Saturday, May 5, 2012

Black Chocolate Stout Whoopie Pies . . . with Fluffy Stout Cream Filling

I suppose I should begin by telling you that beer, per se, is really not my thing. I never drink the stuff, rarely engage in beer-lingo-laden conversations about it, and have never--not even once--craved a cold glass of it. But I acknowledge that there's beer and then there's beer, and a fine quality black chocolate stout, I must concede, falls easily into the latter category. At the very least, I am willing to use it as a baking ingredient. While I have no desire to consume the stuff on its own, I realize it's the idea of the stout mingling with pure chocolate in a mixing bowl that excites my bakerly interest. It does smell kind of interesting, and looks kind of wonderful . . . it's oh-so foamy. Yes, I'll put it into cake. Just don't expect me to guzzle it.

My husband, who was once deeply enamored of home-brewing (as evidenced by the fact that I know exactly what a carboy is, and could point you to an old one in our basement), tells me that, in many cases, chocolate stouts don't actually contain any chocolate at all. They get their dark hue and intriguingly bitter flavor from special malts that lend a cocoa-like aspect. I had no idea and felt slightly cheated at that piece of news, so I was relieved to realize that I'd selected a stout for these whoopies--albeit somewhat randomly, from a store display of colorful and chunky bottles--that does indeed claim to contain true chocolate.

I chose Dubious Black Chocolate Stout from North Peak Brewing Company. (North Peak is a young craft brewery and restaurant in Traverse City, Michigan, that's housed in what was once a candy factory. Check it out if you're ever in that neck of the woods.) It clearly had pleasing qualities, obvious even to a non-beer lover like me.

Okay, I'm convinced . . .

If these tasty cream-filled whoopie pies are any indication at all, then chocolate stout and chocolate-chocolate can consort in my mixing bowl any time they want. Try it and you'll see what I mean. Just look what happens, below, when you whisk the two together. Some kind of wild and primitive chemistry ensues. I think maybe it's black magic.

About this recipe . . . 

I adapted these whoopie-pies from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito (such a lovable cookbook, no question). I altered their basic chocolate whoopie pie formula by using a whole cup of stout for the main liquid instead of half a cup of hot coffee (I know--aren't I daring?). I omitted the espresso powder altogether, and I increased the amount of flour by about 20 percent while ratcheting up the salt just a smidgen. Somehow, these shenanigans all worked out splendidly and the cookie/cakey parts were perfectly suited to their task.

For the filling, I whipped together confectioners sugar, a splash of the stout, a little vanilla-bean paste, unsalted butter, cream cheese, and a dab of heavy cream. Too, too yummy, I tell you what. You have to try these.

Black Chocolate Stout Whoopie Pies 
with Fluffy Stout Cream Filling
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: At least a dozen large whoopie pies.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two or more cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Ingredients for the cookie-cakes:
4 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, unbleached
scant 1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1 and 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 and 1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup natural cocoa powder (I used Penzey's brand.)
1 cup black chocolate stout, not cold (I used Dubious Black Chocolate Stout from North Peak Brewery.)
2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup canola oil
1 egg, large
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract (I used Nielsen & Massey vanilla paste.)
1/2 cup buttermilk

Ingredients for the fluffy stout cream filling:
3 and 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted or whisked (I recommend Domino's 10x; if you use this, you can get away without sifting.)
2 Tbsp. black chocolate stout
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsaltened butter, room temperature
1/2 cup cream cheese, room temperature
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. heavy cream

To prepare the whoopies:

Whisk the flour, salt, baking power, and baking soda in a medium size bowl, then set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the cocoa powder to break up lumps. Pour in the black chocolate stout and whisk until it's well mixed.

In another medium size bowl, stir together the brown sugar and the oil. Pour this into the large bowl with the chocolate mixture. Add into that the egg, vanilla, and buttermilk. Whisk until very well combined. Carefully fold in the flour, using a rubber spatula, scraping the bowl as needed.

Then, I recommend letting the batter sit for about ten minutes. It sort of thickens a bit as the dry ingredients absorb the moisture and it becomes easier to scoop.

Use an ice cream scoop to portion the batter onto the parchment sheets, leaving at least an inch for each whoopie to spread out when it bakes. (I used a number 24 scoop; that holds 3 tablespoons. Feel free to make them smaller if you like, reducing baking time accordingly.)

Bake each tray for about 12 minutes, just until the whoopies look completely dry on top and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean. Cool the whoopies on the parchment for a few minutes, then use a thin metal spatula to remove them to a cooling rack. They may stick a bit, even on the parchment, so be careful when you're lifting them off of it.

Once they're completely cool, assemble your whoopie pies either by spreading the filling on with an offset spatula or by using a pastry bag. Store the filled whoopies well covered (I put them on a half sheet tray that was first covered with parchment, then laid a loose sheet of parchment atop that, then covered it all with plastic wrap.) You may want to keep them chilled until ready to serve, as the filling can become quite soft.

To prepare the fluffy stout cream filling:

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese until soft and well combined. On the lowest speed, add in the confectioners' sugar, a cup or so at a time until the sugar is all mixed in. Add in the stout, vanilla bean paste or extract, and heavy cream. Beat on medium-high speed for a couple of minutes, until light and fluffy. If the filling seems too warm and soft, chill it before filling the whoopies.

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