Monday, January 14, 2013

Root Beer Cake

In my family, cake matters.

Birthday cake, that is.

Some birthdays, believe it or not, warrant cake from a box.  I know that you will all be horrified to read that we actually purchase box cake mix here, but it's along the lines of macaroni and cheese from a box: sometimes that's really what you want, and it makes for a slightly smaller disaster when you leave the slightly distracted six year old in charge of cake preparation.  Most times, though, if I'm baking, the birthday celebrant gets to choose the cake to commemorate the occasion. 

I don't know how this tradition evolved; not, I think, from my childhood.  In fact, this year I wracked my brains for some recollection of the cakes I ate when I was growing up, but all I could remember were the dimly lit Chinese Sunday buffet and pu pu platter at the Jade Palace, the flourescent lit stainless steel steam trays at the Cuban restaurant better known as the Union City Cafeteria, and the year that I had my birthday party at McDonalds and wore my Strawberry Shortcake dress, complete with apron.  Part of me considered calling my mother to demand if this were true, if I'd really never been baked a cake of my own choosing.  The sane part of me won out, and no phone call was made.

My son is a pretty easy-to-please client: most years he elects for vanilla cake with vanilla frosting.  My daughter has yet to understand that cake flavor and shape can be requested; I live in fear of that discovery.  My husband, though, likes to live on the edge, to look for something interesting just to see if it can be done.  One year, he wanted a meat cake (which you can view, to my vegetarian-sympathizer shame, in all of its meaty glory at the Meat Cake Gallery).  This year, he wanted either a less adventurous key lime cake or a root beer cake.  I elected to make the root beer cake, which was easier to throw together on a weekday with a toddler underfoot or in the ingredients.

It was OK, but not as fabulous as I'd hoped.  Then again, I don't much like root beer.  But maybe you do.  Either way, I've altered it below with some suggestions to make it better.

What cake would you want made for you to celebrate your birthday?
 Root Beer Float Cake

Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

The original recipe calls only for root beer, but I found that the soda alone didn't supply enough distinctive flavor.  Root beer extract (also called root beer concentrate) is actually fairly easy to find in the spice section of your grocery store, and if you prefer more "natural" extracts, those are readily available online.  I also found the frosting too thick and powdery for the cake; though I've included the slightly altered original frosting recipe, I think that a thin ganache would work just as well, letting the flavor of the cake shine through.

2 c. high quality regular root beer
1 c. unsweetened (not Dutch process) cocoa powder
1/2 c. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. light brown sugar
2 t. root beer concentrate/extract
2 c. flour
1 1/4 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 large eggs

Preheat even to 325.  Spray the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray, or butter generously and dust with flour, knocking out the excess.

In a small saucepan, heat the root beer, cocoa powder and butter over medium heat until butter is melted.  Add sugars and root beer concentrate/extract and whisk until dissolved.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl, and add them to the cocoa mixture, whisking until combined.  Sift (really, it makes a difference) the flour, baking soda and salt together into the cocoa mixture, folding it in gently as you go.  Some lumps will remain, but make sure that you're not breaking apart lumps that turn into flour bits.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35-45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely then loosen edges with a butter knife and turn out onto a cake plate.  Frost with root beer frosting or chocolate root beer ganache.

Chocolate Root Beer Ganache
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 oz. bittersweet (60% or higher) chocolate
1/2 tablespoon corn syrup or golden syrup
1 t. root beer extract/concentrate
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. In a heatproof bowl, combine the remaining 3 ounces of chopped chocolate with the corn syrup (or golden syrup), root beer extract, and butter. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand until melted, about 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Let the ganache glaze cool until thick but still pourable, about 5 minutes.

Pour the ganache over the cooled cake. Let the cake stand until the glaze is set, at least 30 minutes, before serving.

Chocolate Root Beer Frosting
2 oz. bittersweet (60% or more) chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
3/4  t. salt
1/2 c. root beer
1 t. root beer extract/concentrate
2/3 c. unsweetened (not Dutch process) cocoa powder
2 3/4  c. powdered sugar

Using an electric mixer, beat softened butter and cocoa powder.  Add the melted chocolate, salt, powdered sugar, root beer, and root beer extract.  Beat together until smooth.  Spread on top of cooled cake.
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  1. I'm so glad you wrote this post. My mom's birthday is on Wednesday and every year she gets so disappointed when we don't make her a cake. But now that you've reminded me I can make her one tomorrow. Thank you!

    My mom always makes a big deal about making the dessert of our choice on our birthdays. I think that is because--and this plays heavily in her desire to have a cake baked for her on her birthday--she never got one as a child. She and her two closest siblings had birthdays in the same week and they were always celebrated on her brother's birthday as his fell in between hers and her sister's. She's still upset about that, 50+ years later.

    I'm sure I've taken for granted that my mom takes so much care to make our birthdays special. I don't think that I care whether or not she makes me angle food cake or my favorite oatmeal cookies, because she has made them for me every year. There has never been a year she hasn't given me that.

    Birthday cakes hold a lot of weight in my family. As I don't bake, they will be different for my daughter. I wonder what our traditions will be...

  2. I love root beer. And chocolate. And putting together into a cake? I didn't know it was POSSIBLE.

    My mother, too, always made the cake we wanted for our birthdays. My favorite was always chocolate mint cake (from a box, of course, with added peppermint extract) with cool whip frosting.


  3. I wonder if Esperanza isn't on to something.... Is J's childhood cake deprivation the source of her adult baking drives?

    - S.

  4. I make my Dad a cake from a box for his birthday. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting (from a can, of course), and a peanut butter and jam centre. It's usually lopsided. He loves it.

  5. This cake and the frosting look so decadent - but then again - isn't that what birthdays are for?

  6. In our house, you always got to choose the birthday cake, and you got to choose the birthday dinner restaurant too. No matter if everyone else didn't like it.

    My mum and I kept this tradition alive, even when I was grown up. Every year, I would bake her a cake. One year it was pavlova, and I spent hours making it, even though really can't stand pavlova. It was fun, every year, and we always looked forward to it. It was about giving, and sharing.

    This year, I am opting for strawberry cheesecake for my birthday. :)

  7. I adore root beer, and I also adore all things birthday. Chocolate and root beer together sounds HEAVENLY. Thank you for sharing with me. This post, along with my cup of hot chocolate, is making for a very lovely Thursday morning. Have a great weekend!

  8. Root beer cake!! Where was this when I was a kid?? I loved root beer (although I haven't had it in years). The cakes of my childhood were always made by my mother, and were always confetti angel food cake mix, with the icing recipe that's on the box of icing (powdered) sugar. Usually coloured pimk with food colouring. ; )

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