Think Outside the Can: Beer Is Inside the Cake
Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription: The mouth of a perfectly contented man is filled with beer.
Nobody knows what prince or pauper first dumped a stein of beer into the cauldron, but who cares?
Surely anything that goes with food can go into it, especially sturdy Irish stews and meat pies. Simmering corned beef in seasoned beer broth sounds just fine. Cooking cabbage in a light brew suits the season.
“Lots of people bring us stuff cooked in beer, like pot roast with brown ale,” says Mike Ratkowski, co-owner of Railhouse Brewery in Aberdeen. Ratkowski (a German-Polish Miller-man from Milwaukee) and partner Brian Evitts suggest chasing the roast with their chilled 2012 Railhouse 10.5 percent AVB (alcohol by volume) Barleywine.
On the national social scene, beer tastings rival wine events as TTDs (things to do). Except the beer usually comes from local boutique breweries. And participants don’t spit it out.
The Sandhills have been slower on the uptake, Ratkowski says, although North Carolina micro-breweries flourish, perhaps because beer pairs well with barbecue.
For the past three years, an Examiner online poll named Asheville — with 11 breweries — Beer City, USA, edging out Portland, Ore.
Railhouse wants in on the action: The brewery will move to the historic Pinehurst steam plant building later this year — a $1.1 million venture anchored by a $200,000 state grant.
Chances are more than mugs will froth over at the proposed brewpub bistro. Besides stews and soups, look for Ratkowski’s favorite float: vanilla ice cream, oatmeal stout and a ginger cookie.
Cook-out enthusiasts long ago discovered beer-can chicken, where the bird, impaled on an open can, absorbs the simmering brew as it roasts in the oven or smoker.
Baking powder beer bread is elementary. The Bakehouse in Aberdeen adds beer to pretzel dough. Welsh rarebit — of the creamed chipped beef on toast era — gets its zing from sharp cheddar and beer.
Like wine, cooking with beer carries caveats:
- Don’t cook with reduced-calorie beer.
- Use light-colored beer in light dishes, dark beer in gravy, pot roast, chili, stew.
- If possible, add beer toward end of cooking time, or refresh with an extra splash just before serving.
- A sprinkle of sugar tames the bitterness of reductions containing strong beer.
- Be careful cooking with fruity or flavored beers. Heating can alter those flavors, sometimes unpleasantly. Beer does not have to be an original ingredient. Add a half cup of Guinness to a tall can of baked beans and heat gently. Dilute condensed beef, onion and vegetable soups with beer.
But chocolate cake?
Culinary diva Nigella Lawson prefers her Guinness for dessert. The Guinness cake, its origins shrouded in the marketing mists of Brigadoon, has developed a cult following with bakers partial to mystery chocolate cake ingredients like beets and sauerkraut.
Pureed black beans make a credible gluten-free brownie. Tomato soup spice cake was the 1950s rage.
Once upon a time, carrot cake caused ripples.
But for chocolate layer, anything Guinness can do, Railhouse Oatmeal Stout does as well or better.
Ask Bambi Provenzano, of Kool Kakes, in Rockingham, supplying several Moore County clients.
“I saw (beer cake) on ‘Cupcake Wars’,” she says.
Provenzano met Ratkowski and offered to make him a birthday cake using the Guinness recipe and his stout.
“I don’t like beer, but this cake is dark, dense and moist,” she says. She detects only a slight beer aftertaste, which is masked by a generous amount of vanilla.
For Super Bowl Sunday, Provenzano topped beer cupcakes with tiny football helmets.
On Friday afternoon, a dozen regulars sat at the Railhouse Brewery bar watching the ACC tournament while sipping the usual. Eyes widened when the tall, dark and handsome cake with creamy white frosting (resembling foam atop of mug of stout) appeared. Nobody refused a sample.
Gary Buyssens wasn’t surprised.
“Beer is great once the alcohol cooks out,” he says. “It gives a wonderful, rich flavor.”
Thomas Blue compared the beer-chocolate combo to mocha.
“But if you didn’t point out that (the cake) had beer in it nobody would know,” Blue says.
Chris Chastain, shaking his head between bites, says, “Totally different … not as sweet … I like it.”
Evitts and Ratkowski, licking frosting off their fingers, gestured their approval with a thumbs up.
“This is good cake,” Evitts says — for St. Patrick’s Day and beyond.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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