December 2009

Three words to make your mouth water. Guinness. Chocolate. Cake.

You may recall that back in July, I made Guinness Cupcakes. That was all well and good, but I had yet to make the Guinness Chocolate Cake that the cupcake recipe was based on. I knew an opportunity would come. I might not be a Guinness-drinker, but the flavors do magical things in baked goods.

So we were invited to a friends’ house for Christmas dinner. The chef is an eminently talented former restaurant chef, so when I volunteered to bring dessert I knew it would have to be something that really stood up to what I knew would be an ambitious, tasty dinner. I immediately had my options down to two choices, both from fantastic Nigella: a Boston-cream-style Victoria sponge, and Guinness cake. The Boston cream Victoria sponge was simple in flavor, elegant, and Bostonian; the Guinness cake seemed to encompass all the flavors and spices of Christmas, the richness of the season, and the darkness of winter nights. Plus, it seemed to me a cousin of the traditional plum pudding with hard sauce that I’m used to on Christmas.

I decided to try the Boston cream Victoria sponge to see how I could get it to turn out. It was mostly a success, but very involved. I’m sure I could conquer it after a couple more attempts. I hemmed and hawed for a day or two, wondering what to do and wondering if I hadn’t gotten in over my head, but then I decided I’d just go for the Guinness cake. After all, I’ve done Guinness cupcakes with fair success.

The recipe is available on Nigella’s website, but it requires metric conversions and I never have faith in my math. It’s also in her book Feast, which amazingly neither I nor my partner-in-culinary-crime have. So I searched the web for it, and found it on a Washington Post blog A Mighty Appetite with Kim O’Donnel. She compares the Guinness cake to a dark gingerbread or Caribbean black cake, which I guess is a sort of very dark, moist fruitcake based on English plum pudding and usually eaten at Christmas and at weddings. These are two comparisons I hear quite often, and though I have never had Caribbean black cake, I thoroughly agree with the parallels to plum pudding.

Even if you don’t like drinking pint upon pint of Guinness, get yourself a 4-pack and make this cake as soon as you have a semi-plausible excuse. This cake is especially tasty when eaten accompanied by a cup of hot coffee, or as we had it, with so-called Spanish coffee, a mix of 151 rum, triple sec, Kahlua, and coffee in a wine glass with a caramelized sugar rim, with a dollop of whipped cream.

photo by Rachel

Guinness Chocolate Cake

For the cake:
1 cup Guinness stout
1 stick unsalted butter, sliced
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For the icing:
8 oz package cream cheese
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, or heavy cream as needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan by buttering the sides and lining the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

Into a very large saucepan, pour Guinness, add butter, and heat gently until melted. When the butter is fully melted, whisk in the cocoa powder and sugar. In a separate small bowl, beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery, beery mixture. Whisk in the flour and baking soda.

Pour cake batter into greased and lined pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour (check at 45 minutes for doneness, poking a skewer in center). Leave to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, as it is quite a damp cake. Take the cream cheese out to allow it to soften.

When the cake is cold, gently peel off parchment paper and transfer to a platter or cake stand. Place softened cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar in a mixing bowl, and whip with an electric beater, until smooth. Add the heavy cream in small pours until the icing reaches a good spreadable consistency.

Ice the top of the cake, starting at middle and fanning out, so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint.

Makes about 12 servings. Smaller slices are recommended, as this is a cake very rich in both texture and flavor.


Not only is Christmas nearly upon us, but my husband and I have also just moved in to a new house. In fact, I just did the final walk-through and turned in the keys on the old apartment this morning. And then I came home and threw myself in to the kitchen. I’ve been baking all afternoon. And my feet are killing me.

The week before we moved, Jim said he wanted to bake (or, wanted me to bake) something to take to our new neighbors’ houses by way of introducing ourselves and making a favorable impression. I said I’d think about what we could do, and we’d do it just before Christmas (giving ourselves a couple of weeks to move in before having to throw ourselves on the neighbors too). Well this past Sunday it snowed bucketsful, and Jim got the chance to meet and introduce himself to the men of the neighborhood (they were all out shoveling together). An hour or so later, the doorbell rang and it was our neighbor-on-the-diagonal on the doorstep, with a basket of holiday desserts (2 of everything: decorated snowmen and Christmas-tree cookies, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies). Now, I’m a firm believer in never returning an empty goody basket, so I immediately started thinking about what to fill the basket with for returning it. I suppose I could have made cookies, or brownies, but clearly my neighbors already had made these things, and probably had some for themselves too. Or, like us, had received plenty of chocolate chip cookies and other sweet snacks from friends, family, and neighbors.

I don’t know how I thought of it at first, but the answer quickly came to me: homemade blueberry muffins. Specifically, the recipe Nigella gives in her book How to Be a Domestic Goddess.
photo by Rachel

I decided we couldn’t make muffins only for the neighbors who’d already sent something over; we should also take muffins to the neighbors on either side of our house, some whom we have met and some of whom we haven’t. So that would be three batches of Nigella’s blueberry muffins, correct?

Well, might as well make four batches. We should have some for ourselves too.

More thoughts about blueberry muffins (and the recipe itself) after the jump.