A few months ago, I finally tried Single Malt by Layla Reyne. It’s the first of the m/m Irish & Whiskey series. It came very highly recommended by literally everyone who read it, which immediately made me so suspicious that I put off picking it up for ages. Why am I like this?
Except it was just as phenomenal as everyone said. It’s like the best buddy cop movie ever except with sexual tension and a badass sister-in-law/boss who saves the day all the time. And then she got her own book in Tequila Sunrise. I don’t think you really, really need to have read the Irish & Whiskey series or Tequila Sunrise in order to enjoy this book. But, um, why on earth would you NOT read Irish & Whiskey? I think I read the first four books over the course of about two days pretty much without sleeping. It’s that good.
Which brings us to Imperial Stout. We meet FBI agent Cameron Byrne and assistant US attorney Dominic Price in the first series. If you have read Irish & Whiskey, but it’s been a while, Cam is Jaime’s best friend the kidnap and rescue specialist from Boston, recently transferred to San Francisco. Dom is the stick-up-his-butt attorney who has a slight history with Aidan. They all work together.
We join these two while they are mid-bust. A member of a heist crew had flipped, giving the FBI the chance to take them down. Except things get complicated, people get shot at and someone dies. It’s bad. Dominic’s boss is pissed. And it turns out maybe one of the people shooting at Dominic has nothing to do with theft of priceless Serbian artifacts. What follows should be familiar to readers of the previous series with puzzles, questionable loyalties, lots of action and a fair bit of kissing. Plus Dom owns a microbrewery (hence the Imperial Stout of the title) as a sideline business, which figures into the plot.
The tension between Cam and Dom isn’t quite as robust as it was between Jaime and Aidan. However, this is the first of two books so they’ve got a ways to go yet. Ooh, now I’ve gone and worried everyone. Look, there is no cliffhanger. Everyone is happily together at the end of the book. But there is an on-going plot involving Dom’s family that I’m glad Reyne didn’t try to resolve in a single volume, all while making the guys do their jobs, checking in on characters we love from the previous series and trying to make a romance. The pacing, for me, was just perfect. And the second book has a release date later in the year.
Fans of Irish & Whiskey will be pleased by this new entry. The relationship has a different flavor and it didn’t hit the same trope buttons the first series did for me (one hero older than the other, enemies-ish-to-lovers), but I love that Dom and Cam have a long way to go to figure out how to open up and trust each other. They started the process in Imperial Stout and I can’t wait to see where Reyne takes them next.
Now for cake. This is my favorite cake recipe. Not only is it delicious, but it’s super ultra fast to throw together. I have a friend we play Dungeons & Dragons with who, whenever we get a new player, likes to tell the story of the time we were sitting at the table and he said, “You know, I could go for some chocolate cake right now.” I went into the kitchen and about an hour later, came back with this cake. He thought I was, like, magic or something. So make this cake. People will think you are magic.
This is basically a Smitten Kitchen recipe. And ordinarily I would just link you to the recipe and that would be it because I haven’t changed it very much. Except that because I have made this cake approximately 4,500 times and because I’m a professional baker, I have changed the method ever so slightly in order to speed up the process. Basically, two things: 1) butter AND flour the pan, which lets you dump out the cake before it’s totally cool, and 2) it always takes an extra five minutes in my oven unless I bump up the temperature. So I bake it at 360 degrees instead of 350. This will probably vary by oven.
I also hesitate to mention this because any time you give people license to change a recipe, especially a baking recipe, someone is going to take you at your word and, like, use brown sugar instead of white sugar or something (don’t do that). But I have successfully replaced the sour cream with, at various times, buttermilk, greek yogurt, creme fraiche or some combination of the above. Mainly because when I bake this cake, it’s because there are people coming over and I’m using whatever I happen to have on hand. Basically, if it’s an acidic dairy product, it will probably work. Probably. But if you want to be extra special sure, just go get yourself some sour cream.
Chocolate Stout Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
For the cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter + more for pan
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup stout beer (I used Lancaster Double Chocolate Milk Stout, but something like Guinness is fine)
2 cups all-purpose flour + more for pan
2 cups granulated white sugar
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2/3 cup sour cream
For the ganache:
6 oz chocolate chunks or chocolate chips
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon instant espresso granules
For the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees. Thoroughly butter and flour a bundt pan, making sure to get butter on every surface so the cake doesn’t stick.
2. In a medium pot, add the butter, cocoa powder and beer and bring to a boil. Whisk to combine then set aside to cool slightly.
3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking soda.
4. In a large bowl or stand mixer, whisk together eggs and sour cream. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk to combine. Add the flour and fold into batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
5. Bake for 35 minutes, testing with a skewer to make sure the cake is done. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Tap edges of pan against the counter gently o release the sides before unmolding.
For the ganache:
1. In a small pot, bring the cream and espresso powder to a boil. Pour over chopped chocolate in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes before whisking until smooth. Pour or spoon over cake.
July 23, 2018