Is your corned beef ready for simmering yet? Your potatoes set to be peeled and boiled, your cabbage simmered, your soda bread stirred up? It’s too bad that no one thinks of smoked salmon and brown bread, thick bacon and Irish cheddar, champ and colcannon (to name but a few of the real delights of the Emerald Isle’s table) when St. Patrick’s Day comes around. Here in the States, it’s corned beef and cabbage, to say nothing of the green beer and Irish coffees. (Alas, the Shamrock Shake, that minty McDonald’s invention, is as rare as a four-leaf clover these days.)
As for the whiskey, well, an Irish blend would be only appropriate. You could follow the lead of the venerable Buena Vista, who serves 2000 Irish coffees a day, all spiked with Tullamore Dew. (After some 50 years using its own private label Irish whiskey, the bar switched to Tullamore in 2006.) Jameson’s and Bushmills are the big boys, of course, and the players in a (somewhat spurious, given that both brands are now owned by enormous multinationals) Catholic vs. Protestant loyalty debate. Meanwhile, smaller brands like Red Breast, Power’s, Midleton, Black Bush, Killbeggan, and The Tyrconnell all have their admirers. Care to compare? The Liberties in the Mission will be offering special tasting flights of some of the rarer Irish whiskeys all week long. There’s also live music throughout the evening of the 17th, and a full menu with everything from smoked salmon on potato cakes to cross-cultural samosas stuffed with black pudding, bacon, and curried potatoes.
Now, I like my whiskey for sipping, for sure, but when you need to make a whole tableful of people happy with just one glass, nothing beats this Chocolate Whiskey Cake. Serving it at a recent birthday potluck, the question everyone asked after one bite was, “How much whiskey is in this??” Only a cup’s worth for the entire generously-sized cake, but a liberal sprinkling after baking gives a potent warmth to every forkful.
The original inspiration came from food writer Melissa Clark’s interpretation of a recipe in Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, first published in 1980. Clark’s recipe ups the amount of whiskey (and salt) and boosts the chocolate quality. Remembering with longing the fantastic Chocolate Whiskey Cake served at Mrs. London’s Bakeshop in Saratoga Springs, where my family would go every summer to follow the horseracing and bask in fine dining, I added in whiskey-soaked golden raisins, swapped out the espresso powder for straight-up strong coffee and cut back on both the salt and sugar, since I like my chocolate bittersweet.
Single-handedly, this cake could kick-start a Bundt-pan revival. Dense, rich, and moist, it’s a cake for those who still like their cakes cake-like in texture, rather than in molten puddles or like wet bricks of fudge or cloying black holes of collapsed ganache. (If I want nothing but sheer chocolate and butterfat, I’ll eat a truffle, thanks.) There's no need for fussy icings or fillings, and the sturdy shape makes transporting it a breeze, even on Muni. (Trust me, I’ve done it, even on the hill-twisting 67-Bernal Heights, not to mention the sardine-jammed 14-Mission.) If you’d really like to add a little gold to this pot, serve with with a cloud of whipped cream flavored with a wee bit of powdered sugar and another spoonful of whiskey.
Chocolate Whiskey Cake
Don't be tempted to use up that old yellow box of chalky supermarket baking chocolate on this cake. You're already making the investment in butter and whiskey; go all the way and buy a good-quality, name-brand chocolate. I used Ghirardelli, but local favorites Tcho and Guittard would work well, too. Same goes for the cocoa powder; skip the Hershey's and try the much more flavorful cocoas made by Ghirardelli, Scharffenberger, Valrhona, or Droste. And while Irish whiskey is the most appropriate for St. Patty’s Day, all-American bourbon or rye is quite tasty, too.
Serves: 10 to 12
1 cup Irish whiskey, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup golden raisins
5 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate
1 cup really strong coffee
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 oz) unsalted butter, softened, more for greasing pan
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting pan
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish
1. In a medium bowl, pour whiskey over raisins and set aside.
2. Grease and flour a 10-cup-capacity Bundt pan. Preheat oven to 325°F.
3. In a double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate. Remove from heat and let cool.
4. In a measuring cup, dissolve cocoa powder and salt in hot coffee, then add to whiskey-raisin mixture. Let cool.
5. In a large bowl, cream 1 cup butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda, and melted chocolate, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.
6. Beat in a third of the whiskey mixture. When liquid is absorbed, fold in 1 cup flour. Repeat with a third of whiskey mixture, followed by remaining cup of flour. Add the last of the whiskey mixture, folding gently just until well mixed. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes.
7. Transfer cake to a rack. Unmold after 15 minutes. If you really want a potent whiskey flavor, sprinkle warm cake with about 2 tablespoons’ more whiskey. Let cool, then sift over confectioners’ sugar before serving.