Enhancing Winter Desserts with Beer

Cooking with Beer by | Dec 2010 | Issue #47

Photos by Sean Z. Paxton

As holiday gatherings with friends and family abound, ’tis the season for entertaining—and that means cooking. To break from the traditional flavors of the holidays, I wanted to use not-so-standard ingredients in a few desserts and showcase them with special beers. These desserts can all be made ahead of time. They perform well in presentation and will be talked about as a favorite the next time you see your friends. Happy holidays!

Dubbel Date Cake
The wonderful and complex flavors found in Captain Lawrence’s Dubbel enhance the flavor profile of dates, making for a tasty, moist cake.

Serves: 8–12 guests

1/2 lb. Medjool dates, pitted
22 oz Captain Lawrence Birra DeCicco or other Dubbel-style beer
4 oz. butter, unsalted, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup honey (preferably local)
3 each large eggs
3 cup flour, all purpose
1 cup barley flour
1 tsp. cinnamon, ground
1 tsp. cardamom, ground
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt

In a medium-size saucepan, mix the dates and beer over medium heat. Warm the beer to around 200˚F and turn off the heat, allowing the dates to hydrate in the beer for 45 minutes. Once cool, add to the pitcher of a blender and purée until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. In the bowl of an electric mixer, add the butter, brown sugar and honey; fit with a whisk attachment. Beat the butter mixture on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2–3 minutes, scraping down the sides once or twice. With the motor still running, add one egg at a time, mixing well before the next egg addition. Repeat. Turn off the motor and remove the whisk attachment, cleaning off the beaters.

In a large bowl, add the flours, cinnamon, cardamom, baking soda and salt. Using a whisk, blend the ingredients together. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and then pour the beer/date mixture on top. Using a spatula, fold the ingredients together and pour into small cake molds or a 9-by-13 glass or metal cake pan (lightly greased with butter or a non-stick spray). Place into the middle of the oven and bake for 15–20 minutes (for small cakes) or 40–45 minutes (in the 9-by-13 pan). The date cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean or the temperature is 205˚F. Let the cake cool to room temperature, and cut into squares.

To Serve:
This cake can be served as is, but is elevated to a higher level of decadence when topped with Butter “Scotch” Ale Sauce (read on!) and a dab of whipped cream, or Huckleberry Fluxus Sorbet.

Butter “Scotch” Ale Sauce
This recipe puts a beery twist on the traditional sauce.

Makes: about 2 1/2 cups

1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
22 oz. Brewery Ommegang Cup O Kyndnes or other Belgian-style Scotch Ale
1 pinch sea salt
3 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 oz. heavy cream

In a medium-size, heavy-bottom pot, add the sugars and 18 ounces of the beer, saving the last 4 ounces for the end of the cooking process. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugars. Once the sugars are dissolved, boil the beer syrup down to less than half of the original volume. Watch the bubbles as the beer boils—as the beer caramel starts to form, the size of the bubbles will go from large to very small, about 15 minutes. Add the salt and the butter, removing from the heat and carefully swirling the butter into the syrup, then add the cream. Place back on the heat and cook for another 2 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Add the remaining 4 ounces of Scotch Ale and cook for another 2–3 minutes. This last beer addition will bring out the fresh beer flavors in the final sauce. Mix well and pour the sauce into a Mason jar. Let cool.

This Butter “Scotch” Ale Sauce is great on the Dubbel Date Cake, in a bowl of ice cream, in a sundae, or over dessert waffles. It can also be placed into 4-8-ounce jars and canned to make a very nice holiday gift from the heart and kitchen.

Huckleberry Fluxus Sorbet
The intense flavors of huckleberries infused with a double-mashed, cacao nib Stout is a great combination for this light but flavorful finish to any meal.

Makes: about 1 quart

1/2 cup huckleberries, stems removed
1/4 cup sugar, casters or super fine
2 tbsp. agave nectar
750 mL. Allagash Fluxus 2010 or other Chocolate Stout, cold
1 pinch sea salt

In the pitcher of a blender, add the huckleberries (fresh or frozen), sugar, agave nectar, and salt, puréeing until smooth. Add in the beer and mix until just blended. If you have a refractometer, the brix should be about 18. Pour into an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the frozen sorbet to a container and place into the freezer for 3–8 hours before serving, allowing the sorbet to cure.

Variations: Substitute blueberries for the huckleberries, or use sour cherries for a twist on cherry-chocolate themed desserts.

Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout Gingerbread Cake
The wonderful flavors of ginger and Stout are combined in this recipe to create a rich, flavorful cake topped with a hard cider spiced rum sabayon and Porter-poached pears. This dessert will warm the soul on any cold winter night!

Serves: 8

12 oz. Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
1 cup black strap molasses
1 tsp. baking soda
4 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ginger root, peeled and finely grated
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 each large egg
1 each large egg yolk
2 tsp. ginger, ground
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp. cardamom, ground
1/2 tsp. orange peel, dried
1/4 tsp. clove, ground
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, freshly ground
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup barley flour
1/4 cup almond flour
2 tbsp. candied ginger, minced

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Begin by placing the Imperial Stout into a large pot over medium heat. Mix in the baking soda and molasses, watching as a chemical reaction happens, neutralizing the acidity of the molasses. Bring the mixture just up to a simmer, then turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature as the rest of the cake ingredients are assembled.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, add the butter and brown sugar. Beat with a paddle attachment on high speed until the butter mixture is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes (scrape down the sides periodically). Turn the mixer off and add the baking powder, salt and ground ginger, then turn on again for another minute to incorporate fully. With the motor still running, add the one egg and egg yolk, mixing until fully integrated into the butter mixture. Turn off the motor, removing the paddle attachment and scraping off any remaining butter.

In a large bowl, using a sifter or a strainer, add the ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, orange peel, nutmeg, all-purpose flour, barley flour and almond flour (or equal part all-purpose flour if allergic to nuts) and sift together into the bowl. Once sifted, add the minced candied ginger and mix well, until all the pieces are coated in the flour mixture, to prevent clumping. Add the flour mixture to the bowl with the butter mixture and pour in the cool Imperial Stout mixture; fold together using a spatula until just mixed (no flour clumps).

Transfer this cake batter to a buttered or non-stick sprayed Bundt pan or a 9-by-13 glass baking pan. Place into the center of a preheated oven and bake for 45–55 minutes, depending on what style of pan is being used. Test the cake for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. If using a thermometer, it should register at 205˚F.

Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for around 30 minutes before removing the cake from the Bundt pan by inverting onto a cake plate. Tip: To make sure the cake comes out in one piece, run a thin knife blade along the inside rim of the cake pan and around the inside tube.

Porter-Poached Pear Ingredients:
22–24 oz. Founders Porter, or other Porter-style beer
1 cup honey (preferably local)
1 pinch sea salt
6 each pears, Bartlett or Anjou, firm but ripe, peeled, cored and quartered

Porter-Poached Pear Directions:
In a medium-size pot, add the Porter, honey and salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the prepared pears and lightly simmer for 20–25 minutes, or until the blade of a knife is inserted easily and the pears are fully cooked. Remove from the heat and, using a skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer the poached pears to a bowl to cool. Place the pot back onto the heat and reduce the poaching liquid down to the consistency of a glaze (reduced by 2/3), about 20 minutes over medium heat. Remove from the heat and place the syrup/glaze into a squeeze bottle (if one is available) or into a small Mason jar. Set aside until ready to use.

Hard Cider Spiced Rum Sabayon Ingredients:
12 oz. hard cider
1 oz. spiced rum
4 each egg yolks, room temperature

Hard Cider Spiced Rum Sabayon Directions:
Pour the hard cider in a small pan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the 12 ounces of cider down to 3 ounces, about 5–8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Mix in the spiced rum.

Set up a double boiler by selecting a pot large enough to hold a medium-size metal bowl, which can be set atop and easily removed from the pot. Add 2–3 inches of water and bring to a low boil. In the metal bowl, add the egg yolks. Whisking the yolks, slowly add the reduced hard cider, being careful not to scramble the yolks. Place the bowl over the simmering water and continue to whisk until the mixture almost triples in volume (about 5 minutes). The egg mixture will turn a soft yellow color, and be light and fluffy. It’s done when you notice that, as you are whisking, no liquid settles at the bottom of the bowl. Remove the bowl from the pot and whisk a few more times to make sure the Sabayon does not curdle.

To Serve:
Cut the cake into slices or, if using a 9-by-13 pan, into squares. Place a piece onto the serving plate and garnish with a few slices of the warm poached pear. Then drizzle the cake and pears with the Porter syrup and spoon a few scoops of the hard cider spiced rum sabayon over one side of the cake. Serve immediately, and enjoy!