Friday, June 22, 2012

Root Beer Chocolate Cake with Root Beer Float Ice Cream

I remember the day a fountain soda machine was installed in the dining room at my college - I remember, because that night I filled a glass halfway up with root beer...   and then filled it up the rest of the way with milk!

We all have a few oddball taste buds in our mouths, and mine craved that drink.

I drank it every night with dinner, and it tasted so smooth and creamy, like a root beer float after the ice cream has melted, so it was a little bit like getting to have dessert every night with very little guilt.

And all of you who are thinking to yourselves what a weirdo I am, well, just think about the strangest thing you've ever eaten and loved.

In high school, my brother and sister and I would ride our bikes all over town, and when it was hot, we liked to ride up to the Longmont Dairy where we might get something cold to drink or an ice cream cone.  One summer, I tried a scoop of root beer ice cream, and it tasted just like root beer barrel candy.  That memory inspired me to try making my own root beer float ice cream.

I planned to make the same custard base that I had made for the strawberry ice cream a few weeks ago, and I just needed to either buy or make some root beer extract.  Not having planned ahead very well, I didn't have time to order any extract online, so I searched the local grocery stores.  And I could only find one option - Watkins Imitation Root Beer Extract (available at Walmart).  So I bought it and brought it home to give it a taste.  And it was horrible.  Very artificial and medicinal tasting, it reminded me of the Pepsident-brand of toothpaste.  Yuck.

Hoping it would taste better dispersed in the ice cream, I forged ahead, breaking my candy thermometer into the custard during the process, after which I had to strain it through cheesecloth to make sure there were no bits of glass left in the custard.  But Jamie and I both agreed that the extract was just too medicinal tasting, and neither of us wanted to eat the ice cream.  I'm sure there are much better extracts out there, so all I can say is, try a few different ones and look for good quality if you do use purchased extract or concentrate.

My backup plan was to make it myself, which wasn't hard at all.  All I did was simply pour some root beer into a saucepan and boil it over medium heat until it reduced to a syrup.  (And during that process, I broke the glass root beer bottle into the saucepan...  more straining through cheesecloth...)  Why do I keep breaking things?

After the syrup cooled, it was ready to stir into the custard and make ice cream, and the result was a wonderfully smooth and creamy ice cream that tasted just like a root beer float.  As you can see in the pictures, I could hardly wait long enough for the ice cream to firm up before I started snapping photos - combine that with a 90-degree day, ice cream sitting in the sun by the patio door, and the ice cream started melting faster than I could photograph it.  I did take a couple more pictures later after it was firm, to be sure you all could see the lovely texture.

Along with the ice cream, I baked a chocolate cake, with root beer mixed right into the batter.  It was very moist and chocolatey, but the root beer was hard to detect, so you may want to add a little extract or concentrate to the cake as well, if you want to really taste the root beer.

I do love layer cakes in all their towering glory, but sometimes a single-layer cake is just as satisfying in its unpretentious simplicity.  This cake recipe is the exact recipe I used for my red wine chocolate cake, simply swapping root beer for the wine.

This cake and ice cream would be wonderful for a summer birthday party, or just any day of the summer!

Root Beer Chocolate Cake
printable recipe

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, unsweetened cocoa powder (plus extra for dusting)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg (room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup milk (room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup Root Beer (your favorite brand)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-2 teaspoons root beer extract or concentrate

Vanilla Buttercream:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-3 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.  Spray the paper and the sides of the pan with non-stick spray, then dust with cocoa powder (just as if you were greasing and flouring the pan).

In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the remaining wet ingredients and beat on low for 30 seconds to combine, then on medium speed for 2 minutes until well blended.

Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Bake at 350 for 25-28 minutes, until the center is done and the cake springs back when gently touched.  Cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.  Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely before frosting.

For the buttercream, beat the butter for 2 minutes until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat on low to combine.  Increase speed to medium and beat for 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy, adding the milk a little at a time to achieve the desired consistency.  Pipe onto the cooled cake.  Sprinkle with the crushed root beer candies.

Yields 8 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Root Beer Float Ice Cream
printable recipe
  • 1 can/bottle (12 ounces) Root Beer (your favorite brand)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Cook’s Note:  If you decide to use store-bought root beer extract or concentrate instead of boiling down your own, pick a good brand.  The only one I could find locally (outside of ordering online) was Watkins imitation root beer extract, and the flavor was horrible, very medicinal.  Flavor and intensity varies wildly between brands, so some will be much better than others, and the amount you use will be up to your own taste. 


Pour the root beer into a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil until reduced to a concentrated syrup, about 2 ounces (1/4 cup).  Set aside.

In a large saucepan, combine the cream, milk and salt.  Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, but don't bring it to a rapid boil.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar with the egg yolks.  When the cream mixture is hot but not boiling, drizzle about 1 cup of the hot cream into the eggs and sugar mixture, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs.  Pour all of the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the cream.  Cook the custard gently over medium low heat, stirring constantly until thickened slightly, and the temperature reaches 170.  Remove from the heat.

Pour custard through a mesh strainer into a bowl to strain out any bits of cooked egg.  Whisk in the vanilla and the root beer concentrate (I used all of the concentrate, but you can add a little at a time, tasting as you go, until you like the flavor – the flavor also develops more as the custard chills).  Cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and refrigerate, preferably overnight, but at least until very well chilled.  The custard will thicken quite a bit as it chills, more to the consistency of pudding.

Churn custard according to the instructions on your ice cream maker, then transfer to a container and freeze until firm, 4-6 hours.

Yields about 1 1/2 quarts.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen