A most astonishing thing
Seventy years have I lived;
(Hurrah for the flowers of Spring
For Spring is here again.)
A Missed Opportunity…
A friend sent me this recipe and actually offered to pay me to make it (as if that would be necessary). Even though I didn’t take him up on the cash, the offer somehow short-circuited my typical urge to tweak. I felt like I was “on assignment,” so it wasn’t until I was dusting the tops with cocoa powder and watching the caramel sauce cool that I realized I’d missed an opportunity to make another cocktail in cupcake form. If only I’d thought of it sooner, I could have come up with some kind of Irish Cream element, and these could have been Car Bomb Cupcakes.
An Irish Cream fudge or custard filling? Or maybe I could have added Bailey’s to the frosting along with the whisky, so the topping would mimic the shot traditionally dropped into the Guinness. Of course I would not have been the first person to come up with this idea.
…to Offend Someone?
Maybe it’s better that I didn’t go that route, though. Apparently some people find the “car bomb” name offensive because it seems to celebrate the violent tactics used by the IRA. The Connecticut bartender who claims to have invented the drink initially called his Bailey’s, Kaluha, and Jameson shot the “Grandfather” in honor of the “many grandfathers in Irish history.” It became known as the “IRA” because of the way Bailey’s bubbles up when you add whisky to it.* From there, it was a short conceptual leap to “car bomb” when he dropped it in a glass of Guinness on St. Patrick’s day in 1979.
I’m sure Charles B. Oat meant no disrespect, he was just celebrating the holiday commemorating the death of the sainted Catholic Bishop who supposedly converted many Irish pagans by using shamrocks to illustrate the holy trinity the way most Americans do: with copious amounts of alcohol. Of course, that upsets some people, too, as seen in the recent controversy over American Apparel’s St. Patrick’s Day-themed merchandise, including shirts reading: “Kiss Me, I’m Drunk. Or Irish. Or Whatever.”
The lack of malice doesn’t automatically exonerate American Apparel or the many people who will spend this Saturday drinking too many car bombs or green Budweiser. But I think the people who claim that American St. Patrick’s day celebrations perpetuate a hurtful “Drunken Paddy” stereotype or otherwise show disrespect for Irish people might be mistaken about how “Irish” anyone really thinks green beer and “car bombs” are. Sure, contemporary St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are inevitably mired in the complex history of racial politics and European imperialism. The fact that lots of Americans are really over-eager to identify with the one (now-) white ethnic group they know of that experienced overt racism and colonization is kind of bizarre and yet totally understandable. But the idea that it’s racist seems to imply that the widespread practice of wearing green while participating in an otherwise-unextraordinary early Spring bacchanalia actually bears some relationship to how people really think about or act towards Irish people.
The American Apparel shirt doesn’t mock Irish people so much as it mocks people who pretend to be Irish once a year while drinking until they do something stupid. It’s only offensive if you think there really is something characteristically Irish about drinking to excess. Similarly, the name “car bomb” is only offensive if you think there really is something uniquely Irish about vehicle-borne explosives or dropping Baileys in Guinness and chugging it before it curdles. I think the “Irishness” being performed and celebrated on March 17 bears about as much relation to Irishness as eating at Olive Garden has to Italianness. The American enthusiasm for consuming vast quantities of beer and breadsticks in the name of celebrating an ethnic heritage—whether their own or someone else’s—seems pretty innocent to me.**
*Does this actually happen? Why would whisky added to a liqueur that’s basically just a blend of cream and whisky with a few other flavorings bubble?
**On the other hand, I also tend to think that if someone tells you something you’re doing offends them, you should probably consider stopping it. I’m looking at you, University of Illinois fans who won’t let go of the Chief. On the other other hand, if there’s a clear and obvious distinction between offensive practices that perpetuate racial or ethnic stereotypes and hurt people’s feelings and inoffensive ones that benignly reference or perhaps even positively celebrate invented identities and traditions, I don’t know what it is.
Instead of something Irish Cream-related, the third element in the original recipe I followed was a brown sugar caramel. Unfortunately, it crystallized and got clumpy before it was cool enough to drizzle. I followed the recipe exactly, even though I had misgivings, knowing how finicky caramel can be. But the recipe didn’t mention washing the sides of the pot with water or making sure you stop stirring at some point, and the brown sugar made it hard to go by visual cues. So, if you want a smooth, pretty amber drizzle instead of something vaguely excremental, I’d try another recipe—perhaps this one if you wanted to keep it vegan. The agave nectar probably works like the corn syrup that helps prevent crystallization in many normal recipes. Or you could amp up the Irish Whisky flavor by subbing that for the bourbon in a recipe like this.
Honestly, these basically tasted like chocolate cupcakes with super-sweet vanilla buttercream. The flavor of the stout in the cake part came through a little, but the whiskey barely at all. So although they certainly sound like they’re in the spirit of the coming holiday, their “Irishness” might require some explanation, a bit like a bad Halloween costume. If I make them again, I’ll frost them with a meringe-based buttercream flavored with Irish Cream and drizzle them with a different caramel recipe, probably spiked with Irish whiskey. And maybe I’ll call them “Grandfather bomb cupcakes.”
Recipe: Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Whiskey Buttercream (from Chef Chloe)
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup stout beer (I used Short’s Uncle Steve’s Irish Stout)
- ½ cup canola oil
- 2 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup shortening or margarine, at room temperature (vegan if desired)
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 to 5 tablespoons milk (vegan if desired)
- 3 to 4 teaspoons Irish whiskey
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- ¼ cup margarine (vegan if desired, like Earth Balance)
- 4 teaspoons milk (vegan if desired)
For the cupcakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and line regular cupcake pans with 14-16 liners (I used 14 as called for, but they overflowed the cups a bit and then sank, so I would do 16 next time.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the stout, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Batter may be lumpy—that’s okay. Don’t over-mix or you’ll get too much gluten development and they’ll be tough and/or they’ll be flat because you deflated some of the leavening that begins as soon as the baking soda mixes with the liquid and acid.
3. Fill the lined cupcake tins between half and two-thirds full. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it. Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting.
For the buttercream:
1. Beat the shortening or margarine (or other solid fat at room temperature) until smooth. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time and mix until combined. Add the milk 1 Tablespoon at at time until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Add the whiskey, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you achieve the desired taste. Beat on high for 2 more minutes until very light and fluffy.
2. If your cupcakes also fell, you can level the top with frosting if desired. To decorate with a soft-serve style swirl, transfer the frosting to a piping bag or zip-top bag with a corner snipped off, and pipe in a spiral, starting on the outside edge and working towards the center.
3. Dust the top with cocoa powder if desired—I put about a teaspoon of cocoa in a fine mesh sieve and then hold the sieve over the frosted cupcakes and tap the side of the basket with the spoon.
1. Combine the brown sugar, margarine, and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until it comes together.
2. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 1-2 more minutes, until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat.
3. Let cool slightly and transfer to a ziptop bag and drizzle over the cupcakes.