Friday, May 21, 2010

A Hobnob With a Hobgob(lin)

I love opening my kitchen to anyone who happens to drop by. Friends, family, friends of friends, kids and pets are all equally welcome in my kingdom of sorts, provided that (most) of the damage incurred is to food and not the furniture! I can even take a decent amount of "damage" to my nerves - after the Boys and Girls Club, I'm pretty sure they're cloaked in neual Scotchgard™! I've even been known to invite some pretty shady characters - some cake-loving devils for instance - and some sweet angels too. But I'd never had a hobgoblin in my fridge, until now.

Mind you, the hobgoblin fit quite comfortably inside there, being a bottle of beer and all. When it came time for me to make my contribution to the Simcoe chapter of the Autism Society of Ontario's Fifth Annual Evening for Autism, I was casting my mind around for ideas as to what to do that was new and unique this time around. There was a request on the books for a similar cake to last year's, so I knew that that would be made, but it wasn't until I saw my dad wearing a shirt from Wychwood Brewery with the imp on it's front that I wondered how it would fare in cake. Ironically, I had bought him that shirt with a bottle of the same beer for Christmas a few years back, for no other reason really than because the logo was neat and hey, the beer came with a shirt! Yeah, that was a real sentimental gift, I tell ya! ;-)

So anyways, I started to search for what the beer actually was supposed to taste like - I know it sounds odd, I mean why not just go crack a bottle and try it myself, right? Well, that nasty little alcohol allergy thing eighty-sixed that kind of plan, but luckily there seem to be some well-worded beer connoisseurs out there that helped clue me in.

Apparently, the brew has coffee, spice almond aromas and a flavour of malt, chocolate, coffee and smoke. Some people claim a caramel or even a toasted bread type of nuance in the bottle. I don't know about you, but these all sound like pretty tasty elements, not the least in a cake! Even the note about "smoke aroma" isn't too far out of left field, really - think of sweet maple or apple wood, or slightly charred marshmallows over a camp fire. Plus, I've used not only smoked salt but liquid smoke in cookies before - remember?

So a new brew for the cake... nice, but I still wanted something really different. Something I'd never used before. Well, to start, I figured I would beef up the chocolate flavour a bit more with a half cup of super-strong espresso. A dig through my pantry cache gave me a few unexpected bonus flavours too - deep, bittersweet Demerara sugar and a bag of previously forgotten malted barley flour! But what to do with the now superfluous 1/2 cup of beer left in the bottle? Well, I would like to say that it was a stroke of genious that brought me to my final plan... but in reality it was really more of a stroke of luck - the Food Network's Ultimate Recipe Showdown: Cookies show was on, and when I was looking up the recipe for one of the other contestant's cookies, the "White Beer Cookies" by Sean LaFond caught my eye. The directions called for reducing the beer with sweetener to make a syrupy drizzle that wouldn't throw off the dry/wet ratio of the mixture, which would then have the intensified flavour of the ale.

That's when the lightbulb went on for me. I could just combine the leftover hobgoblin with a touch of brown sugar and cook it into a thin beery caramel, then add it to the standard cream cheese filling and masking frosting! It would give that added *punch* to the basic recipe! But it involved a form of one of my greatest fears in the kitchen: hot sugar. For me, hot, sticky mixtures are right up there with boiling oil on the "stay away, far away" list. My track record with it's not stellar - I have a few burn marks on both my skin and some oven mitts to prove that. But hey, I was more experienced in the kitchen now, and if it didn't work out this time for whatever reason I could just junk the mixture and nobody would know!

It did work out though - about 20 minutes simmering on the stove brought about a rich, dark syrup that thickened nicely as it cooled down. It wasn't quite liquid candy-thick, more like pancake syrup, but it had reduced way down and would more than serve it's purpose in flavouring the relatively bland filling.


The rest of the cake-making was pretty standard issue, aside from the new flour and sugar I used and the hit of espresso I threw in! The method stayed the same though, because why mess with a good thing? I've done this cake four times in two and a half years - I know it works. The ganache on top of the whole shebang stayed the same too, because it's pretty hard to change up a mixture of two ingredients that is supposed to be simple. A generous sprinkle of decorator's sugar formed a lush grassy field on the dark chocolate, which I then dotted with candy-covered chocolate pebbles, eventually using them to make a nest for a few malt-chocolate Easter eggs.

So how did it all go over? I wasn't able to attend the evening myself, but I heard back from the organizer that weekend, who extended her thanks for the cake and telling me it's final selling price at the auction - $200! Considering that last year's cake fetched a respectable $120, I was flabberghasted at the increase. I'm thinking that hobgoblin just might have been an angel in disguise!

Hobgoblin's Chocolate Cake
Serves 20
1 1/2 cups Hobgoblin Ale (or similar malty stout beer)
1/2 cup brewed espresso
1 1/2 cups salted butter
1 cup Demerara sugar
1 1/2 cups dark cocoa powder
2 cups flour
1 cup cake flour
1 cup malted barley flour
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs
1 1/3 cups full fat sour cream

Filling
1/2 cup Hobgoblin Ale
1 tsp Demerara sugar
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups sifted icing sugar  
 
Poured ganache for finishing
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F, grease and line two 9" spring-form pans.
  2. In a large saucepan, combine stout and coffee with the butter and bring to a simmer.
  3. Stir in brown sugar until blended, simmer 5 minutes.
  4. Add cocoa powder, whisking well until the mixture is smooth.
  5. Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
  7. In another large bowl, beat eggs and sour cream together well.
  8. Beat in the slightly cooled beer mixture.
  9. Fold flour mixture into the batter until everything is completely combined.
  10. Bake cakes about 50 minutes, or until a tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean.
  11. Cool completely in tins before turning out, filling and frosting.
Filling:
  1. In a small pot, cook stout and brown sugar over low heat until reduced to 2 tbsp. Chill completely.
  2. Cream together the cream cheese, shortening and butter in a large bowl until creamy.
  3. Beat in the reduced stout and vanilla, then gradually add icing sugar to your desired consistency.
  4. Chill 2 hours before use, store unused portions in the refrigerator or freeze.
Finishing:
  1. Slice each cake layer in half horizontally, to form 4 layers. Place one layer on a cake round.
  2. Spread with a generous dollop of filling, top with another layer of cake.
  3. Repeat until the cake is stacked. Chill until stable, about 1 hour.
  4. Coat the cake in a thin layer of the remaining filling/frosting to seal in the crumbs and even the sides, chill until firm.
  5. Make the ganache, allowing it to stand 10-15 minutes to thicken slightly, then pour over the cake (placed over a wire rack to let excess run through) in 2 or 3 coats, waiting 5 minutes in between each coat.
  6. Decorate as you wish!
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 654.9
Total Fat: 34.5 g
Cholesterol: 117.0 mg
Sodium: 212.4 mg
Total Carbs: 86.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.2 g
Protein: 8.3 g