How They Made It: Port Wine Chocolate Cake for Roger & Bree’s wedding
Welcome back to our occasional series, “How They Made It,” where we explore the food and drink of Outlander. This time we’re celebrating Roger & Bree’s wedding with a port wine chocolate cake. Slainté!
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Droughtlander is almost over!
Can you believe it, friends? The premiere of Outlander Season 5 is but a few days away! In the first episode (spoiler alert), we’re going to be treated to Roger and Bree’s “official” wedding. Having this celebration so close to Valentine’s Day just cements the romance of it all, so in the spirit of love I’m presenting to you a wedding cake for Bree and Roger.
But this isn’t your typical ornately-tiered cake we see at weddings today. I wanted to honor the spirit of our 20th-century-turned-18th-century couple with a cake that spans both time periods: I give you a Port Wine Chocolate Cake with Port Wine Chocolate Ganache.
(whoa, that’s a mouthful!)
I decided that wedding cakes on the Ridge would not be huge and fancy, but they would be something extra special. I may be taking liberties, but hear me out.
Port would definitely be present at the wedding (along with whisky, of course), and it’s not unprecedented to have red wine alongside chocolate. Port wine, red wine fortified with brandy, accentuates chocolate while adding hints of red berries in the background.
The History of Port Wine
Remember how Jamie went to work for his cousin, Jared, in France in Season 2? And Jamie and Murtagh schemed to hijack the Count St. Germain’s shipment of wine? That was port wine being brought from Portugal.
According to Taylor Fladgate’s The History of Port, red wine has been made on the Iberian Peninsula since antiquity. Port wine emerged in the second half of the 17th century, and became an important trade good between Portugal and England.
At that time, English and Scottish merchants living in Portugal imported English commodities like wool and cotton cloth. They exported foodstuffs and the lightly acidic “red Portugal” wine back to England.
By the 18th century, that wine became fortified by adding brandy to the wine production in order to protect it from long sea voyages. Later, the process of adding the brandy before the wine had finished fermenting became standard practice, resulting in a wine that was sweeter, stronger and more aromatic. And the English loved it!
There’s a lot more to this story, and I won’t bore you with it now. Suffice it to say that port became very popular in England, and on to America. I’m not wrong to assume that Jamie could have acquired some to toast the happy couple.
If you want to know more about the history of port (and it really is interesting!), head to Taylor Fladgate’s The History of Port. I promise there won’t be a test.
How port wine and chocolate go together
Red wine and chocolate are a great pairing – many times cocoa has fruit undertones that can be paired with different wine flavor profiles. Dark chocolate goes especially well with the plum, blackberries and black cherry notes in wine.
You can find any number of rich dark chocolate cake recipes, and most are accentuated with coffee to deepen the chocolate flavor. In this cake, I’ve added port wine to both the cake batter and the chocolate ganache, taking the cake to a whole other level.
The alcohol from the port wine is baked out of the cake itself. The cake is very moist and fudgy, and you can notice a hint of berries underneath all the chocolate goodness. The port wine chocolate ganache underscores the full intensity of the port wine and chocolate together. Truly, it’s a love match, like our bride and groom.
How to Make Port Wine Chocolate Cake
I looked over many recipes for red wine chocolate cakes, and they were all similar. My red wine chocolate cake recipe is adapted from The Brownie Bites’ Red Wine Chocolate Cake for Two, which in turn had adapted the recipe for Red Wine Chocolate Cake from Life, Love, and Sugar. It’s nice to see a cake’s pedigree.
Can I use semi-sweet chocolate in my cake?
I like the deep flavor that dark chocolate brings to a cake, but feel free to use regular cocoa powder in the cake and semi-sweet chocolate for the ganache. The flavor might be a bit less intense, but I won’t judge.
How to choose the right size of cake pans
I first made a mini version of my port wine chocolate cake (which is what you see pictured). It is a two-layer, 6-inch cake made in two 6-inch round cake pans. I adapted the recipe to the smaller pans by dividing the ingredients I’ve given in my recipe in half. If you divide the recipe in half again, you can make a single-layer 6-inch cake.
Speaking of layers, I love to use my Bake-Even strips when I bake cakes. They insulate the outside part of the cake pan, allowing the center of the batter to bake…well…evenly with the outer edges. What you get is a flat-topped layer cake that then doesn’t have to be trimmed. One less thing for me to mess up.
Making Port Wine Chocolate Ganache
I’ve mentioned making chocolate ganache when we made Briana’s Boston Cream Pie. Just to refresh your memory, the basic ganache recipe is quite simple with just two ingredients, heavy cream and chopped chocolate.
Like with Port Wine Chocolate Cake, the addition of port wine to the ganache just enhances the berry undertones of the chocolate without really calling attention to itself. However, here the alcohol isn’t cooked out, so there is a kick to it. This cake is for adults…be warned.
Have extra chocolate ganache? Make chocolate truffles!
Depending on what size cake you make, you might end up with extra chocolate ganache. You could grab a spoon and dig in, or you can take this opportunity to make port wine truffles. You won’t believe how easy it is and how yummy they taste!
All you have to do is scoop the extra ganache into little mounds onto a parchment- or wax paper-lined baking pan (a small cookie scoop works well here), refrigerate them, then roll them with your hands into spheres. At this point, the truffles are ready to be coated, either by melted chocolate, cocoa powder, sugar or whatever decorations you’d like to use.
You’ll find the complete instructions on making chocolate truffles here. They’re perfect for Valentine’s Day!
Because this port wine chocolate cake is so rich, a small slice goes a long way. It definitely is a cake worthy of our Droughtlander-ending Season 5 premiere of Outlander.
I hope you’ll get to watch the premiere with friends, either together or virtually. And I hope you’ll make this special dessert in honor of the Season 5 premiere, Valentine’s Day, Roger and Bree’s wedding, Jamie and Claire’s love, or whatever special-occasion you choose to celebrate.
Does your family have a special-occasion dessert? Tell us all about it!
Port Wine Chocolate Cake with Port Wine Chocolate Ganache
- 8-inch round cake pans (3)
- parchment paper
- baking spray
- Bake-Even strips
- stand mixer with paddle attachment or hand mixer
- cake lifters
- small offset spatula
For the cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, (8½ oz, 250g)
- 2 cups granulated sugar, (14 oz, 400g)
- ¾ cup dark chocolate cocoa powder, see Recipe Notes (2¼ oz, 64g)
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 Tbsp dried buttermilk powder, or 1 cup buttermilk, warmed, see Recipe Notes (½ oz, 18g)
- 1 cup water, hot (omit if using buttermilk), see Recipe Notes (8 oz, 227g)
- ½ cup vegetable oil, (4 oz, 114g)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup port wine, at room temperature (8 oz, 227g)
For the ganache
- ¾ cup heavy cream, (6 oz, 170g)
- ¾ cup port wine, (6 oz, 170g)
- 2-2/3 cups dark chocolate, finely chopped, see Recipe Notes (16 oz, 454g)
- Soak the Bake-Even strips (if using) in cold water for 5 minutes. Press out the excess water (do not wring), and wrap them snugly around the cake pans.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk powder and hot water. You can skip this step if you're using warmed buttermilk (see recipe notes).
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer and a large bowl), stir together the flour, sugar, dark chocolate cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
- Add the eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla to the dry ingredients; mix well.
- Slowly add the port wine. Mix gently, being careful not to overmix the batter.
- Divide the batter evenly between the cakes pans, and tap out the pans on the counter to release any trapped air bubbles.
- Bake for 30-33 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs. The cake is fudgy, so be careful not to overbake the cakes. Every oven heats differently, so I'd start checking the cakes at the 25-minute mark.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then remove to cooling racks to cool completely. If you're not using Bake-Even strips, level the cakes before stacking.
- Make the ganache: Combine the heavy cream and port wine in a saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat until it's steaming and bubbles begin to form.
- Remove from heat, add the chopped chocolate and cover for two minutes.
- Open the lid and whisk the mixture until it's totally smooth. Set aside for about 30 minutes to cool. You want the ganache to be thicker and easily spreadable, but not too thin.
- Stack another layer on top and frost with ganache. Repeat with the third layer. If desired, frost the sides of the cake with ganache.
- Decorate the cake as desired. You can whip some of the ganache and pipe roses on top, or use sprinkles and cocoa nibs to decorate.
- Any leftover ganache can be scooped into balls and made into truffles. You can even use those truffles to decorate the cake.
- Chill the cake to firm up the ganache before slicing. Serve and enjoy!
- For a single layer mini cake: divide the ingredients by 4 (use a whole egg). Bake in a 6-inch round cake pan for 25-28 minutes.
- For a two layer mini cake: divide the ingredients by 2. Bake in two 6-inch round cake pans for 25-28 minutes.
- For a two layer cake: Bake the full recipe in two 9-inch round cake pans for 30-32 minutes.
- For a sheet cake: Bake the full recipe in a 9- x 13-inch baking pan for 30-32 minutes.
- For mini heart cakes: divide the ingredients by 2. Scoop 1/4 cup batter into wells using a large cookie scoop. Bake for 18-20 minutes.
Discovering Outlander after Season 1 first aired, Tammy quickly went down the rabbit-hole on social media and podcasts and found a world of like-minded fans who not only tolerated her obsession, but encouraged the madness! She combined her Outlander-inspired interest for scotch whisky with her continuing passion for baking and storytelling in her blog, Scotch & Scones…Explorations in a glass and in the oven. Joining the staff of Outlander Cast as the resident baker has brought Tammy full circle, from a podcast fan to a contributing writer. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest at @scotch_scones, and find her on Facebook at @scotchandsconesblog.