The moment I saw Carla Hall's Root Beer Cake with Chocolate Root Beer Ganache in my Instagram feed, I knew I had to make it. I loved watching Carla on Top Chef. And because the recipe is on the King Arthur website, it includes ingredient weights. All I had to do was pick up some root beer. There were quite a few options at the store but I settled on Sprecher, a brand I know because I'm married to a Wisconsinite; one of the selling points is that they use raw Wisconsin honey to make the root beer.
You can bake this cake as a Bundt, a sheet, or two round cakes. I went with two 9-inch rounds. To make the batter, you combine all of the dry ingredients (flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground star anise); add a slightly cooled mixture of root beer, cocoa powder, and butter that has been brought to a boil; stir in eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla; and fold in fresh grated ginger (I used ginger from The Farm at Red Hill that I had stashed in my freezer -- it's so much more convenient than peeling and grating your own). I divided the batter between two buttered and parchment-lined pans to bake.
I found the glaze directions a little confusing. It was easy enough to make the glaze -- I simply brought root beer to a boil; added room temperature butter and cocoa powder; and whisked in powdered sugar, nutmeg, star anise, and salt. What I found confusing was the direction to "Pour over the top of the cake while still warm." It's not clear if the "while still warm" description refers to the cake, the glaze, or possibly both. Notably, there is no explicit directly to cool the cake before adding the glaze. I ended up pouring the relatively warm glaze over a slightly warm cake.
I have always understood ganache to mean chocolate + cream, so I find it weird to refer to the glaze as a ganache, since it contains neither chocolate (only cocoa powder) nor cream. The glaze set semi-firm and was beautifully glossy and smooth when I first applied it. By the next day, when I took the photo above, the glaze had developed some pin-sized holes. But at least the slices that were still fully intact -- about half of my total yield -- looked pretty good.
This cake is a little intense. I have always thought that root beer is a difficult flavor to describe, but now that I've made this cake, I realize that star anise/licorice strongly evokes the flavor of root beer. The spice level in this cake from the star anise, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg is pretty aggressive, but it's also quite chocolate-y. If I didn't know this was a root beer cake, I probably would have thought it was a chocolate-spice cake. But knowing that it has root beer in it, I definitely got the root beer flavor, especially as reinforced by the spices. The cake was moist and I liked the thick, fudgy consistency of the glaze. I enjoyed this cake, and the flavor profile was completely novel to me. If you're a fan of root beer, I think you'll be a fan of this cake, too.
Recipe: "Root Beer Cake with Chocolate Root Beer Ganache" by Carla Hall, recipe available at King Arthur Flour.
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