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Root Beer — It’s Not Just For Drinking

One of my fondest memories as a teenager is the jolting brain freeze I’d get slurping an A&W root beer float after spending the afternoon playing tennis with my older brothers.

The frosty mug of root beer and soft-serve vanilla ice cream went down sweet, slightly bitter, and creamy. I was usually so thirsty that I couldn’t help but take that first gulp big and fast. The coldness would race up my nose to the middle of my eyes, forcing them shut with part pleasure and part pain. For a kid, it was the ultimate reward after all that running around after a fuzzy, bouncing ball.

Nowadays, I can’t remember the last time I picked up a tennis racket. And I long gave up root beer floats in an ode to try to be more health conscious.

But when I saw the photo of Root Beer Bundt Cake in the new “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking” cookbook (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, I knew I had to make it. There’s root beer in both the chocolate cake and the chocolate frosting.

To ramp up the root beer flavor in the cake, you can substitute some root beer schnapps, according to the recipe. But I didn’t go to the bother of hunting that down.

The cake batter includes 2 cups of root beer and 1 cup of dark unsweetened cocoa powder. The frosting has 2 ounces dark chocolate, ¼ cup root beer, and 2/3 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder. But you might find that you need to add a drop or two more root beer to the frosting to get a good, spreadable consistency.

The root beer flavor is pretty subtle in the resulting cake, one of the moistest I’ve had in a long time. One slice is all it takes to bring me back to my teen years. But this time, without the brain freeze.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

(Makes one 10-inch Bundt cake)

For the root beer bundt cake:

2 cups root beer (do not use diet root beer)

1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

1¼ cups granulated sugar

½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1¼ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

For the root beer fudge frosting:

2 ounces dark chocolate (60% cacao), melted and cooled slightly

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup root beer

2/3 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder

2½ cups confectioners’ sugar

To serve:

Vanilla ice cream

Make the root beer bundt cake:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Generously spray the inside of a 10-inch bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray; alternatively, butter it, dust with flour, and knock out excess flour.

In a small saucepan, heat the root beer, cocoa powder, and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until just beaten, then whisk them into a cooled cocoa mixture until combined. Gently fold the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture. The batter will be slightly lumpy — do not overbeat, as it could cause the cake to be tough.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan and turn it out onto the rack.

Make the root beer fudge frosting:

Put all the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse in short bursts until the frosting is shiny and smooth.

Use a spatula to spread the fudge frosting over the crown of the bundt in a thick layer. Let the frosting set before serving, with the ice cream on the side.

From “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito