are easy to fix. I did eventually make carrot cake. While I didn’t go for a fancy, double layer beauty, I happily stirred together a sheet cake, or perhaps I’d call it a snack cake, since it was in a 13 x 9-inch pan rather than a sheet pan. Armed with trusty resources, I wasn’t even worried that this wouldn’t be good, and I wasn’t disappointed. 

There were two recipes for frosted, single layer carrot cake printed side by side in Pillsbury: The Complete Book of Baking, one with a coconut frosting that I knew my husband wouldn’t eat, and one that was lightened up to such a level that it even called for a cholesterol-free product instead of whole eggs. I sort of combined the two, picking the lower oil level of the lighter cake as well as it’s cream cheese frosting (well, a similar frosting, anyway), and leaving in the eggs and the nuts from the other version.

This is a delicious carrot cake, perhaps more traditional than innovative. There is probably room for some variation, though, if you want to change things up. I love this the way it is, moist and durable, loaded with quite a few healthy things despite it’s unflinching dessert quality. Cake is a great place to put carrots, but I also like all of the other accompaniments in this recipe, the pineapple bits giving a burst of fruit to every bite, sweet raisins, and nuts.

Of course, the cream cheese frosting makes it all even better. I’d eat that stuff on a stick. 

Carrot Snack Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cake:
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup canola oil (or other neutral tasting oil)
2 eggs
8 ounces crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups shredded carrots
½ cup raisins
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

For the frosting:
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray or grease it as you like. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk together to combine well. Set aside.

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the sugar, oil and egg. Wisk together until very smooth and fluffy. Stir in the pineapple and vanilla.

4. Pour the sugar mixture into the flour mixture and mix well. Stir in the carrots, raisins, and walnuts or pecans.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with just a few wet crumbs attached, no wet batter.

6. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

7. To make the frosting, combine the butter and cream cheese in a medium-size bowl. Beat together with an electric mixer until very smooth. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar and vanilla. Continue beating until very smooth. Spread over the cooled cake.

Makes about 16 servings.