celebrating year one: chocolate stout cake with buttercream frosting

In 2006, within a couple of weeks after Oliver was born, I started a blog. It was mostly a blog about my children and our lives. I was bored on maternity leave – did I really just say that? – and I wanted to write, to be productive in some measurable way. In the beginning, I wrote it mostly for me, for the act of writing. After a couple of years, I wrote it more for my family and a handful of friends who read it occasionally. I read other blogs written by mothers – dooce and Finslippy and amalah and others – and I felt I just couldn’t do it as well as they did. My writing seemed inadequate and trivial. I couldn’t write about my kids and life as a parent as open and honestly and with humor the way they did.

I had lost my writing voice, and it wasn’t coming back.

Somewhere in that third year of that blog, I wrote a post about a meal we had eaten on vacation. And then I wrote more posts about food – about recipes I’d made, or struggles I had with getting my kids to eat, or a cookbook I was reading. I started reading more food blogs, more cookbooks, more food literature. Deb’s smitten kitchen became a daily must-read, and before I knew it, I had 20 or so food blogs I read regularly. I devoured Michael Ruhlman’s Chef series (The Soul of a Chef, The Reach of a Chef, and The Making of a Chef), and I found myself buying more cookbooks and food magazines than ever before.

Something was beginning to click.

And finally, on February 20, 2010, with a building sense of excitement inside, I created the merry gourmet.

My life has been permanently changed for the better as a result of this writing this blog. I’ve challenged myself to do things in the kitchen I had never previously done. I learned to poach an egg, make savory gougères, and I got over my fear of making homemade gnocchi. I finally made some heirloom family recipes and I learned to make pie crust. I’ve become comfortable in my kitchen, and I’m no longer afraid to deviate from recipes to make a dish my own.

Over the past year, I’ve connected with so many others who share this passion for food with me. The food blog community is exactly that — a warm, welcoming, and vibrant community. A highlight of the year was attending two food conferences and finally meeting some of the incredibly talented food bloggers, writers, and photographers that I’ve admired. And, now, I’m so grateful to be able to call so many of them friends. Very dear friends.

To celebrate this one year anniversary of the merry gourmet, I set out to challenge myself again, this time with a three-layer chocolate cake. I’ve made sheet cakes before, but layer cakes are a different beast. I have always found them intimidating and the process daunting. But this is one reason I write the merry gourmet – to break out of my comfort zone and learn to be a better cook. To try things I’ve never done before, like make homemade buttercream frosting and use a pastry bag to pipe decorations around the frosted cake.

And I did it.

Thank you so much for being there with me this first year, for sticking with me through those painfully amateur first posts and supporting me along the way. Talking with you – through the posts themselves, or through the comments, or through the magic that is Twitter – has turned into one of the best parts of this blog for me. You have really made this blog what it is today, and for that, I am forever grateful.

Yield: Serves 12-14

Chocolate Stout Cake with Chocolate Malt Buttercream Frosting

This is not a chocolate cake for wimps. If you are a chocoholic, this is the cake for you. This recipe is a compilation of two recipes. I paired this chocolate stout cake from Bon Appétit (September 2002) with Dorie Greenspan's frosting recipe from Baking: From My Home to Yours.


Ingredients for Cake

2 cups stout
2 cups (4 sticks; 16 ounces) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-process, if you have it)
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cup sour cream

Ingredients for Frosting

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup malted milk powder
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup boiling water
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted


Preparation of Cake

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 3 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch high sides. Line each with a circle of parchment paper and butter the paper. In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring stout and butter to a simmer. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together to blend. Using an electric mixer or stand mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on low speed. Using a rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter evenly among prepared cake pans.

Bake cakes until tester or toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack and cool for 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely.

Preparation of Frosting

Melt chocolate with half of the light brown sugar in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (such as a double boiler). Remove from heat.

Whisk the malted milk powder and cocoa together in a small bowl; pour over 3 tablespoons of boiling water and whisk until smooth. Whisking the melted chocolate gently, gradually pour in the hot malted milk-cocoa powder mixture and stir to blend. It will be dark and glossy. Set aside.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining brown sugar and beat for 2 to 3 minutes more, until well-blended. Beat in the salt and vanilla extract, then reduce speed to low. Scrape in the chocolate mixture and mix until smooth. On low speed, gradually add in the confectioner's sugar. When all of the sugar is in, increase mixer speed to medium and beat for another 2 minutes. Lower speed of mixer and add remaining tablespoon of boiling water, then increase the speed and give the frosting another quick spin. If the frosting doesn't hold its shape, beat it just a little more.

To Assemble the Cake

To frost cakes, place one cake layer (top side up) on a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Frost the top of that layer, then place the second layer (top side down) on top. Frost the second layer. Add the third layer, and frost the top and sides of the cake, smoothing the buttercream frosting with an offset spatula.

Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour to set the frosting. Bring to room temperature prior to serving.

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