Chocolate-Bourbon Cake with Browned-Butter Bourbon Buttercream
I used to always say that rum was my favorite spirit, but as I’ve gotten older I can definitely say it’s now bourbon. I love trying and buying new bourbons; there are so many out there now to choose and try. I decided to go bold and use a 100 proof bourbon and use Knob Creek which is my current favorite, but as I love to try new brands; that may be subject to change. This cake was such a sweet surprise. I love to have some texture in my cakes when I’m placing the filling, so I decided to try the butterfinger pieces that are new in the baking aisle. I was afraid it would be too sweet, but it was perfect with this cake and gave a wonderful little crunchy bite. My neighbor loves cake and every year I make his birthday cake. His wife is my best friend and she always has a great party with me bringing the cake.
1 3/4 C all purpose flour
1 3/4 C granulated sugar
3/4 C natural unsweetened coco powder (such as Hershey’s)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 Cup whole milk (room temp)
1/2 C vegetable oil or canola oil
2 large eggs (room temp)
1/2 C good quality bourbon
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 C hot coffee
Preheat the oven to 330° F – 350° degrees F. I used four 6 inch pans so I baked them at a lower temp as I wrap my pans with baking strips and I find that I prefer to bake my cakes when I do this at a bit lower temp so they come out flat. If you don’t use baking strips then bake at 350 F. Prepare the pans by spraying with baking spray. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer place all the dry ingredients and whisk well. Whisk together the milk and the next 4 ingredients well. Add to the dry and whisk to combine. Add in the hot coffee and stir with the whisk to combine. The batter will be very thin. Divide the batter equally into your pans; note if you use 6 inch pans it will be about 1 cup and 5 tablespoons of batter if you are like me and like to be precise. Bake until the tops of the cakes start to pull away from the sides and the top springs back when touched and a toothpick comes out clean. Six inch pans will take about 30-31 mins at 330° F, 8 inch pans will take 22-25 mins at 350° F. Always watch your bakes though; don’t rely on a recipe and go be strictly time alone. A good baker will always check often towards at least 5 mins before the suggested time. Cool the cakes in the pans set over a wire rack, and let cool for 20 mins, then turn out and continue to cool until the cakes are completely cool; about 40 more minutes.
While the cakes are cooling, prepare the buttercream. Note; you can make the buttercream ahead as it does take some time.
Browned Butter Buttercream
2 Cups unsalted butter
5-6 Cups un-sifted confectioner sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. heavy whipping cream
3-4 Tbsp. good quality bourbon
Butterfinger candy pieces (for sprinkling onto filling)
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring often until the butter smells nutty and fragrant and the solids at the bottom of the pan appear golden brown; about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a heatproof shallow bowl. Place in the refrigerator to chill until almost firm. Once firm take a large spoon and break it up then place in a large bowl or bowl of your stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Beat the butter until no more lumps appear and is smooth and fluffy. Gradually add in the sugar and well combined and smooth. Add in the vanilla and then the heavy cream and whip until blended. Stir in the bourbon at slow speed until blended. Switch to the paddle attachment (this is to remove any excess air and helps the buttercream to become smooth), and blend at medium low speed for about a minute. Reserve about 1/3 cup buttercream for the “poofs” at the top. I used a French tip Ateco #867 for the poofs on top but use whatever you like.
Spread the buttercream between the layers and then sprinkle with butterfinger pieces (you can find the bag in the baking aisle near the chocolate chips). Frost the sides and top of cake in a thin layer to do a crumb coat and chill for 30 minutes, then remove and frost the rest of the cake. Top the cake with poofs using a piping bag with your tip of choice and then if you like grate some finely grated bittersweet chocolate with a zest grater or top with chocolate sprinkles.
I never used to be a gingerbread flavor fan of anything. Something changed a few years ago I guess my taste buds changed and I suddenly flipped in the opposite direction. I now love gingerbread and I had to go about creating a recipe recently one morning. There is something I truly cannot stand when it comes to a scone; it cannot be even remotely dry. I can’t stand a dry scone. I know some people may scoff when they read my recipe and find out I use heavy cream. The cream creates a scone that will still be moist even a few days later (not to mention the butter). The dark brown sugar also helps in creating a moist scone as well as lending that molasses flavor that is needed when making gingerbread flavored treats. We were eating these even up to a week later and they were still moist. Please do not skip on the glaze; it makes these sconces sing! It may sound like an overpowering flavor next to the gingerbread but I assure it is not.
2 C all-purpose flour
1/4 C lightly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
1/2 Cup heavy cream very cold
1 egg yolk
1/4 Cup molasses (such as Grandmas brand)
In a small bowl combine the cold heavy cream and egg yolk with a small whisk or fork. Stir in the molasses and set the bowl back in the fridge for about 20 minutes to ensure the mixture is cold. In a large bowl combine the first 8 ingredients. Using a pastry blender cut in the butter until it resembles size of peas. Make a well in the center. Add in the wet cream mixture and combine until it becomes almost a cohesive ball. Gently bring the dough together by shaping with your hands just to bring the dough together so there are no stray bits. Tear off a large piece of plastic wrap and dump the scone mixture out and using a bench scraper (instead of your warm hands) shape and form into a long rectangle log with straight sides that measures about 10 1/2inches long x 1 1/4 inches high. You will have a log with straight sides as the picture shows below. Chill the scone “log” in the plastic wrap for about 20 minutes in the fridge or 10 mins in the freezer.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. F. Line a baking sheet with either a Silpat liner or parchment paper. Unwrap the plastic wrap and using a bench knife/scraper cut into 8 equal sized triangle shaped scones. Brush the scones with a little bit of cold cream or beaten egg white that you have leftover. Space the scones a few inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees then drop the oven temp to 375 degrees and continue baking for another 5-6 minutes until set.
While the scones are baking mix up the glaze as per below. Note: The scones will be very soft so let them set up while still on the tray before attempting to move them.
(In this picture below; you’ll see the white spots; those are actually cold pieces of butter which ensures the scones are moist once baked).
(This is how the “log” will look once you shape it while in the plastic wrap; I also use a bench scraper to shape instead of my warm hands. Shape it into 10 1/2 inches long by 1 1/4 inch thickness x about 3 inches wide)
Allow the glaze to set and serve slightly warm or allow to cool completely.
1 2/3 C confectioners sugar
2 Tbsp. coffee (It does not have to be hot).
1/4 tsp. + 1/8 tsp. finely ground instant espresso powder
In a bowl combine the sugar and espresso powder. Mix in the coffee until the glaze is combined.
Macarons with almond praline crunch vanilla buttercream.
I’ve been making this buttercream forever. One day when I was first out of pastry school I was playing around in the kitchen and decided to throw some of this into a vanilla buttercream and it quickly became my favorite flavor. I have used this flavor a lot in chocolate layer cakes when I want to break up all the flavors and not have everything chocolate chocolate. The praline once you grind it up in the processor; lasts- dare I say almost forever; but as food safety I guess I should really say less; but being honest I’ve had it stored well over a couple months as long as its kept in an airtight container. You can vary the nuts- using pecans, peanuts etc- but almond is still my favorite.
1/2 Cup sugar
2 Tbsp. water
3/4 Cup whole almonds
Prepare a 1/2 sheet lined with a Silpat liner or similar silicon liner. In a small saucepan place the water, then add the sugar and stir with a clean finger until mixture is like wet sand. Place over medium heat and allow to come to a boil and heat until it is medium-dark amber color, stopping occasionally to swirl the pan above off the heat to distribute an even color. Once desired color is reached; take off the heat and stir in the almonds moving quickly to ensure they are coated completely, then turn out onto the sheet pan and distribute in an even layer by pushing gently with a heat proof spatula, and allow to cool completely. Once cooked break apart into about 2 inch pieces and place in a food processor and pulse until you get small pieces; similar size pieces you’d find in a chunky peanut butter as well as a large portion pulsed to very fine. Store in an airtight container. I like to keep some of it in a more coarse texture too to roll the finished macs in. I love to have extra on hand for other uses in baked goods.
Praline Swiss Meringue Buttercream
(Makes 2 Cups buttercream )
3 egg whites
3/4 Cup sugar,
small pinch of salt
2 sticks (1 Cup) unsalted butter, softened, but still slightly cool to touch
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1/2 Cup of the prepared praline crunch from above. (You will have some leftover)
Prepare a bain marie and place the sugar, salt, and egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer (I have a Kitchen Aide); so if your bowl doesn’t fit over a saucepan place a metal or glass bowl over your pan that allows it to fit without touching the water in the pot. Place the mixer bowl over the bain marie and heat the mixture until it reaches 160° F. Take off the heat place on the mixer with whisk attachment until you reach a stiff meringue. Add in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated, then mix in the vanilla. Change to a paddle attachment and mix until smooth. Stir in the praline crunch by hand. Add more if you like a more pronounced flavor. Note you will have leftover praline- keep in an airtight container- it will keep for several weeks.
124 g confectioners sugar
140 g almond flour
108 g fresh egg whites (I don’t age mine)
110 g granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
- In a food processor place the almond flour and confectioners sugar and run for 30 seconds. Stop and scrape down the sides so the mixture settles into the processor bowl. Repeat this 2 more times, then sift mixture through a strainer (it doesn’t have to be fine) over a large bowl (I use a 5 quart size stainless steel bowl). Preheat the oven to 300° F convection, 325° F for non convection setting. (If you want to try a different drying technique and/temperature see below about drying). Prepare two baking sheets with Silpat mats. I use these mats by Velesco (you can get 2 for 13 dollars on Amazon).
- In the bowl of a stand mixer place the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar and whisk by hand to combine. Place over a ban marie and stir gently for about 5 minutes until the mixture reaches about 130 F or when you touch the mixture with your index and thumb fingers you don’t feel any sugar crystals. Remove from the heat and place on the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and start the meringue by running mixer on power level 4 (Kitchen Aide) and run for about 3 minutes. Stop once to scrape the sides of the bowl to push down the mixture that appears on the sides.
- Increase mixer then to power level 6 and run for 3 minutes.~ 3 minutes.
- Stop mixer and with a bamboo skewer or toothpick add in a bit of desired gel food color (optional).
- Increase mixer to power level high (10) and run until the meringue is stiff peaks and it has started leaving tracks in the meringue and a good portion has collected inside the whisk . A sign that meringue is ready is there will be a good amount collected within the whisk and if you turn the bowl upside down the meringue will not slip or move. If you stop the mixer and tap the whisk gently on the side of the mixer bowl it will look like a bird beak; the meringue is stiff but it has a slight hooked curve when holding the whisk horizontally. If the color does not appear to be mixer to your liking at this point I add in any color and mix gently by; being careful not to overmix.
- Add one half of almond flour/sugar mix and start folding with a rubber spatula until mixture starts to look cohesive. Add in the remaining half and continue to gently fold, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. After the almond/sugar mixture is all added, I do about 4 reps of where I smash the mixture against the walls of the bowl with either my spatula or bowl scraper, stopping after each time to test the “flow” of the batter.. The batter is perfect when you lift up the spatula and tip the pointed end of the spatula down and ribbons of batter fall smoothly back into the bowl. I like to gauge its ready when I can count 6-7 ribbons falling without breaking and I can “draw” a figure 8 with the batter when lifting the spatula and letting it fall into the bowl. Fill your pastry bag by using a heavy tall cup or mason jar to hold your pastry bag with the top folded over the glass. When preparing your bag after you drop in your round tip (I use Ateco 804), twist the bag right above the larger end of the tip and push it down into tip. Fold the top 4 inches of the bag over the jar or glass.
- Let the batter fall right into the bottom of the bag and continue filling to ensure you don’t get air bubbles. When ready to pipe and all of the batter is in the bag, twist the top of the bag and when ready to pipe, push down with your dominant hand to force the bottom of the tip to open.
- Pipe the batter onto prepared baking sheet with 30 macarons per sheet. Six across the long side, and five rows perpendicular. Take the sheet pan and let it drop onto the counter about 5-7 times, then look for any visible air bubbles and pop with a toothpick or bamboo skewer.
- I bake the macarons one tray at a time in a preheated (convection oven ) for NON convection oven* you’ll want to play around and determine what the perfect temp for you is; generally it would be 20 degrees hotter than convection) for about 15 minutes or until the cookie does not wiggle when attempting to check by carefully grabbing both sides of a cookie and gently testing. Let the tray rest on a wire rack and then bake the second tray. Cool the cookies completely and pipe the buttercream between two cookies and sandwich together.
- I recently started drying my macs in a different way using the technique known by “Sugarbean” on Youtube. She has a technique whereby she dries her macs in lower degree oven for 2-3 minutes with the door ajar and then she increases the temp and bakes at the higher temperature. After a few thousand trials #kiddingnotkidding I finally (for me) arrived at the perfect temp for my oven at a convection temp of 248° F for drying and then 293° F for baking and here is the process I use.
Drying macs w/ oven method: (known as the Sugar Bean method). She has videos on you tube if you search for her.
I preheat my oven to 248° degrees F before I have piped my macs. I place one tray in the oven and immediately turn off the oven, then open the oven and place something like an oven mitt or something to keep it ajar a couple inches. Then I immediately turn back on the oven at 248° F again, and time for 2-3 minutes. After 3 minutes I close the oven door and turn up the oven to 293° F. Once the oven temp comes up to 293° F, I then start timing my bake time for 15 minutes. After the bake time I open the door and check a macaron; if it’s super wiggly still I bake for another minute. If it barely wiggles or not at all, I turn off the oven and open the oven door ajar and time for another 2-3 minutes; “Sugar bean” calls this the “oven shower”. After the 3 minutes, I remove the tray and then let them cool over a wire rack. Now; since the second tray has already been drying at room temperature; I usually only oven dry for 1.5 minutes and repeat the bake as I did for the first tray.
*A word about oven temperatures: EVERY one’s oven is different and after painstaking doing several batches of macarons I determined that in MY oven 293 F convection setting is best for me. Check your oven temperature against a thermometer placed in the middle of your oven. Some people bake there’s at 285, 290, 310 etc. unfortunately it’s something that you have to play around with and determine what is best for you and your oven.
Who loves a good dip. I’d be happy just dipping my pretzel into mustard truth be told, but I was thinking of a beer cheese dip a local restaurant near me serves; but it’s almost impossible to get a table there without waiting for an hour. It had me reminiscing the last time I’d had it, so decided to just whip one up. The pretzel recipe is one I’ve made before but this time I tweaked it a bit by baking the baking soda ahead of time. Yes, that’s right- you heard me right. I’d seen this trick posted several times on Pinterest and decided to give it a try and it did not disappoint. The reason for “baking” the baking soda [haha] is that it draws out some of the moisture and makes your pretzels darker like those of the German style that uses actual lye. Another trick is to use barley malt syrup-but if you’re like me I don’t particularly like to buy an ingredient I most likely won’t use again for something else and it will just take up space in the cupboard.
Cheesy Beer Dip
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
5 Tablespoons flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/8 tsp. onion powder
3/4 Cup milk, room temp or warmed slightly
2 1/2 tsp. spicy brown mustard (I used Guldens brand)
1 Cup lager beer, room temp (measure w/no foam) *[I used Four Peaks Kilt lifter Octoberfest] a local beer]
1 1/4 Cups pepper jack cheese shredded (use from a block and not pre-shredded)
1 1/4 Cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (use from a block and not pre-shredded)
Serve warm or at room temperature with soft pretzels.
In a medium saucepan melt the butter and then add the flour and the seasonings. Heat over medium-low heat to cook the flour mixture for about 5 minutes whisking the entire time. Add in the milk slowly whisking to avoid lumps until smooth, then whisk in the mustard. Slowly and gradually add in the beer whisking entire time and cook for about 3 minutes until appears thickened. Slowly stir in the cheeses with the whisk until combined and melted. Taste for seasoning; if you like your dip more zingy you could add in the finely diced jalapenos or hatch green chilis if you like.
For the pretzel bites; I used the same recipe as my soft buttered pretzels (click on my link below) but prepared the baking soda by laying out on a tinfoil lined sheet tray a cup of baking soda and “baked” that at 250 degrees F for one hour and then allowed the baking soda to cool. Use the same amount of baking soda that is called for in the recipe to ‘dip’ into the boiled water for prepping the pretzels and bake as directed. I simply portioned the dough and rolled into logs and cut off about 1 inch pieces. I used the same dipping method. For pretzel nibs I found it took me about 14 1/2 to 15 minutes to get my pretzel bites cooked thoroughly inside. Pull out your tray and sacrifice one to check for doneness.
I’m gonna make this post brief, cuz it’s Sunday night and I have a massive laundry pile to fold. I’m a recipe hoarder. Magazine hoarder. I hang onto recipes knowing at some point I will get around to it and tuck it away somewhere in a safe space. I’ve been know to loiter in the grocery store and screen shot a recipe out of magazine after finding some obsolete quiet corner to do the dirty deed. I’m not proud of it. I know more than a few of you have done the same, so don’t judge me. In this case I’m proud to admit I actually bought the magazine when thumbing through I saw this and a few others that looked like keepers. Spicy Cheese bread. You had me about spicy, but then you taunt me with cheesy and I’m all in.
This a an afternoon lazy day, weekend sort of recipe. You quick whip it together, let it rise, shape it and rises again (as you fold your laundry) and then you bake that big ol cheesy nugget of spicy goodness off.
Oh the smells coming out of the oven as it bakes. Heaven.
Spicy Cheese Bread
(recipe slightly adapted from Cooks Illustrated) “All time best Winter recipes 2020”
3 /14 Cups all-purpose flour
1/4 C sugar
1 Tbsp. instant rise (rapid rise) yeast
1 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes + more for sprinkling on top
1 1/4 tsp. salt (calls for table salt; I used Kosher) + more for sprinkling on top
2 large eggs + one yolk
1/2 C warm water (110 degrees) F
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter melted
6 oz. Monterey Jack cheese cut into 1/2 inch cubes, room temp
6 oz. Provolone cheese cut into 1/2 inch cubes, room temp
Additional for topping
1 egg lightly beaten for “egg wash”
2 pinches kosher salt
3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. soft butter
In a bowl of a stand mixer place the flour and the next 4 ingredients and whisk to combine, set aside.
Whisk eggs and yolk, warm water, and melted butter together in a liquid measuring cup. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and knead on medium speed about 8-10 minutes or until the dough clears the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Grease a large bowl with some vegetable oil. Remove the dough and shape on the counter (un floured) into a ball.
Transfer the ball to the greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap to rise for 1 1/2 -2 hours until it is doubled in size.
Grease a 9 inch round cake pan. Remove the dough to an un-floured counter and deflate the dough. Roll the dough into a 18 x 12 inch long rectangle with the long edge paralell to the counters edge. Distribute the cheese cubes evenly over the dough leaving a 1 inch edge border on all sides. Starting with the edge closest to you roll the dough tightly as you can into a log. Pinch the seam and edges to seal. Roll the log gently on the counter back and forth until it reaches 30 inches in length.
Starting at one end, wind the log into a coil (like a snail) and place in the prepared cake pan and cover with plastic wrap or tea towel to let rise until doubled in size; about 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Adjust the oven rack to the lower middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Brush the top of the bread with the beaten egg; just enough to cover the bread and sprinkle with the red pepper flakes and kosher salt (about 2 pinches of salt and 3/4 tsp. of red pepper flakes).
Bake the bread in the preheated over for 25 minutes, then turn the tray around and cover with aluminum foil and bake an additional 25-30 minutes or until an internal temperature check reads 190 degrees F.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack and brush with the 1 tablespoon of soft butter. Let the bread cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool for 30 minutes until slicing. Serve warm.
I made a white bean, chicken and green chili yesterday and tearing off pieces of this dipped into warm soup is scrumptious.