Beer & Pretzels Caramels

I’ve made so many variations of caramels that it’s about time that I experiment with beer caramels.  Typically, the smell and flavor of beer is a bit too strong for my taste, so I started out conservatively by using a pale ale with a somewhat intimidating name and label (New Belgium Voodoo Ranger) but seemingly less aggressive flavors of citrus and tropical fruit from eight hops and low bitterness.  The end result was a caramel with a hint of citrus and fruitiness and a slight dryness in taste.  You can definitely taste the beer, especially at the end, but the caramel flavor still shines through.  I layered mini pretzels on top since I’ve been told that pretzels go well with beer, and they provide a good textural contrast and a bit of saltiness.




Beer & Pretzels Caramels

Makes 80 pieces of caramel (depending on size.  I like to cut them small as these are packed with flavor)


2 cups brown sugar
2 sticks butter
1 cup corn syrup
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 12 oz. bottle of your favorite beer (pale ales work well)
Sea salt
Pretzels (I used mini pretzels)


  1. Line a 9×13 inch pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan with high sides, melt butter and brown sugar over medium heat until well combined.
  3. Slowly add beer and corn syrup, and stir well.
  4. Add the sweetened condensed milk, and keep stirring constantly.  Be careful as the mixture will bubble up quite a bit.
  5. Cook caramels to 244-246°F.  This can take up to 20-30 minutes.  Do not stop stirring once the sweetened condensed milk is added or the caramel will burn.
  6. Once the caramel reaches you reach 244-246°F, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
  7. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan.
  8. Sprinkle a light layer of sea salt on top of hot caramels.  Use less sea salt if you’re also including salted pretzels.
  9. Lay the pretzels on top of the warm caramel.
  10. Let the caramel set until firm enough to cut.  I used the refrigerator to help speed up the cooling process.

Chocolate Stout Cake

It’s not often that the story behind a chocolate cake recipe involves aspects of danger, anguish, turmoil, and eventually acceptance, forgiveness, and a sweet ending.  A few years ago, I set out with great anticipation and optimism to bake this Chocolate Stout Cake, but disaster struck before I could even start.  My treasured bottle of stout (it was a small batch, special brew with specific chocolate notes to it) that I had bought specifically for this recipe tumbled off my shelf, shattered on my concrete floor, and shards of glass ricocheted up toward my face.  Luckily I pulled away quickly enough and managed to escape with only a slice above my lip.  But as I sat in the emergency room waiting for the doctor to stitch up my lip, I vowed with a vengeance to forever shun this cake recipe. Years later the scar above my lip remains a constant reminder of that ill-fated day, but as with most things, the passage of time and a recent conversation with friends about the merits of Guinness beer convinced me to give this recipe another try.  This time I made sure to store the bottle of beer more carefully.

Transition to the present, and the cake was made with no major mishaps, and in a nutshell, this cake is gloriously chocolatey.  The addition of a bottle of Guinness to the cake batter adds flavor depth to the chocolate (you can definitely taste and smell the Guinness) but doesn’t overpower the cake. The cake is tender and moist, and sandwiched between the two layers is a semi-sweet chocolate ganache that’s smooth, thick, and creamy.  The outside of the cake is also slathered with the chocolate ganache, leading all who eat this cake to proclaim “If I must die, let it be death by chocolate!”

This cake is almost 4 inches tall.
chocolate stout cake-KAFv2-5

Here’s up close evidence of over indulgence.
chocolate stout cake-KAFv2-9

Chocolate Stout Cake

(For the original recipe and instructions on how convert this recipe for cupcakes, see King Arthur Flour. The original recipe makes almost 6 pounds of cake batter.  That was way too much cake for me, so I followed the original recipe’s instructions for making a smaller cake.  The ingredients listed below are for the “smaller” cake which is still a hefty 2-layer 9-inch cake.)

Makes a 2-layer 9-inch cake (I used one 9-inch cake pan with 2 inch high sides and one 9-inch cake pan with 1 inch high sides because that was what I had.)


1 1/2 cups stout or dark beer, I used Guinness
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup Dutch-process cocoa
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

1/2 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract



  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9″ cake pans (make sure at least one of them is at least 2 inches deep as the batter rises while baking.), and line them with parchment paper circles.
  2. Place the stout and butter in a large, heavy saucepan, and heat until the butter melts.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the cocoa powder until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs and sour cream.
  6. Add the stout-cocoa mixture, mixing to combine. (Make sure that the stout-cocoa mixture has cooled a bit so that it doesn’t scramble the egg-sour cream mixture).
  7. Add the flour mixture, and mix together at slow speed. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and mix again for one minute.  The batter will be quite loose/liquidy.
  8. Divide the batter equally among the prepared pans (if your pans are the same size/depth). I filled my pans until they were about 3/4 filled.
  9. Bake the layers for approximately 35 minutes for the 9-inch pan with 1 inch deep sides and 50 minutes for the 9-inch pan with 2 inch deep sides.  Ultimately judge the doneness of your layers by inserting a toothpick or cake tester into the center, and if it comes out clean, it’s ready.
  10. Remove the cakes from the oven and cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning the cakes out of their pans and returning to the rack to finish cooling completely before frosting.


  1. Place the chopped chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan.
  2. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir until the mixture is completely smooth.
  3. Stir in the vanilla. Refrigerate until the icing is spreadable, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours.

Assemble the Cake

  1. Trim one cake layer to have a flat top, if necessary (otherwise the layer will crack when you place it upside down on your cake plate).
  2. Line the edges of a serving plate with parchment or waxed paper to keep it clean, and then place the layer upside down on top. Spread 1/3 of the icing over just the top of the layer.
  3. Top with another cake layer, top side down.
  4. Use the remaining frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. Remove the parchment paper.