Other people’s recipes: Black Chocolate Stout Cake with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese “Buttercream” from Ovenly

My first baking project of the “holiday season” was a bit of a production, despite being a relatively simple two-layer chocolate cake. Perhaps this was a result of being out of practice, after nearly a month off. This is the chocolate cake I had postponed from late October, because the beer it calls for was not available: Black Chocolate Stout Cake (Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin, Ovenly [Harlequin, 2014], p. 140) calls for Brooklyn Brewery‘s Black Chocolate Stout, a version of a Russian Imperial Stout, which is only available in late autumn. It finally showed up in the package store a couple of weekends ago, so I bought a four-pack and resolved to finally bake this cake — which is, for what it’s worth, featured on the cookbook’s front cover. Since I don’t drink, I’ll have to bake more cakes to use up the remaining three bottles after this weekend’s adventure, but I don’t think I’ll have too much trouble doing that. The “master recipe” here calls for a “buttercream” (sweetened fat, not proper buttercream) that is flavored with cream cheese and caramel sauce, but Kulaga and Patinkin provide two other recipes that use the same batter. (Incidentally, their stout cake recipe is an adaptation of one from Bon Appétit magazine.)

Mise en place for cake
The parts list for the cake batter is pretty simple. In addition to one 12-ounce bottle of the eponymous beer, it takes three sticks (340 g) of butter, 13 ounces (370 g) of all-purpose flour, 550 g of sugar, ¾ tablespoon of baking soda — not having a ¾-tbl measure, I found it easier to measure this by weight, 12 g — half a tablespoon of salt, a cup (230 g) of sour cream, and three eggs. The recipe calls for all “dark Dutch process” cocoa, which goes by a number of different names; I used a mixture of equal parts King Arthur Flour’s “black cocoa” and regular Valrhona Dutch-process cocoa, coming to a total of 140 g, mostly because I didn’t want to use up all of my black cocoa on this one recipe.

Dry ingredients (including sugar)
For various reasons, I did the intermediate preparation steps in this recipe a bit out of order (not that it actually mattered to how the cake turned out, but I needed to have the right stuff in the right-size bowls at the right times). The photo above shows all of the dry ingredients — including the sugar, unusually — combined and waiting for the wet team to be mixed in. This can be done at any time, and it would have saved me a bit of cleanup if I hadn’t been concentrating on getting everything weighed out separately for the mise photo to just measure everything into this one bowl.

Eggs and sour cream
In a second preparatory step, the sour cream and eggs are whisked together until smooth.

Beer, melted butter, and cocoa
Finally, the butter is melted in the microwave and whisked together with the stout and cocoa, as shown here. This mixture is then combined with the egg-sour cream mixture and then folded into the flour-sugar-leavening mixture (it takes a fairly large bowl to do this!).

Cake batter, portioned into two 9" pans
I neglected to note the tare weight of my mixing bowl, so I had to portion out the two cake pans by eye — which is reasonably easy to do for two portions, but a real bear if dividing in thirds. These nine-inch (225 mm) cake pans were lined with parchment rounds (I finally remembered to buy some precut ones in this size) and lubricated with baking spray before filling. The layers are baked on the middle rack of a 350°F (175°C) oven for about 40 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Although not shown here, I actually remembered to use cake strips this time.

Two cakes, baked and fully cooled
After baking, the two cake layers cool in their pans on a wire rack for two hours before being turned out for filling and frosting. Since I remembered to use the cake strips, the layers were not domed at all, and baked up evenly and quite thick, not to mention moist, dense, and chocolatey, with a firm, even crumb all the way through.

Mise en place for frosting
Now for the frosting. I made the caramel sauce back in October, storing it in the refrigerator (and eating some!) until I was finally ready for it; this recipe only calls for half a cup (150 g) out of a caramel recipe that makes 360 g. The other flavoring ingredient for the frosting is four ounces (110 g) of cream cheese. The frosting base is the so-called “American buttercream” — the same frosting your mom made by beating together confectioner’s sugar and Crisco — but in this case the fat is two sticks (225 g) of butter, rather than a half-pound of hydrogenated soybean oil. The sugar is (ridicuously) given by volume; I used the nutrition label to compute a weight of 840 g for it, but ended up only using about 790 g. The sugar, of course, must be sieved to remove the inevitable lumps, which is a time-consuming process no matter how you do it.

The frosting ingredients are brought to room temperature before whipping them together in the stand mixer. I was a bit disappointed in the volume achieved by my frosting; it did not seem to match the expectations of the recipe.

Filling the cake with frosting (1½ cups)
I began the cake construction process by using a glob of frosting to adhere the bottom layer to a cardboard round. I then measured out 1½ cups of the frosting to use as a filling (the recipe doesn’t specify a quantity, but I found that this came out to the right thickness).

Filled and crumb-coated cake
After adding the second layer, I applied the “crumb coat” — and it did indeed pick up a bunch of crumbs in the frosting process. Ordinarily one would stick the cake in the freezer to harden the crumb coat, but I didn’t have room in my freezer for that, so I had to put it in the fridge instead, for a longer time. In the second round, all of the remaining frosting was needed to cover the cake, leaving nothing to pipe around the outside by way of decoration.

One slice of cake
Wow, that just looks luscious, doesn’t it? Here’s the completed cake:
Cake minus one slice

My work colleagues absolutely loved it, but had trouble eating it all.


Now for the downside. Nothing that delicious-looking can possibly be good for you, and this cake is no exception. On the plus side, although I’ve shown it as 16 servings, this cake is so thick, dense, and moist that you could easily get far more from it — in fact, you might as well split the layers and make two completely separate cakes. (I’d suggest using something other than this frosting as a filling, however: talking to colleagues, it seems like fruity fillings — cherry or raspberry, for instance — would be better than nutty or caramelish fillings in complementing the flavor of the cake itself.)

Cake alone

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/8 of single layer cake
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 469 Calories from fat 207
% Daily Value
Total Fat 23g 36%
 Saturated Fat 15g 73%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 103mg 34%
Sodium 517mg 22%
Total Carbohydrate 59g 20%
 Dietary fiber 3g 12%
 Sugars 36g
Proteins 6g 12%
Vitamin A 17%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 2%
Iron 19%

Frosted cake as shown

Computation subject to double rounding.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/16 of frosted two-layer cake
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 828 Calories from fat 360
% Daily Value
Total Fat 40g 81%
 Saturated Fat 25g 125%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 152mg 51%
Sodium 537mg 22%
Total Carbohydrate 112g 37%
 Dietary fiber 3g 12%
 Sugars 86g
Proteins 6g 12%
Vitamin A 28%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 3%
Iron 19%
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