Tomorrow is National Beer Day, which means you are running out of time to make these amazing chocolate stout cupcakes! In honor of such a fun holiday, here’s a look at a few of my favorite 17th century Dutch pictures featuring beer!
Beer was an important and major part of the 17th century diet, and was frequently included in genre paintings depicting everyday life (like these by masters Steen, Saftleven and de Hooch). The dependence on beer as a major food group was really circumstantial: it was easy to store, and sometimes safer to drink than water. The Dutch would drink beer all day long, even for breakfast, so the huge amount of “drinking” paintings isn’t a cause for alcoholic alarm; it was the norm at the time.
Jan Steen is one of my favorite Dutch genre painters. I love his highly-detailed and humorous scenes, like Peasants Before an Inn (1653, above). As viewers, we are transported to a simple, bucolic village scene. The couple towards the middle are dancing animatedly, so much so, that Steen shows the man literally kicking up his heels. Behind them a little girl watches, as she is watched over by an older, grandmotherly figure. To the right of the dancing couple sits a man smoking a pipe and reaching for his flagon of beer. Farther to the right, a playful couple jokes with each other as a drunken man looks on. To the far left, a somber and well-dressed man sits by himself at a table, below a balcony of people playing a game. The moments captured are spirited, and it gives us a good understanding of of pulse of daily life here.
Another Steen drinking scene, In the Tavern, is a bit more subdued. Finished 7 years later, this shows the aftermath of what was probably a livelier bar a few hours ago. In this darker-lit interior we see a few separate events unfolding without a ton of interaction. To the far left, a drunken man sits on a table by the fire as a woman rejects his advances and tries to get away. Nearby, a group of three men are bent over a game, drinking and conversing. Behind them another man finishes his beer, and in the far back we see a (most likely) drunk man sitting against the wall taking the whole experience in. The room has seen better days: There are food scraps, trash, knives and empty beer flagons scattered about and a dog sleeps beside an overturned stool. It seems like the majority of the action has already taken place, and we are just seeing what will soon be the end of the night.
Last but not least is another outdoor tavern scene that I saw when I visited the Rijksmuseum a couple of years ago: Cornelis Saftleven’s Figures Before a Village Inn (1642). To the far left is the entrance to a large, old stone gate which has now fallen into disrepair and acts as a tavern. Right outside is a table and benches, where a group of raucous country folk sit and drink. The man on the very left has already had too much to drink, but is seen gesturing for more from someone inside the gate who we cannot see. The men gathered are playing music and carrying on with each other, and a monk sits at the end of the table playing cards. He is very absorbed in the game, and doesn’t even notice the couple getting frisky behind him (his hand is in her blouse!), and you can’t help but question whether or not he took his vow of poverty seriously!
These fun drinking-related paintings pair nicely with these rich, chocolatey stout cupcakes. Use any dark stout that you like – Guiness or an oatmeal stout would work nice here, or take these to the next level with a chocolate stout!
Chocolate Stout Cupcakes
½ cup dutch-processed cocoa
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons dark stout
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Frosting from here
Preheat the oven to 350°F, and line a cupcake pan with paper liners.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the melted butter and sugar on medium speed for a few minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, one after the other to the wet mix, and beat in the vanilla extract as well. With the mixer on low speed, pour in the beer and then add the dry mix, adding a little over 3 additions. Mix only until completely combined, and scrape the bowl a few times during this process to make sure you get all of the floury bits! Using a cookie-scoop or a large spoon, fill each cupcake liner 2/3 full and bake for 20 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool completely before icing.
Recipe adapted from Broma Bakery
Featured art: Jan Steen, Peasants Before an Inn, 1653, oil on canvas
Jan Steen, In the Tavern, 1660, oil on canvas
Cornelis Saftleven, Figures Before a Village Inn, 1642, oil on panel