Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bourbon-Soaked Dark Chocolate Cake

I have four words for you.

Bourbon. Chocolate. Coffee. Butter.

All in one cake!

“I am so making this,” said she.

A recipe featuring those ingredients appeared when I searched “bourbon chocolate cake.”  The New York Times posted it in December 2008 and recipes touted by the NY Times are usually incredible.  This cake – considering its alluring ingredients – clearly would not be an exception….if made right. 

Hold that thought. 

It was my turn to bring dessert last Wednesday, so guess what I made?

Before I share the recipe, allow me to share a baking-blunder and what I learned from it.

I checked to make sure I had all the required ingredients. 

Emphasis on ALL.

I had to buy more butter, eggs and vanilla.  Don’t ask me why but I did not check my granulated sugar capacity….maybe because sugar is a pantry staple and we take its availability for granted?  I don’t know why I didn’t check, I just didn’t.  And….I did not have two cups of granulated sugar.  

That was mistake #1.

I could have deployed the popular “can I borrow a cup of sugar” neighbor protocol, but again, I did not. 

That was mistake #2.

I did have raw sugar and I supplemented with it.

That, my friends, was mistake #3.

I knew I had a bit of a baking debacle on my hands when the sugar just would not dissolve and become fluffy when creamed with the butter like it has a gazillion other times. Shit Shoot, thought she, this substitution might not work.  My suspicions were correct.  So, I consulted The Sugar Association and their handbook, “Sugar’s Functional Roles in Cooking and Food Preparation” explains why.

I really do perform some basic research when I write these posts. 
Flour, sugar, butter/shortening, eggs, liquids and leavening agents (baking soda or powder, yeast, beer, buttermilk) are the basic ingredients in baked goods and "work together to form the final structure and sensory characteristics of the baked product."  When mixing, sugar absorbs water and acts as a tendering agent, incorporating air into the shortening or butter during the creaming process, promoting lightness.  During baking, those air cells expand when filled with carbon dioxide and other gases from the leavening agents and other ingredients, promoting the confection to rise.  Because raw sugar crystals are not fine enough, they could not interact with the butter properly during the initial creaming process, encouraging the initial airiness.

At least, this is how I understand it, but I was a lowly business major, not a chemistry major.  It is much more complicated (and scientific) than the simplified summary offered here and if you’d like to read more, visit The Sugar Association here.

I invite commentary from my science-type friends.

The sugar infraction did not seem to affect the taste, only the appearance in that the cake did not rise as much as I expected.  I will make this delicious cake again, using granulated sugar, as instructed.
Bourbon-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake
Adapted from the New York Times Recipe


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, more for greasing pan
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup wheat flour
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger Fine Artisan Dark)
1/4 cup instant espresso powder or instant coffee
2 tablespoons spicy cocoa powder (the original recipe called for regular cocoa powder)
1 cup bourbon, rye or whiskey (I used American Honey Bourbon by Wild Turkey)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar (see the above dissertation)
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish (optional).

1. Grease and flour a 10-cup-capacity Bundt pan (or two 8- or 9-inch loaf pans). I used my Pampered Chef springform pan with the bundt insert.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In microwave oven or double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate. Let cool.

2. Put espresso and cocoa powders in a 2-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup. Add enough boiling water to come up to the 1 cup measuring line. Mix until powders dissolve. Add whiskey and salt; let cool.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter until fluffy. Add granulated sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda and melted chocolate, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

4. On low speed, beat in a third of the whiskey mixture. When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup flour. Repeat additions, ending with whiskey mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes for Bundt pan (loaf pans will take less time, start checking them after 55 minutes).

5. Transfer cake to a rack. Unmold after 15 minutes and sprinkle warm cake with more whiskey. Let cool before serving, garnished with confectioners’ sugar if you like. 
This makes a lot of batter and I made a second mini-loaf that I served during an impromptu snow storm covered dish affair.  We put a dent in a rather nice bottle of bourbon that night.

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