Baked Sunday Mornings: Root Beer Bundt Cake

I had to go rogue again this week for Baked Sunday Mornings. The recipe on the schedule today is the Chocolate Stout Milkshake, which I would not be able to enjoy at all since I don't drink alcohol. I couldn't even have my husband try a milkshake on my behalf, since he's out of town. So I decided to go back to a recipe I made once before, more than ten years ago -- the "Root Beer Bundt Cake" from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. It's a chocolate-root beer cake with a chocolate-root beer fudge frosting.

When I made this cake back in 2009, I encountered no problems at all and ended up with what I thought was a beautiful and delicious cake; you can read my previous blog post about the cake here. This time the road was a little rockier, but I still ended up with an amazing and crowd-pleasing cake.

I can't remember what brand of root beer I used the last time I made this cake, but I'm pretty sure it was whatever I happened to grab at the supermarket or CVS, i.e., A&W or Barq's. This time I decided to upgrade my root beer to Boylan's, which is made with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. To make the cake, you heat root beer with cocoa powder and butter until the butter is melted; add granulated sugar and dark brown sugar; cool the mixture; whisk in lightly beaten eggs; and fold in the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt). The batter was quite thin and there were a ton of small flour lumps in it. The recipe includes a warning against overbeating the batter but I had to do something about the lumps. So I dragged a small sieve through the batter and pushed through any flour clumps that got caught. Then I poured the batter into a generously greased Bundt pan to bake.

The first major problem I encountered was getting the cake out of the pan. Admittedly, I was in a bit of a rush and the cake was still just the slightest bit warm when I tried to unmold it. But I had used a heavy hand with the pan spray so I didn't think it would be a problem. Unfortunately, a few large chunks of cake stayed behind in the pan. It wasn't a good look, but I figured that I would just use the frosting both as an adhesive to re-attach the missing pieces, and as a cover up to hide the damage.
You make the frosting in the food processor. I have two Kitchenaid food processors and I use both regularly: a 5-cup processor and a much larger one that I think has a capacity around 11 cups. There are many times when I have to use the larger processor because whatever I'm making won't fit in the smaller one. But I strongly prefer using the smaller processor whenever possible. The bowl is so much easier to wash (even when I put it in the dishwasher, because the bottom of the bowl is completely flat and water can't pool in it like it does with the bowl of the larger one, which has an extension on the bottom used to lock it onto the base). But more importantly, whenever I mix dry ingredients in the large processor, they get caught in a groove where the lid locks onto the bowl. It drives me insane that if I'm making pie crust or shortbread or whatever, a not insignificant amount of flour doesn't get mixed in because it becomes trapped in the lid. To make matters worse, when you remove the lid, the trapped ingredients don't just fall back into the bowl -- they typically end up dispersed on the kitchen counter. It's so frustrating and every time I use the big processor I wonder if Kitchenaid tested it with anyone who used it for baking?

Anyway, I looked that the quantities of ingredients in the frosting -- including two and a half cups of powdered sugar and two-thirds of a cup of cocoa -- and thought that it would be pushing it to try to make it in the small processor. But then I got the bright idea that if I added the root beer (a quarter cup) to the sugar and cocoa first, it would form a paste with a much smaller volume than the dry ingredients and it would solve all of my problems. Well, the quantity of root beer in the recipe was not enough to moisten all of the dry ingredients, so I ended up with a weird half paste/half dry ingredient mixture. I put it in the 5-cup food processor (at least it fit without a problem), added softened butter, melted dark chocolate, and salt and tried to blend it all together. I couldn't not get the frosting smooth and I could actually hear the food processor motor straining heavily. I had to slowly stream in more root beer to get it to a spreadable consistency, and even then, it was much thicker than what I recall from last time.

I was able to use the frosting as glue to put replace some of the larger chunks of cake that had stuck to the pan. Then I tried to spread it on the cake and this was surprisingly difficult. The cake was very tender and the frosting was so stiff that it tugged and tore the top of the cake when I applied it with an offset spatula. I tried to achieve a pattern of swoops like I did last time and it was impossible. The frosting was actually moldable, like a soft putty. In the end, I applied it with my hands. I would pick up some of the frosting, flatten it with my fingers, apply it to the cake, and use the warmth of my hand to fuse it to the adjoining frosting. I used all of it. But I was feeling pretty bad about the weird frosting and the cake overall and I was fully prepared to throw the entire thing in the compost and call it a total loss.

When I cut the cake the following morning, the individual slices of cake looked much better than I had been expecting. Even the smooth helmet of frosting was unobjectionable. And then I took a taste and immediately decided that there was no way I could compost this cake. It was moist, springy, deeply chocolate-y, and decadent. My favorite part was actually the root beer fudge frosting, which was delightfully candylike. And if I focused my attention, I could actually detect touches of root beer flavor.

The reaction from my tasters was enthusiastic and overwhelmingly positive. Because the root beer flavor is so subtle, I think most people perceive this to be simply chocolate cake. But it's a damn good one, even if you fail to adequately grease the pan and screw up the frosting. I recommend this cake wholeheartedly.

Recipe: "Root Beer Bundt" from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, recipe available here at Serious Eats.

Previous Post: "Right on Time: Root Beer Bundt Cake," January 10, 2009.


Sally said…
do you remember what kind of cocoa powder you used? And what your flour weighed?

I made this cake at least 10 years ago but can't recall! THANKS!!!!
I used Cacao Barry extra brute cocoa (my default cocoa powder), and I measured a cup to weigh 125 grams. For the flour, I used White Lily all-purpose and used 260 grams.