Brownies Via Dorie and Katharine

I’ve mentioned this before on the blog, but Sunday evening is most often reserved for dinner with our friends, Pat and Holly.  We head over to their house with the pretense of watching whichever HBO show we’re following at the moment – right now it’s the beautifully violent Boardwalk Empire – but we always share a meal prior to plopping ourselves down on the couch.

Most of the time, Pat and Holly provide the meal and I’ll bring dessert, but lately, I’ve been feeling like they do way too much, so I’ve volunteered to bring dinner once in a while.  I think a few weeks ago I brought over chicken to fry and this last Sunday I felt like spaghetti and meatballs – so I did that.  I love cooking for our Sunday get-togethers for a number of reasons.  I like giving the hosts the night off, I get to stretch my culinary muscles, and I get to test out my recipes on my friends.

There are some things I want to change with the spaghetti and meatballs, so I’ll reserve that for another post.  But I’ll tell you this: you really can’t go wrong with a rich tomato sauce left to simmer for an hour and meatballs taste their most delicious when seared first in a blazing hot cast-iron skillet and left to simmer along with the sauce.  YUM!

I don’t know about you all, but whenever we had spaghetti and meatballs at home, my mom would always follow up with a tasty pan of chocolaty brownies.  There must be something about Italian food – or tomatoes or something – that makes me crave chocolate within minutes of cleaning my plate of all the evidence.  Am I alone in this or do you all understand what I’m saying?

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Generally speaking, I don’t gravitate toward overly-sweet desserts.  As you may or may not know, my sweet tooth seems to be of the tiniest variation.  A little square of chocolate here, a gingersnap cookie there, and I’m all set.  In fact, I’ve been known to drink a glass of orange juice to take care of a sweet craving – learned that one from my mom.  I do however, love making desserts and serving them to my friends – especially on their birthdays.  I’ve been doing this for quite some time now, and I think some of them have begun to expect a cake at their celebrations, which is completely fine by me. 

I’ve been making a variation of a chocolate stout cake for so long that I could probably whip it up while wearing a blindfold.  It’s just so simple and so delicious that it’s become my go-to cake for pretty much any occasion.  It’s not too sweet, always moist, and has just the right amount of chocolate flavor to satisfy.  As perfect as that cake is, I wanted to mix it up a little and make a few changes, just for comparison’s sake. 

To me, chocolate and coffee were made for each other, and this cake has both.  If you’re planning to try this recipe, make sure you set a bit of your morning coffee aside.  Also, if you have instant espresso powder on hand, you’ll need that too.  I didn’t, but I did have a jar of Nescafé Instant coffee in the cupboard that we brought back from London.  I saved it for just these occasions when a bit of extra coffee kick is needed. 

There’s just something about baking for me – I can’t explain it.  It’s methodical, therapeutic, cathartic, even.  I feel the same way about cooking, but baking and making desserts reaches a very deep part of me.  Perhaps it reminds me of my grandmother and the way she never needed a recipe to create a delicious and beautiful dessert.  Perhaps it awakens my inner nerd in the way that different elements are mixed together, heat is applied, and voilà, cake!

Whatever the reason, I love to bake.  With every recipe, new and old, I try to improve upon my techniques and methods.  I don’t find it laborious or tedious; in fact, I enjoy the challenge.  Be it a birthday or an any day, I like sharing what I make with my friends.  I think they like it, as well.

Chocolate Stout Layer Cake
adapted from bon appétit, 2009


For cake:

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken up in to pieces
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup stout beer (chocolate stout or porter works well, also)
2/3 cup freshly brewed strong coffee, room temperature

For frosting:

1 pound bittersweet chocolate (54% to 60% cacao) chopped; I just used chips
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon instant coffee powder (or instant espresso powder)


For cake:

Pre-heat oven to 350ºF.  Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans.  Line bottom of each pan with a parchment paper round; butter and flour parchment. 

Place chopped chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl.  Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and smooth.  Remove bowl from over water and set aside.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to blend.  In the bowl of your stand mixer, (at medium-low speed) beat butter and 1 1/4 cup sugar until fluffy and pale yellow, about 2 minutes.  Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating until well blended after each addition.  Beat in lukewarm chocolate, then stout, then coffee.  Beat flour mixture into chocolate mixture in two additions, just until incorporated.

Using a clean bowl, as well as clean and dry beaters (you can use a hand mixer if you have one), beat egg whites and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar together until stiff but not dry.  Fold 1/3 of egg whites into cake batter to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites in two additions.  Divide batter between two pans; smooth tops.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes.  Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans for 20 minutes.  Invert cakes onto racks; removing parchment paper and cool completely. 

For frosting:

While cakes are baking, place chocolate pieces in a medium heatproof bowl.  Combine whipping cream and coffee powder in medium saucepan.  Bring cream mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally.  Pour cream mixture over chocolate; let stand 1 minute, then whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.  Chill chocolate frosting until slightly thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours.  For quick chilling, place in freezer until thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Place two pieces of parchment paper, slightly overlapped, on cake stand, or on whatever you plan to serve cake.  (This way, you can frost your cake, not get the stand messy, and then slip the parchment out from under cake when you’re done.)

Using serrated knife, trim rounded tops from both cake layers so that tops are flat.  Place one cake layer, trimmed side up, on parchment-lined cake stand.  Drop 1 1/4 cups frosting by large spoonfuls over top of cake layer; spread frosting evenly to edges using offset spatula.  Top with second cake layer, trimmed side down.  Spread remaining frosting  evenly over top and sides of cake.

Serve with a cold pint of stout – or milk – and eat!

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