Ireland: Classic Guinness Cake
Cakes rich in fruit have always been popular in Ireland, for a number of reasons. Initially it had a lot to do with household equipment. It wasn't until about the middle of the last century that pretty much everybody in the country had an oven, and cooks were limited to what they could cook or bake on the kitchen hearth. Cakes in particular had to be baked in "the little three-legged pot", the lidded pot-oven (in North America sometimes referred to as the "Dutch oven"), which either sat right in the coals of the fire or hung over the fire by a hook. Many cake recipes wouldn't work well with this treatment, but mostly fruitcakes do.
Inside the "fruitcake" envelope there's a lot of room for variety, and Irish cooks got very creative over time with the ingredients. One favorite variation on the fruitcake theme was the so-called "porter cake". Porter was an ancestor of today's stouts, a lighter and lower-alcohol dark beer beloved of the porters and other early-morning market people who served the great food and meat markets of London and Dublin in the 1700's: hence the name. Since Ireland had an active porter tradition of its own before Guinness came on the scene, it was only a matter of time before it made its way into the local fruitcakes, and the tradition very quickly spread downcountry.
Now there are hundreds of porter cake recipes scattered across the Irish cooking landscape. Most of them now call for Guinness since porter is harder to find: but a lot of them are spiced to go with the lighter brew, and putting Guinness in them results in an unbalanced cake that tastes mostly of Guinness and not much else. This recipe, though, adapted from one in Clare Connery's In an Irish Country Kitchen, is better balanced and much tastier than many of its less carefully designed counterparts.
Click on "read more" for the recipe and method.
Have ready a 9-inch springform pan, or a 9-inch round or square pan with high sides (3 inches high or so).
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon mace
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 cup butter or margarine, cut into cubes
- 1 cup seedless raisins
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup finely chopped citron, candied orange or lemon peel
- Grated rind of 1 lemon
- 1 3/4 cups soft brown sugar (dark brown works better)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2/3 cups Guinness or other stout
- 4 eggs, beaten
Preheat the oven to 325° F / 160° C.
Line the bottom and sides of the cake pan with waxed paper (butter the sides a little to help the wax paper stick), and brush with a little melted butter or margarine.
Sift the flour and spices and half the baking soda together into a large bowl or food processor with the metal blade fitted. Mix well or pulse until combined. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, or pulse, until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the fruit, lemon rind and sugar, and stir or pulse to combine. (If using the food processor, you can pulse the mixture a little more to chop the fruit more finely.)
Add the beaten egg to the mixture and mix or pulse briefly again. Dissolve the remaining baking soda in the Guinness; then add this to the mixture as well and stir or pulse until well combined.
Pour (or scrape) the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Then lower the temperature to 300°F / 150° C, cover the top of the cake loosely with a sheet of waxed paper, and bake for a further 1 1/2 hours.
The cake should be a deep brown color and firm to the touch when finished. Remove from the oven and let it cool completely in its pan before turning it out and peeling off the waxed paper. When it's out, dust the top with confectioners' sugar / icing sugar.
This cake keeps very well in an airtight container for a week or so... if you can manage to keep it around for that long. Some people like to pierce it with a knife and "feed" it a little more Guinness before serving, say a few teaspoons full. Don't overdo this -- you don't want the cake to fall apart.
Serve it with fresh unsweetened whipped cream.