Friday, March 11, 2011

St. Patty's Day Cake

When reflecting back on my greatest culinary successes over the last couple of years, I think the most rewarding ones have been the experiments. The dishes that I went in with a harebrained, what-the-heck attitude, and came out with something to log in the favorites section of my recipe archive (i.e. this blog). It’s more satisfying knowing my creativity didn’t completely lead me astray. Know what I mean? I can still track the evolution of how this cake came to be. It was a quiet Saturday afternoon, and I wanted to bake. What? I had no idea. There were no recipes on the tip of my brain that were jumping out at me to bake them. I hunted around my go-to food blogs, printed some possibilities, and brought them to Husband for final approval. Aren’t husbands handy when you’re feeling indecisive? One of the recipes was a chocolate stout bundt cake with a chocolate glaze. Chocolate + booze + Husband = a must make. I was prepping the ingredients when I had a thought. Here’s the creative process in action, people. Check it out:

Me: Hey Babe, what do you think about baking this as a sheet cake instead of a bundt?

Husband: Umm…

Me: That way I could do a frosting with some Bailey’s instead of the chocolate glaze.

Husband: But I like chocolate…but a Bailey’s frosting sounds good too…Hmm…

Me: Oh! I know!!! I could try doing an avocado buttercream! With Bailey’s! And white chocolate!

Husband: Avocado? In the frosting?

Me: Yeah, it does the same thing as butter. Remember Alton Brown did it on an episode of Good Eats?

And with the mention of AB, as is usually the case, Husband was all confidence and trust. If Alton says it’s good, it’ll be good. Did I ever mention I have that show to thank for my Le Creuset dutch oven? Thanks for Kiwi, AB!

And that’s how this cake was born. A lazy day and a lack of dessert in the house. This was a few weeks ago. I’ve made it a total of three times already. We love it that much. I still have dreams about it.

The cake itself is a great recipe. Obviously, I never got around to trying the original recipe, but if a chocolate stout bundt with chocolate glaze is the order of the day, I’m sure this one would be a big winner. A rich, velvety stout goes with chocolate like bananas and bourbon. I was curious whether the quality of beer would make that much difference in the cake, so I used Guinness my first attempt. An admirable baking beer, to be sure, but I’m a bit of a craft beer snob these days (I do live in the city with the most craft breweries per capita, after all), and it’s an everyday beer, if yaknowhatImean. On a later attempt I used Husband’s all time favorite stout he is completely obsessed with at the moment. It wasn’t exactly a side-by-side comparison, since they were made several weeks apart, but I think the smoother, nuttier flavors of the higher quality stout definitely came through in the cake.

But if you’d like the excuse to bake this cake several times in succession (not that you need an excuse besides that it’s delicious enough to make several times in rapid succession), go ahead and forget I mentioned it. It is March, after all. Stouts are cheap!

My cake had a few extra additions from the original recipe. I wanted to up the St. Patty’s Day theme, so I threw in some whiskey…because why not, right? I also added come instant espresso powder and cayenne pepper, just to elevate the flavors a bit more. Supposedly coffee makes chocolate things taste more chocolaty – works for me! - and I also might have a spice addiction. But that’s another post. Sufficed to say, both those additions are completely optional, but as the cake turned out light as a cloud, moister than pudding, but still with all the flavor of a decadent chocolate cake, I’m going to go ahead and recommend them! The best compliment I can pay this cake is to say it wasn't just a vehicle for the frosting. As much as I loved the frosting, I found myself making sure each bite was the perfect ratio of frosting to cake.

Speaking of frosting. Since you’ve been good enough to read all this way, I should probably tell you a bit about avocado buttercream. It’s not a new concept, by any means, but it’s not exactly run of the mill either, is it? So regular buttercream frosting is really made up of two main components – powdered sugar and fat. That fat is usually butter, though I’ve seen it in combination in shortening too. The fat provides the creamy, melt in your mouth texture, and the powdered sugar provides the sweetness and stability. Everything else tweaks the flavor or texture, and it is pretty much optional. Avocados - poor, misunderstood avocados - are on many people’s naughty list because they are very high in fat. But fat is not fat, people! While shortening is grown in a lab with methods I don’t want to know about, and butter, while amazingly delicious, is made up of saturated animal fats, avocados are high in wonderful, plant-based monounsaturated fats. Now I’m not fooling myself into thinking this cake is good for me, but a healthy diet is as much about the minor choices we make in our day as the major ones, right? And if you don’t buy any of that, how about the fact that this St. Patty’s Day cake has green frosting, and I didn’t use a single drop of food coloring! Point for Mother Nature!

I know you’re wondering, so I will allay your fears posthaste. You can’t taste the avocado. You won’t believe there’s avocado even in it. Seriously. Would it be uncouth of me to say you won’t believe it’s not butter? Really, besides making the overall cake a slight iota healthier, and providing a natural and very appropriate greenish tint, the avocado doesn’t really factor in. You could definitely just replace the avocado with an equal amount of room temperature butter (just make sure you let the chocolate mixture cool first, so you don’t melt your butter). No worries. Hey, since there's no butter, I guess this would technically be an avocadocream frosting?  And a term was coined...

What makes this frosting delicious is a combination of white chocolate, Bailey’s Irish Cream, and a splash of whiskey for good measure. I don’t know what to say about it other than it is a sweet, smooth, ooey gooey frosting. I added the Bailey’s and whiskey to the white chocolate while it was melting because I was going more for flavor than a punch of alcohol. But don’t worry, it’s not shy. It still has creamy and ever so smoky flavor that warms you up from the inside out, and the white chocolate provides a nice counterbalance of sweetness that is more interesting than just straight sugar. A perfect pair to a chocolate stout cake.

Since it's just an unassuming sheet cake, it certainly isn't winning any beauty pageants. But that's part of its charm.  It will fit right in with your corned beef and cabbage.

Have I mentioned I’ve made this cake three times already? I wish I could say I gave most of it away. I gave some of it away. But most of it ended up in my tummy. Ok, mostly in Husband’s tummy. But you didn’t hear it from me.

Got any harebrained kitchen experiment fantabulous success stories of your own?

St. Patty’s Day Cake
aka: chocolate stout cake with white chocolate Irish cream avocadocream frosting

cake adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the cake:
1 cup stout
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
⅓ cup whiskey
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 TB instant espresso or coffee powder (optional)
2 cups AP flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
⅔ cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 9x13” baking dish with nonstick spray. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the stout, butter, and whiskey to a simmer. Add the cocoa powder and instant espresso, if using, and whisk until it is fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool a bit. 
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cayenne pepper, if using. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sour cream together on medium-low speed until they are well blended. Add the vanilla and blend. Add the stout mixture, making sure it is cool enough that it won’t hurt the eggs, and beat to combine. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until it is mostly incorporated, then use a spatula to fold any loose bits of flour into the batter. 
  3.  Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish, smooth it into an even layer, and bake for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let it cool completely in the dish.

For the avocadocream:
1 cup white chocolate chips (or ~6oz. of a white chocolate bar, chopped)
¼ cup Bailey’s Irish Cream
1 TB whiskey
1 cup avocado flesh (~2 medium avocados), well mashed
1-2 TB fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
2-3 cups powdered sugar

  1. In a double boiler (or a bowl sitting over a small saucepan of simmering water), melt the white chocolate. Add the Bailey’s and whiskey and stir to combine. Let it cook for a bit if you want the alcohol to burn off a bit, otherwise, remove it from the heat and set it aside to cool. 
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the avocado on medium speed for a minute or so, until it’s smooth. Add 1TB of lemon juice, vanilla, and salt, and mix to combine. Add the cooled chocolate mixture, and mix until it is well combined. 
  3. Working ½ cup at a time, with the mixer on low speed, add the powdered sugar until a thickened, gloppy consistency is reached. Important note: the frosting will thicken more as the chocolate cools, so don’t worry if it’s not firming up like you expect. It’s more important to watch the level of sweetness from the sugar. Add the other TB of lemon juice to balance the flavor if desired. 
  4. Once the cake is cooled, spread the frosting over the top in an even layer, and enjoy!