Many moons ago when I was a student, my good friend Jen and I ventured over to Dublin for a weekend. It remains the only time I’ve ever been to the emerald isle, and while I thought it in many ways beautiful and historic (not to mention exotic, with the Euro), for me Dublin will forever be tainted by association with the horrid smell of the Guinness brewery. Besides sipping froth from my dad’s beers when I was a nipper, I have never been a drinker of anything from the beer/lager/stout/ale family. But I think it’s more or less a legal requirement that any visitor to Dublin visit the brewery, especially when Guinness is in fact your travel companion’s tipple of choice.
I can’t remember how long the tour of the brewery took, but in my mind it was like a trek up Mount Doom. I remember a dark room with heavy, industrial machinery, and I have a vague idea of us working our way up, the air constantly heavy with the stifling odour. I felt nauseous the whole time, and was flooded with relief when we finally emerged at the top of a bright, sunny tower. At last, I thought, the horror is behind us. But no – the reward for surviving was, of course, half a pint of Guinness. Out of duty, I forced down a bit of the froth before accepting that it’s better to say no than end up throwing up in public. I still remember galloping away from the brewery, gasping for some fresher air, and feeling haunted by the odour for the rest of the day.
I have avoided Guinness like the plague ever since. Even opening the can to make this cake was a delicate affair, and I almost cried at polluting good chocolate cake with something so evil. But it’s almost Saint Patrick’s Day, so I felt like making the effort. And in fact, the cake tastes nothing like Guinness – it’s more like a red velvet cake than anything. So, if you’re having a St Patrick’s Day celebration, don’t be afraid to rustle up this cake. It’s just as good in cupcake form!
Chocolate Guinness Cake
80g cocoa powder
400g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
280g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
For the cream cheese icing:
50g butter, softened
300g icing sugar
125g full fat cream cheese, softened
cocoa powder, for dusting
1. Preheat the oven to 170C and line the base of a 23cm spring-form cake tin (my tin is smaller than that, so I had enough batter leftover for 6 cupcakes too).
2. Put the Guinness and butter in a pan and heat gently until melted and combined.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the cocoa powder and sugar.
4. Combine the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla and beat in to the mixture in the pan.
5. Sift together the flour, bicarb and baking powder. Pour the liquid ingredients onto the dry ones and beat together with an electric mixer on low speed until well combined.
6. Pour into the prepared cake tin.
7. Bake for 45 minutes, until springy and passing the skewer test. If making cupcakes, bake them for 20-25 minutes.
8. Set aside to cool, then remove from the tin and leave on a wire rack until completely cool. As always, my oven burned the top and took ages to cook the inside, but I simply levelled off the top anyway to get rid of the burned bits and give a nice even finish.
9. Make the icing: beat together the butter and icing sugar, then add the cream cheese on a low setting at first then at medium speed until light and fluffy.
10. Ice the cake generously, then dust lightly with cocoa powder.