Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Guinness Icing

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Guinness Icing

Nearly every summer, I look forward to my birthday.  There are a variety of reasons, one of them being that I still have romantic notions about the "perfect" birthday where everything goes just as planned.  Another reason I love my birthday is that it gives me a chance to make myself a birthday cake.

Well, this last weekend was my birthday.  And it did not go according to planned.... But that's OK because it was better than I imagined.   

See, I've been spending this summer teaching kids how to bake, and last week I taught cake decorating.  Teaching a classroom full of 16 kids ages 8-11 has been a very rewarding experience, but also extremely draining!  By the time the weekend came, I lost any desire at all to make myself a cake....  Instead, I opted to go to Peninsula Grill in downtown CHS with A (who came to visit as my birthday present) to eat their famous coconut cake.

iPhone pic of the coconut cake

The cake was delicious!  And huge!  I got my birthday cake fix, and I didn't even have to make it myself (or clean up the dishes).

There is a small part of me that is sad about not making cake this year.  So, I am going to share a beloved cake recipe instead.  Chocolate Stout Cupcake with Guinness Icing.

It truly is one of my favorite cake recipes, and probably my favorite chocolate cake recipe.  I'm not a beer drinker myself, but there's just something really lovely about the combination of a good dark beer with chocolate.  The beer enhances the chocolate flavor and makes it more "chocolaty."

I last made this recipe while visiting A in Texas in May.  He IS a big beer fan, even starting to brew his own beer.  Perhaps one day I'll make this cake with beer he has brewed.  I usually ice this cake quite simply with just some chocolate ganache.  But A asked if I could try to make a Guinness icing to intensify the beer flavor.

I didn't want to just add beer to the icing.  The amount of liquid necessary to add enough flavor might compromise the texture of the icing.  So, I decided to start reducing Guinness to make a "Guinness Syrup" to add to a plain Swiss Meringue Buttercream icing.

The results were amazing!  Though, it did take several tries to get the syrup just right.  I totally burned the first batch of Guinness syrup....  Answered a phone call during the boiling process and completely forgot about the pot on the stove.  Boiled the syrup away to nothing but a black, caked-on mess.  So, I started again with another bottle.  Once it reduced from an entire bottle of liquid to about 2 tablespoons of syrupy goodness, I added it into the Swiss Meringue.

We tasted it.  And it was good.  But A wanted it to have a more bold beer flavor.  So I reduced a second bottle.  For us, 2 bottles seemed to be the correct amount.  Adjust as necessary for personal preference.  And make sure you don't burn the syrup :)


Chocolate Stout Cakerecipe can be found here on the Epicurious website. The only change I usually make is that I never make more than a half recipe.  Even the half recipe made over a dozen generous cupcakes!    Oh, and I also microwave the butter and stout instead of melting it on the stove.

Guinness Icing  & cupcake assembly
4 oz Egg Whites
8 oz Granulated Sugar
12 oz Unsalted Butter, cold & cubed
Guinness Syrup, as needed to taste, (see recipe below)

1.  Combine the egg whites and granulated sugar in a double boiler.  Whisking constantly, heat the mixture to 140 F, making sure the sugar crystals all melt.

2.  Remove from the double boiler and add to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Turn the mixer on high.  After 30 seconds of whipping, start adding the butter, cube by cube.  Do not add it too slowly, or else there will be lumps of butter that are not fully combined!  Continue whipping until a thick, glossy icing is achieved.  Swiss Meringue icing always goes through an "oh crap" stage where it looks curdled... Do not be alarmed!  Keep whisking and it will eventually come together!

3.  Add the Guinness syrup & whisk to combine. Taste and add more syrup as needed.  

4.  Pipe onto cupcakes and garnish with chocolate jimmies.  Enjoy!

Guinness Syrup
1 to 2 bottles of Guinness (or other stout beer)
Granulated sugar (1 tbl per bottle of beer)

1.  Pour the Guinness into a small, heavy duty sauce pan.  Stir in 1 tablespoon per bottle of beer.

2.  Bring to a boil and cook, without stirring, until the mixture reduces to 1-2 tablespoons of liquid.  Do not forget it on the stove!  I suggest setting a timer.

3.  Add to icing.  Taste and repeat process if more syrup is necessary.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lakeside Dessert: Nectarines with Grand Marnier Chantilly Cream

::edited to include recipe at the bottom::  

I've recently returned from a whirl-wind trip to visit my boyfriend, then my family in ND.  Any summertime trip MUST include a trip to my family's lake cabin, which was built by my grandparents & great-grandparents in the 1950s.

The cabin truly is a cabin (none of this "Lake Home" grandeur) .  Three small bedrooms (where we sleep 7 total), a kitchen with a 1930s (we think) stove/non-working oven, no dishwasher, a shower where military-style showers are taken, the craaaziest carpet I've ever seen (see above), and a lovely lovely screened in porch that faces the lake.

I never realized until the past couple of summers how much of a food styling/photographing dream the cabin kitchen is.  Any sort of cast-off dish, utensil, kitchen equipment piece that my family has discontinued using has somehow migrated to the lake.  I wanted to take everything home with me!  

On this particular trip, my mom brought an abundance of gorgeous nectarines.  I decided to turn the nectarines into dessert after a dinner of walleye, caught by my Grandpa "The Master Fisherman."  The nectarines were so lovely that I  just simply sliced them into a large bowl, allowing my family to serve themselves, and top the nectarines with whipped cream as they chose.

But, not just any whipped cream.... Grand Marnier whipped cream!  I bought a small bottle of Grand Marnier to take to the lake so that I could make my famous French Toast, but there was a little extra.  So, why not Grand marnier whipped cream?  I did actually use the old fashioned rotary whisk that belonged to my great grandma to make the whipped cream because I accidentally left my beloved OXO whisk in Texas!

As much as I love vanilla, I get a little tired of plain old vanilla whipped cream.  By changing out the flavoring to the hint of orange and cognac Grand Marnier brings, the whole flavor changed.  And it complimented the ripe nectarines beautifully.

The dessert was a hit! No leftovers at all is usually a good sign. Grandpa couldn't resist using his finger to get the last bit of nectarine juice and cream.  Typical grandpa!

I always make chantilly cream (sweetened whipped cream) to taste, sans recipe.  So, use these directions as "guidelines" and keep your tasting spoon(s) close! I also always make whipped cream by hand, but feel free to use your favorite mechanical mixer if you so desire.  I think making whipped cream by hand tastes better and gives you better control over the end product (i.e. less "overwhipped" grainy cream).

Heavy Whipping Cream
Granulated Sugar
Grand Marnier

1.  Place a large bowl (glass or metal preferable) and whisk in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.  Keep the heavy whipping cream in the fridge until just ready to use.

2.  Pour the cream into the frozen bowl.  Add some granulated sugar.  Begin whisking.  Once tracks begin to form (i.e. the cream thickens enough to show lines made by the whisk), taste and see if additional sugar is needed.  Continue whisking until soft peaks form.

3. Add Grand Marnier to taste.  Make sure to use enough to taste the Grand Marnier!  Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.