Short & Stout: Italian Chocolate Guinness Cake

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you! I know what you’re thinking; didn’t you just post a chocolate-stout cake last weekend? And it’s true, I did. But that Drunk Bundt Cake was so obscenely delicious that I can’t.stop.thinking. about chocolate-stout cake. And what do I do in such desperate times? Obviously I scour the internets for more. (And really, if you try to tell me that just *one* chocolate-stout cake is enough, I will unabashedly rationalize them like boots– why yes, I do need several pairs of boots for different occasions, moods, and outfits. Chocolate-stout cakes are no different, thankyouverymuch.) I honestly don’t remember how I came upon it, but when I saw the recipe for this Italian Chocolate Guinness Cake, I stopped dead in my tracks. Partly because it was bellissima! (as the Italians would say) and partly because it was a breathtaking marriage of my dual affinities for all things Irish and Italian, I knew I had to make it mine; I had to know this cake intimately. Around this time of year, I’m typically looking for interesting Irish-inspired delights like many bakers, but as I’ve gotten more and more interested in Italian desserts this year, I was so intrigued with this Italian take on a St. Patrick’s Day favorite. Sure enough, the recipe included typical Italian baking ingredients like Type “00” flour, mascarpone cheese, and Italian leavener– the blogger from Oggi Pane e Salame, Domani had, indeed, made it uniquely Italian. But as I reached the bottom of the blog post, I learned that it was adapted from one Trish DeSeine, who as it turned out, is an Irish blogger. It was as though life had come full circle in that moment. So I set out to find the original English-language recipe to cross-reference with the Italian one, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find it in any corner of the internet; it appears to have been printed in 2012 in the Australian magazine Delicious. (Though I did find a French adaptation.) But no matter, because the Italian interpretation looked positively delectable.

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Now, I absolutely gushed last weekend about the BAKED chocolate-stout cake (totally merited), and this one was quite lovely as well. The former is the one you bring to the raucous St. Paddy’s Day party, while this one would be more suited to, say, Irish dinner with your family. I would describe it as the more demure, genteel, elegant cousin because the cake is less sweet and the stout flavor, more subtle, while the Bundt cake is the drunk party-girl of chocolate-stout cakes. (Not that this was a bad thing.) Anyway, this cake is topped with a swirling cloud of mascarpone cream, which is made with Italian cream cheese; I love American cream cheese frostings, but mascarpone takes it to a whole new level. It is more luxurious and has a hint of sweetness– perfect on top of the intense chocolate-stout flavors.

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A few ingredient notes:

  • Type “00” flour: This is a very finely-ground Italian flour commonly used for pizza and pasta doughs, and sometimes in pastry. You can find it in some well-stocked grocery stores and international markets. If you prefer, you can probably use regular all-purpose flour, though I don’t know how different the cake would be. (I presume that Trish DeSeine did not use magical Italian flour, but I’m not sure if there were any other adjustments made from the original.)
  • Crème fraîche/sour cream: The recipe calls for panna acida, which literally translates to ‘sour cream’, but I have a feeling that as a European, she originally used crème fraîche, so I went with that. I think you can probably use regular American sour cream and achieve pretty similar results.
  • Italian leavener: In Italy, many recipes call for something called lievito in polvere, which is a vanilla-scented chemical leavener. I have not been able to ascertain whether this is baking soda or baking powder, or something altogether different. I do have the lievito (easily found on Amazon), which I used, though I suspect baking soda is okay because the French adaptation used it, and because other cakes with similar ingredients use baking soda.
  • Cocoa powder: The Italian recipe calls for cacao amaro, which translates to ‘bitter cocoa’; I didn’t know if this simply meant dark unsweetened cocoa powder or black cocoa, which is over-roasted in the Dutching process (think Oreo cookies). Since the cake was so black in the photos, I decided to use half Valrhona and half Guittard black cocoa, which did indeed yield a very dark, almost black color. And the black cocoa played unbelievably well with the stout! You can easily use 100% regular cocoa powder if you don’t have black cocoa on hand, though it is well worth procuring!
  • Muscovado sugar: Muscovado is similar to brown sugar, except it is darker, stickier, and less refined (i.e. containing more molasses). Though it isn’t 100% necessary, I strongly recommend combining it with the granulated sugar in a separate bowl and breaking up the sticky clumps; it would be very difficult to get those lumps out once the sugar is already added to the batter. Dark brown sugar should work as a substitute here, though I have not tried it.

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Italian Chocolate Guinness Cake
Adapted from Oggi Pane e Salame, Domani
Yields 1 8″ or 9″ cake

The recipe that I worked from included only weights, which is what I used and prefer, but I measured everything for volume. I highly recommend using weights because they are more accurate– the volume measurements are my best approximations.

The recipe calls for a 20cm springform pan, which is approximately 8″, but a standard American springform is 9″ (that’s standard, isn’t it?), so that’s what I used. I love the height of the original cake, and mine was not that tall; however, I think a regular 8″ round cake pan is too short to contain all the batter, unless you have an extra tall one. Basically, if you have a tall 8″ inch vessel, use it; if not, a 9″ springform will work.

The original recipe recommends baking for 1 hour; mine seemed done in 40 minutes, though next time I would leave it in for another 5 minutes.

For the cake:

  • 250 grams (14 tablespoons/2 sticks + 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, preferably Irish (such as Kerrygold)
  • 40 grams (½ cup) dark unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Valrhona, sifted
  • 40 grams (½ cup) black cocoa powder, such as Guittard or King Arthur, sifted
  • 250 ml (1 cup) Guinness stout beer, measured below the foam after it has settled
  • 275 grams (2 ½ cups + 1 tablespoon) Type “00” flour
  • 2 teaspoons Italian lievito in polvere or baking soda, sifted
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 125 grams (⅔ cup) granulated sugar
  • 125 grams (½ cup + ½ tablespoon) dark muscovado sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 150 grams (⅔ cup) crème fraîche
  • ½ tablespoon pure vanilla paste or extract, or seeds scraped from ½ vanilla bean pod

For the cream topping:

  • 250 grams (1 cup + 2 tablespoons) mascarpone cheese, slightly softened
  • 50 grams (¼ cup) heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup (55 grams) confectioners’ sugar, plus more to taste, for a sweeter mixture

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch springform pan (see note above) with parchment paper; grease the paper and the sides of the pan and dust with cocoa powder, knocking out the excess.

Place the butter, sifted cocoa powders, and Guinness in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Melt them together, stirring occasionally and scraping the cocoa from the corners of the pan. Remove from the heat once the butter pieces have melted and the mixture is a homogenous almost-black shade; do not bring it to a boil. Set the pan aside to cool.

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Whisk the flour, sifted leavener, and salt in a small bowl; set aside.

Combine the granulated and muscovado sugars in a medium bowl with your hands, breaking up any hard clumps of muscovado (see ingredient note above). This can also be done in a food processor. Set aside the bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the crème fraîche and vanilla paste/extract and whisk to combine.

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Next add the sugars and whisk them into the egg mixture until blended– you may still have some tiny sugar lumps. Fold the flour mixture into the batter with a rubber spatula; it will get very thick. Gradually stream in the cooled cocoa/beer mixture and carefully start incorporating it. Switch back to the whisk once the mixture loosens up and whisk the batter just until everything is evenly blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and smooth the top. Bake for 40-50 minutes; the cake will develop a dome and will crack on top. Test the center of the cake and some of the cracks for doneness with a toothpick– it should come out clean.

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Set the pan on a wire rack to cool for about 10-15 minutes. Gently release the springform clamp and remove the ring from the cake. After another 5 minutes or so, carefully slide the pan bottom out from under the parchment paper and let the cake cool completely on the paper, set on the rack.

Once the cake has cooled, make the mascarpone topping. Place the mascarpone cheese in a medium bowl with high sides. Mash it around a few times with a spatula to loosen it up. Add the heavy cream and whisk them together, or whip them with a hand mixer on medium speed until they are combined and fluffy. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat on low until it has been completely absorbed; do not overbeat, as the cream will get curdled.

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Scrape the mascarpone cream onto the center of the cooled cake and spread it over the cake in a swirly design with an offset spatula.

The cake can be stored in the fridge, tightly covered, for about 2 days.

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.

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