This month Food and Wine has a feature story on Liz and Lou Lambert, two Austinites who have made the city a little more stylish. Liz is a lawyer turned hotelier whose Hotel San Jose has become quite popular with the SXSW set. Her brother Lou is known for his culinary talents. His old restaurant, Lambert’s, was my personal favorite, so when he shut it down and moved to San Antonio, I was pretty sad. Luckily, Lou has returned to Austin and re-opened Lambert’s as a barbecue restaurant — upscale Texas barbecue favorites with a twist.
The new Lambert’s is in the ever-growing Second Street district where they are building shops, condos and even a W Hotel. It’s a more adult version of Sixth Street, so keep this in mind if you are over twenty and want to have a good time in downtown Austin. Hey, check out our City Hall while you are there. Here’s a photo. As you see, they put a guitar in front of it to remind people that Austin is the live music capitol of the world.
Lambert’s is across the street, and I am sorry but I didn’t take a photo of it. It is very small, so you’ll need to make a reservation about a week in advance. The interior is interesting because it manages to be both sleek and “barbecue joint” rustic at the same time. There is a long banquette along the wall, and a few booths for large parties. I liked everything about the atmosphere except the noise level, which made it kind of hard to talk. If you are good at reading lips, this shouldn’t be a problem.
The appetizer list included spicy deviled eggs, chickpeas with goat cheese, clams, For entrees, you can choose something from the “smoked” side such as smoked achiote chicken breast or prime rib or you can go with something grilled, such as Berkshire pork chops. If you want to look at the menu, it’s here. We didn’t order enough different/exciting things to make a decent overall assessment on the food, but the dishes we ordered (grilled steak/achiote chicken) were cooked properly and I have no complaints. What I’m leading up to is dessert – the Dr. Pepper Cake.
If I ran a barbecue restaurant, I would copy Lou and put a Dr. Pepper cake on the menu for sure. The theme was brilliant. My only complaint was the cake itself. It was a little dry and unlike traditional ooey gooey Dr. Pepper cakes, did not have a frosting. Instead, it was served with ice cream and chocolate sauce. Here’s a photo. I usually don’t pull my camera out at restaurants, but since everyone else doing it, I figured why not…..
The old Lambert’s served the benchmark of all great buttermilk chocolate cakes, so this new cake was kind of a disappointment. But to its credit, it inspired me to go home and bake a Dr. Pepper cake of my own. The recipe below was adapted from a recipe on Texas Cooking. The changes I made were adding salt, swapping out some of the oil for butter and changing the icing completely. I actually tried the icing from that site, but didn’t like it and threw it out. The one I used is kind of neat because it doesn’t involve powdered sugar. I believe it originated in Good Housekeeping. I upped the chocolate a bit, but that’s about it.
Here’s what my cake looked like. I put the can of Dr. Pepper in the photo because I thought it was cute. It looks like the Dr. Pepper is trying to have a conversation with the cake and the cake is ignoring it.
Dr Pepper Chocolate Layer Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (natural)
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (scant) salt (Morton Kosher)
1 cup Dr Pepper (not Diet)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
8 tablespoons butter, softened, cut up
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup canola oil
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Frosting (see below)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray two shiny 9-inch cake pans with Pam for Baking flour added cooking spray or grease and flour using your favorite method.
Sift together the flour, sugar, dark brown sugar, cocoa powder and baking soda; stir in the salt. Set aside.
Heat the Dr Pepper in a small saucepan over medium. When it starts to bubble, reduce heat to low, add the chocolate chips and stir until melted. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter. Set aside to cool for about 8 to 10 minutes.
With an electric mixer, beat the eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla for 2 minutes. At lowest speed, slowly add the Dr Pepper mixture and beat for 1 additional minute. Gradually add the dry ingredients (flour mixture), and beat until smooth by hand or using medium to low speed of mixer.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans, and bake for 30 to 38 (mine took 38) minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pans for 15 minutes, then invert onto cooling racks, lift off pans and allow to cool completely before frosting. The frosting requires cooling time, so you may want to get started on that right away.
Silky Chocolate Butter Frosting:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1 cup milk
1 cup butter (2 sticks, salted or unsalted plus ½ teaspoon salt)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled — you can do this in microwave or over bowl set over simmering water
Off the heat, combine the sugar, flour and cocoa in a small saucepan. Gradually add milk and whisk until smooth.
Put the mixture over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Reduce heat to low, cook 2 minutes, whisking all the while. Remove saucepan from heat; cool completely. This cooling period should take 40 minutes to an hour.
In a large bowl with mixer at medium speed, beat softened butter until creamy. Gradually beat in cooled milk mixture, vanilla and melted chocolate. Note: If you do all the steps above and get a gooey mess, it’s probably because something was too warm. I’ve done this a couple of times in the past and the fix is to beat in the chocolate as directed, but put bowl in refrigerator for 30-40 minutes to chill. The chilled mixture will whip up into a delicious, silky frosting.