Root Beer Bundt Cake

Potluck
Potluck insanity. Too many tall friends.

Every year during the winter holidays we get together with our Ottawa friends and have a potluck.  We started doing this when we were all students because it was the one day we could guarantee that we were all in town at the same time and we could spend some time together.  We even get fancy with the planning, starting with a Doodle scheduler to pick the right date (if you’ve never used their free software to make an appointment, check it out).  Then we set up a Google spreadsheet to figure out who is bringing what, to ensure that not everyone arrives with chips and dip and that the people who are bringing appetizers don’t show up just as we’re starting dessert.  Inevitably the spreadsheet gets hacked by someone (or everyone) and chaos ensues.  Graphs and pie charts and graffiti abound.  It’s madness.  But fun.  This year the Pie and I decided to host, and as each person brings a dish, this was the Pie’s contribution to the festivities: Baked’s Root Beer Bundt Cake.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

He’s made it before, for my birthday, and it’s always a favourite.  Anything Baked does is a favourite with us.  The problem is that because I was busy doing my own thing and making a superb leek and leftover turkey pie (which I will save as a post until the next turkey-related holiday), I didn’t actually get a chance to photograph the finished product.  So you’ll just have to guess as to what it looked like.  Sorry.

Now, the recipe calls for 2 cups root beer to go into the batter.  Don’t you dare use diet root beer — you’ll regret it enormously.  Use a stronger-tasting brew like Dad’s or Stewart’s or even Barq’s to get the best flavour, and feel free to replace some of the liquid with a root beer schnapps or even a tablespoon or two of root beer extract.  Not having any of these things, however, the Pie decided to make himself a root beer concentrate.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

He started by pouring two cans of root beer into a pot. Then he simmered it for about half an hour to boil off the water and reduce the liquid.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

The resulting fluid is dark and opaque, and we hoped it would enhance the flavour of the cake when added to the regular root beer.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

While you’re doing that, preheat your oven to 325°F.  Generously butter a large bundt cake pan.  Dust the inside with flour and knock out the excess.  If you don’t have a bundt pan you can make this in an angel food pan.  If you have to make it in a pan that doesn’t have a hole in the middle you will need to cook it a bit longer and keep an eye on it so the bottom doesn’t burn.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

In a small saucepan, melt together 2 cups root beer, 1 cup cocoa, and 1/2 cup butter and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Add in 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar and whisk that until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is smooth.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Remove that from the heat and allow to cool a little bit. You want it to cool a bit (enough that you can poke your finger in it and it will be nice and warm but not hot) because you’re about to add in 2 lightly beaten eggs. And if you add the eggs in while it’s still hot they will cook on their own and that will be super gross.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Add the eggs in and whisk thoroughly.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

In a big bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour with 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Gently pour the chocolate mixture into the flour mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

You don’t want pockets of flour or anything but you want the batter to still be a mite lumpy.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Pour that into your prepared bundt pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until you can stick a skewer into it and it comes out clean.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Set that puppy on a rack to cool completely.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

In the meantime, you can make your root beer fudge frosting. In another bowl, whisk together 2oz melted dark chocolate and 1/2 cup room temperature butter. Add in as well 1/4 cup root beer, 2/3 cup cocoa, and 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s (icing) sugar and beat until smooth.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

When you cake is cooled, plaster on that icing in a haphazardly charming manner and eat it all up. Cover what’s left over in plastic wrap and keep up to a week at room temperature.  Sorry again that I have no pictures.  It disappeared! Instead you can have a picture of Gren in the Christmas hat that he hates.

Gren on Couch

Advertisements

O Canada: Poutine

Chicken and Poutine

This dish comes to you from the Ottawa-Gatineau region, where most street corners in the downtown area are dotted with “chip trucks”, mobile vendors of French fries and hot dogs.  And poutine.  A melty mix of hot fries, squeaky cheese curds, and oozing thick gravy.

Like most foods we hold dear to the Canadian heart (though if you hold this one too close you are apt to have a heart attack), the origins are contested.  The version I like best I heard on CBC a few years back.  This particular chip truck also sold cheese curds, a Québec specialty.  A customer wanted the vendor to simply chuck his order of cheese curds on top of his fries.  The vendor protested, saying “ça va faire une maudite poutine” (it’ll make a damned mess), but the customer insisted.

Chicken and Poutine

A new delicacy was created out of “a damned mess”, though the gravy drizzled over the fries and curds to keep them warm came a little later.

My mother grew up in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, so I trusted her judgment as a child when she told me that poutine was absolutely the most disgusting thing in the entire world.  Then, when I was a teenager, and we moved to Ottawa, I discovered that my mother had never in fact eaten poutine in her life.   I promptly went out and discovered what I had been missing.

My mother did, at the age of 60, eventually eat her first poutine.  The dish has a new fan.  If you’re in the Ottawa area, the best place in the city for poutine is JP’s Crispy Chips, a high-end chip truck on the corner of Merivale and Baseline Roads.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

That’s not to say you can’t get good poutine at other places in the city.  The chip truck near my high school had a decent recipe.  If you wanted to get fancy you could head down to the Elgin Street Diner and try their Philly Cheese Steak Poutine, among other variations.

Chicken and Poutine

But poutine outside of the Ottawa-Gatineau area tends to fall a little short of my expectations.  The Pie and I once ordered a poutine in Parry Sound, Ontario.  What arrived was a plate of Tex-Mex seasoned frozen fries, grated marble cheddar, and a gravy that obviously came from a powder packet.  Most disappointing.  The only decent poutine I’ve had outside of Ottawa-Gatineau has actually been here in St. John’s.  Newfoundlanders are good at eating potatoes, so they picked up on poutine right away.  Venice Pizzeria has a version served with “dressing,” what I call stuffing — the kind that goes in a bird.  And Aqua has a ridiculously rich version with chorizo and LOBSTER.

We’re going to do it the simple way here.  I don’t think my arteries could take it any other way.

A note before we begin, however.  You can buy your fries pre-cut and frozen from the store.  You can use powdered or canned gravy rather than make it from scratch.  You can use chicken gravy, turkey gravy, beef gravy, moose gravy, or mushroom gravy.  Whatever gravy you want.

But you absolutely MUST use cheese curds.  Must.  Otherwise it’s just fries with cheese on them.  And if you can get the cheese curds from St-Albert, Québec, by all means do so.  You can definitely taste the difference.  We used these ones from Montréal, Québec, and although they were good, they just weren’t the same.

Chicken and Poutine

Because we were serving the poutine as a sort of pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner, we decided to roast a chicken to serve on the side (because everything takes a backseat to poutine).  This also gave us a base from which to make our gravy.

Chicken and Poutine

First I fried up some onions with butter and herbes de provence, then I stuffed them into the chicken, which I roasted at 400°F until the thickest part of the thigh registered at 180° and the juices ran clear.

Chicken and Poutine

I used the juices that came out as the foundation for my gravy. I have more info on making gravy here.

Chicken and Poutine

I poured the juices into a saucepan and added a ton of organic chicken broth.  Here’s your gravy base, if you’re going for chicken gravy from scratch.

Chicken and Poutine

Make a slurry of flour and water and add that as well.  Bring the gravy to a boil and then reduce the heat and let it simmer to thicken.

Chicken and Poutine

The Pie was also engaged in making a pumpkin pie while this was going on. Gren got to lick the pumpkin spoon. Cooking dogs are so very helpful.

Chicken and Poutine

While that is going on, chop up 6 medium potatoes into shapes resembling French fries.

Chicken and Poutine

Rinse off the starch and let the potatoes soak for half an hour.

Chicken and Poutine

Drain them and dry them with a paper towel when you are ready to cook.

Chicken and Poutine

In a large saucepan, bring about 4 cups vegetable oil to a temperature of 350°F. Use a candy or deep-fry thermometer to be accurate.

Ease about half your potatoes into the hot oil.  A wire spoon is handy in this situation.  A fry basket would be even better.

Chicken and Poutine

Leave them in there, sputtering away, for about 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fries. The sputtering will calm down after a while.

Chicken and Poutine

Pull them out and let them sit on a paper towel for about 5 minutes, while you cook the rest of the fries.

Chicken and Poutine

After you have cooked each batch once, allow the heat of the oil to rise to 365°F.  Now you put the first batch back into the pot and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, until light brown.

Drain on paper towels again, season with sea salt, and get ready to serve immediately.

Chicken and Poutine

Pour half the fries into the bottom of a large serving bowl.  Sprinkle half a package of cheese curds on top.  Add a bit of gravy to get everything melty.

Chicken and Poutine

Repeat with the remaining fries, curds, and some more gravy.  Serve immediately.

Chicken and Poutine

We had ours with our roasted chicken, stuffing onions, and some carrots.  And all that extra gravy, of course.

Chicken and Poutine