Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"The Great British Bake Off Perfect Cakes & Bakes to Make At Home" - Bitter Chocolate Stout Cake for my husband's birthday

Date I made this recipe:  March 4, 2017 for my husband's 60th birthday

The Great British Bake Off Perfect Cakes & Bakes to Make at Home by Linda Collister, with recipes by Mary Berry & Paul Hollywood and the Bakers of 2016
Published by Love Productions/Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 978-1-473-61544-1; © 2016
Purchased at Bibelot, St. Paul
Recipe:  Bitter Chocolate Stout Cake – p. 40-42

Well folks, my darling husband just commenced firing on his 6th decade which gave me the perfect excuse to make a recipe from this book.  And not just any recipe, reader, but a recipe involving chocolate and chocolate stout (beer) which he considers to be food of the gods.  I cannot argue with that!

Now even though Andy has a mean hand when it comes to making cakes, pastries and pies, particularly pies, I did not buy this book for him because he wouldn't have used it.  Instead, I do what I often do for Christmas and that is to buy a bunch of cookbooks for myself that I label as being from him; he does the same with bicycle parts that he wants and it works like a charm! In this case, although I would have purchased this book anyway, (from "me" to "me"), as soon as I saw the Bitter Chocolate Stout Cake recipe, I knew I would earmark it for his upcoming 60th birthday because that's the kind of spouse I am!

I've mentioned in previous blogs how much I love The Great British Bake Off, the TV show responsible for cookbooks like these of the same name, and I won't go into a lot of detail here except to say I have updates and folks and fans, they are not necessarily good updates so brace yourselves: the show is leaving the BBC for another network that is not the BBC.  There, I said it.

You may be thinking "Well, so what?" but apparently this decision might just derail the show all together because judge Mary Berry, and hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc decided not to make the move and so are- gasp- out!  Double gasp!  How can this be?  The only one left standing who decided to try out the new network is judge Paul Hollywood. 

I am trying, unsuccessfully, to imagine a show with only Paul as the host.  I loved those three other ladies.  Loved them.  Now what?

Well not only did all of Britain have a collective meltdown but here in the U.S. we are left wondering "what next" as well because the show aired for us here on PBS which often rebroadcasts BBC shows.  So no BBC in Britain likely means no PBS rebroadcast here.

I shall stay as on top of this situ for you as I can.

Meanwhile folks, back to the cookbook and here is where I must take a few moments to critique the cookbook which I now call The Great British Bitch-off.  Why?  Because of the countless challenges I encountered while trying to pull together a simple birthday cake.  A simple chocolate + stout birthday cake.

First, and in case you didn't know, England uses mostly the metric system for measuring things which means that instead of ounces, we're talking grams, instead of fluid ounces, we're talking liters and so on.  And while conversion charts abound (including one in the back of the book but not the front of the book which would have been more helpful), almost none of the measures I needed was on that inconvenient chart which meant I had to weigh them out anyway.  Besides, all the chart did was convert grams to ounces and I do not keep a runny tally of ounces needed in my head:  it's "cups" or bust!

But then to really yank this Yank's chain, some of the ingredients were in teaspoons and tablespoons.  Well fine, then, be that way.  In my opinion, not enough of the ingredients were in teaspoons but I take my wins where I could find them.

Still in all, measuring grams or ounces required a kitchen scale and let me say right now and we shall consider this a new and mandatory rule:  if you don't have a kitchen scale, get one. If you don't want one, this is not the recipe or cookbook for you.  Even then, by the time I finished measuring out the ingredients (both on a scale or by hand), I'd say a good hour had passed and I hadn't even started baking yet.  Major point deductions for that, folks.  Major.

Then there was the "guess what this ingredient is called in the U.S." game that I had to play with a couple of the ingredients listed in this recipe such as "light muscovado sugar" (light brown sugar), or "icing sugar," which is confectioners' sugar.

In fact, small story here about confectioner's sugar.  I Googled "icing sugar" and finally found a video of a British baker mixing regular sugar and cornstarch together in a Cuisinart.  So then I Googled "sugar and cornstarch" and up poppef "confectioners' sugar."  Ah ha!  So I doubled checked C&H's (sugar producer) website but couldn't find confirmation that icing sugar and confectioners' sugar were one in the same.  And the customer service person was no help.  When I asked her if "icing sugar" was the same as "confectioners' sugar" she said "I have no idea."

Really?  I mean, you work for a sugar company, surely you'd know this.  So I put on my best attorney voice and then said "Well, can you at least confirm (or deny – your choice) that confectioners' sugar is a mixture of regular sugar and cornstarch?"  "Yes, I can confirm that."

Now really, was that hard?
Okay then, so once I resolved those two issues, I was almost ready to go.  Still to be resolved:  how to make "self-rising" flour at home because I sure as heck wasn't going out to buy a large bag that I would never use.  This one was easy:  mix 1 cup of flour with 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder with ¼ teaspoon salt. Piece of cake, 'scuse the pun.  Except folks, it wasn't exactly a piece of cake because I needed more than 1 cup self-rising flour.  In fact, I needed 250g or 9 ounces.  Well, I was all out of patience with today's math problems so what my husband suggested and what I did, was to make up another cup of the mixture then measure out the 9 ounces I needed on my kitchen scale and then toss the rest.  I hate wasting ingredients but at this point, I just needed to get this cake done already.

The last thing I needed to do was to convert the measurements for the British baking pans and that was somewhat easy:  two 20.5cm pans are equal to two 8" round cake pans.  I know this because I have a tape measure in my kitchen with inches on one side and those ghastly centimeters on the other.  Not that I keep it around for projects like this but since I did and it was handy, it saved me yet another trip to my computer.

Please note that between tax, license, Google searches and measurements, the total elapsed time was now about two hours.  Good thing I decided to give this recipe a dry run the night before I served it.  Also?  This was one of the easier recipes in this book!

Speaking of which, please do make a note that the subtitle of this cook is "Perfect Cakes & Bakes To Make At Home," and no offense to the show, but are they kidding me? Let's take a look at our chapters and then we can talk:

  • Cakes ("Greek Lemon-Yoghurt Loaf Cake;" "Bitter Chocolate Stout Cake")
  • Biscuits & Teatime Treats ("Mexican Wedding Cookies;" "Posh Granola Bars")
  • Breads ("Sprouted Wheat Bread;" "Cobbled Chocolate Loaf")
  • Desserts & Puddings ("Chocolate-Hazelnut Rochers;" "Grand Strawberry Mouse" with homemade ladyfingers, no less.)
  • Sweet Pastry & Patisserie ("Bitter Chocolate and Pear Tartlets;" "Gateau St-Honore," and even though "gateau" is the French word for "cake," you should run away from recipes like this because they are involved.  Very involved.)
  • Savoury Bakes ("Roast Vegetable and Cashew Pie;" "Duck and Pistachio Pate En Croute."  Let that last recipe just sink in, okay?)

Some translation is required and so please make a note that:
  • Biscuits = cookies
  • Puddings = other desserts and not necessarily [Jell-O]pudding as we know it.
  • Savoury, or as we say in America "savory," are things like crackers or canapés.

Far be it from the Brits to call a spade a "spade!"

Anyway, in my opinion, the degree of difficulty rises as we move from chapter to chapter.  The first one – "Cakes" – is relatively harmless except for the time spent measuring and "translating" ingredients.  But by the time we hit "Desserts & Puddings," my baking poker hand was getting weaker, by "Sweet Pastry & Patisserie," I was  bluffing badly, and by "Savoury Bakes," many of which require the use of phyllo dough, I folded!  Now then, will the person who makes "Duck and Pistachio Pate En Croute" at home on a regular basis please contact me ASAP?  Thank you.

And so now back to our recipe, already in progress!  Once I got everything measured, putting it all together didn't take long but cleaning up afterwards did.  I don't know about you, but I find working with melted chocolate to be a challenge because the cocoa "butter" in the chocolate itself makes it greasy and greasy items take some real elbow grease to get clean.  And since I had to melt chocolate a few times over for this endeavor, I was constantly wiping down melted chocolate from pans and bowls and spatulas and walls since it splattered here and there. 

So I tell you what, if it wasn't for my husband's birthday and his love of the two primary ingredients, I might have been tempted to chuck this book into the nearest dust bin (British-speak for "waste basket") but a birthday comes but once a year and a 60th birthday is special.  Plus, and this is the big thing, the cake was delicious.  The cake itself was a little dry but only a very little, probably because I baked it the full 25 minutes but that's because it was still soupy at 22 minutes (baking time was 20-25 minutes).  Fair warning then: somewhere between 23 and 24, but not 25 minutes, is where you want to land.  Had judge Paul Hollywood sampled it, he would have likely said "It's good, but the sponge – which he pronounced "spooonge" is a little dry," so thank goodness for the frosting which was the real star of the show.

I have previously mentioned in this blog that I am all about the frosting as the cake doesn't interest me much at all, and this frosting was delicious.  That "icing sugar" (!) was just the ticket and I could have eaten the entire bowl and skipped putting it on the cake all together except Andy had some guy friends over and we needed to be able to serve a frosted cake to our 15 or so guests. Said guests then inhaled every single crumb of this cake, every single piece and so my plan for leftover frosting (and oh sure, the cake, too) went out the window.  Damn and blast!

Now then, I have one last piece of unfinished business to discuss and it's the alcohol in this cake.  For those of you with concerns, let me just talk out loud about a couple of things:  You might (emphasis on "might") be able to substitute a chocolate syrup mix for the chocolate stout if you wish; consider the "Hot Bitter Chocolate Sauce" recipe on p. 20 of the book.  You might also consider using a slurry (I just love that word) of chocolate syrup, malt powder (used in the recipe) and milk instead of the alcohol.  Or, you can think of it this way:  the recipe calls for 150ml of chocolate stout (or porter) which is the equivalent of just over 5 ounces (8 ounces is a cup).  Andy cut this cake into 15 slices and so it you divide out that 5 ounces into 15 slices, you basically have about an eye dropper full of chocolate stout per piece which is to say not much of anything.  That said, I am not here to encourage you to cook with alcohol if you're uncomfortable, but I think it was there to just enhance the flavor and add to the volume without intending to give anyone a hangover.

All in all, my husband had a great 60th birthday and this cake helped a lot.  He was a little nervous about inviting "the guys" over since sometimes men can be reticent about going to a birthday party, but a good number of them came over and enjoyed the cake and other savoury/savory items, and it was a lot of fun.  I'm still on the fence about the level of fun I experienced making the cake but that is to be expected as the bakers in this cookbook were all (2016) contestants on the show and they could out-bake me with their hands tied behind their backs.  In the end, I'll take the fact that I didn't go nuts, didn't scream at anybody and didn't burn down the house as my own version of a "win" on The Great British Bake Off – "At Home with Ann and Andy!" 

Bitter Chocolate Stout Cake – serves 10-12 – Ann's Note:  it helps to have a kitchen scale
For the sponge
40 g cocoa powder
1 tablespoon malted-milk drink powder (use "original," not diet or flavoured versions)
150 ml chocolate milk stout OR porter
150g unsalted butter, softened
120g caster sugar (Ann's Note:  a/k/a superfine sugar)
120g light muscovado sugar (Ann's Note:  a/k/a light brown sugar)
2 medium eggs, at room temperature, beaten to mix
4 tablespoons buttermilk, at room temperature
250g self-raising flour (Ann's Note:  *see below for how to make this at home)
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (Ann's Note:  a/k/a Baking Soda)
Good pinch of fine sea salt

*The standard "recipe" for making self-rising flour is to add 1 ½ tsp baking powder and ¼ tsp salt to 1 cup All Purpose Flour.  Since you will need more than that for the recipe, make a double batch of the recipe then weigh it and subtract out what you don't need. 

For the chocolate filling and frosting
85g dark chocolate (about 70% chocolate solids)
1 ½ tablespoons malted-milk drink powder ("original")
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons boiling water
115g unsalted butter, softened (Ann's Note:  one stick of butter is 113g so you will need a little more from another stick)
25g light muscovado sugar (Ann's Note:  a/k/a light brown sugar)
75g icing sugar (Ann's Note:  a/k/a Confectioner's sugar)
Good pinch of sea salt flakes, or to taste

To finish
15g dark chocolate (about 70% cocoa), grated

Ann's Note: You'll need two 20.5cm round, deep sandwich tins, greased with butter and base-lined.  Translation:  two 8" round cake pans, greased then lined with parchment paper. I have no idea why round cake pans are called "sandwich tins," but mine is not to question why, mine is to Google search to figure it out!

Heat the coven to 350F.  Measure the cocoa and malted milk powders into a small pan, add the milk stout and set over low heat.  Whisk constantly with a small hand wire whisk until the mixture is smooth and comes to the boil – take care it doesn't catch on the base of the pan.  Remove from the heat and leave until cooled to room temperature.

Meanwhile, put the softened butter into a mixing bowl, or the bowl of  free-standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, until creamy and mayonnaise-like.  Scrape down the side of the bowl, then beta in the caster sugar.  As soon as it is thoroughly amalgamated, beat in the muscovado (light brown sugar) sugar (press out any lumps first).  Once combined, scrape down the side of the bowl again, then beta for 2 minutes to make a soft, light creamed mixture.

Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition and scraping down the side of the bowl from time to time.  Beat in the buttermilk a tablespoon at a time, adding a tablespoon of the weighed flour with the last 2 additions.  Sift the remaining flour with the bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and salt into the bowl.  Add the cooled cocoa mixture.  Mix in using the whisk on its lowest speed, stopping as soon as the mixture is very smooth.

Divide the mixture equally between the 2 sandwich tins and spread evenly.  Bake in the heated oven for 20-25 minutes until the sponges are well risen and springy when gently pressed in the center. (Ann's Note:  20 minutes is too short.  Twenty two minutes was also too short. Twenty five minutes was too long.  Try for 23-24 and then stop.  Immediately.)  Remove from the oven and run a round-bladed knife around the inside of each tin to loosen the sponge, then turn it out on to a wire rack and leave to cool.

When sponges have cooled to room temperature, make the chocolate mixture for the filing and frosting.  Gently melt the chocolate then leave to cool until needed.  Put the malted-milk powder and cocoa powder into a small heatproof bowl, add the boiling water and stir to make a smooth paste.  Leave to cool.  (Ann's Note:  this didn't really make a paste as it was more like a thick syrup.  No matter, it worked.)

Beat the butter in a mixing bowl until very creamy using a wooden spoon or hand-held electric whisk, then beat in the muscovado sugar (press out any lumps first).  Add the cooled melted chocolate and beat well, then beat in the cooled cocoa liquid.  Sift the icing sugar (confectioner's sugar) into the bowl and beat, slowly at first, until the mixture is very smooth and light in texture.  Sprinkle over the salt and stir in.

Now set one sponge, crust-side down, on a serving plate.  Spread over half the chocolate mixture.  Set the other sponge on top, crust-side up.  Spread and swirl the rest of the chocolate over the surface.  Grate the dark chocolate on top – or decorate with chocolate curls shaved off with a vegetable peeler.  Leave the frosting to firm up for at least 2 hours before cutting the cake.  Store in an airtight container and eat within 4 days.

Ann's Final Note:  I didn't have time to let the frosting firm up but it was just fine and met my strict frosting requirements, thank you very much.  Also, intriguing as it is to know that this cake lasts 4 days, I don't think it lasted for four minutes once Andy started cutting it. Of course, it helps to have 15 people helping to eat it but still, this was one tasty cake.  It looked like hell but I was not trying for bakery-competition worthy so there you go. 

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