I have come to learn this past week that Guinness stout is a pantry staple. Of course, it is no coincidence that this tidbit of information comes to me in mid-March in Boston, when St. Patrick’s Day parties are springing up everywhere and while pilsners are dyed green, the Guinness still runs black. A good many courses (even a whole meal) may be improved with a bit of this rich brew – from appetizers to breads to dinners to desserts – not to mention a swig of the stuff pairs wonderfully with all of the above.
On our recent trip to San Francisco, RJ and I learned first hand how much more friendly the people of California are as opposed to the crowds in Boston. Everywhere we went, people tried to convince us to move out West – whereas in New England you can hardly get a stranger to talk to you even if you’ve already moved there and just want to make a new friend! So many recent imports to Boston have told me that it is rather impossible to meet people here, since everyone who grew up around town or went to school in the city already knows each other, and no one is particularly welcoming or friendly. Cliquey, I think they called it. In San Francisco, Tahoe, and Napa RJ and I found ourselves chatting with people of all ages and originating from around the world, all settled in California and not planning to ever leave. One such man was sitting next to us as we sipped Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista on Hyde Street. His name was John Spilane and he was a tipsy Irish guy. He bought us drinks and chatted with us about all those things you aren’t supposed to speak about in bars – the economy, politics, religion… One thing he did say was that Guinness was only his third favorite beer. Beamish and Murphy’s Stout both surpassed Guinness in his authentic Irish estimation.
What I am getting at is March 17th. On this day, RJ and I had been home for 24 hours, and had our first days of work after a blissful vacation. Preparing an authentic Irish dinner, even driving the two minutes to the new Irish bar in town, was far from our minds. Yet at 5 pm, who should call RJ’s cell phone but a now very drunk John Spilane! In his light, slurring Irish brogue, he wished us both a Happy St. Patty’s day. I got quite a kick out of that, and instantly felt bad that I hadn’t prepared anything for my half-Irish husband’s native holiday. RJ was then compelled to drive to the liquor store and at least buy a 4 pack of Guinness (no Beamish to be found!). He drank one, and the others lay waiting in the fridge, presumably for next year!
As the beer was left untouched for several days, I reclaimed it for the pantry. I have two great Guinness recipes that I made and will share the dessert first. This cake is quite delicious and I would recommend it to anyone, Irish or not! It is a tight crumb, slightly elastic on the inside, but with a moist and tender mouthfeel. Around the edges and top, probably due to the carbonation in the beer, we had a bit of thin crunchiness – like a light and sweet brulee topping – which I really enjoyed. RJ and I both felt it actually tasted better on the second day (and third, and fourth), after the cake had cooled a bit more and the flavors of the Guinness and cocoa were able to really come into their own. Enjoy the cake, then come back for dinner!!
Chocolate Guinness Cake, by Nigella Lawson, found here in the New York Times, December 8, 2004
For the cake:
Butter for pan
1 cup Guinness stout
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/8 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/8 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
For [Nigella’s] topping:
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream.
For Katharine’s alternative topping:
1 1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/4 c. light cream cheese
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean’s seeds
For the cake: heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.
In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth. Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan.
For the topping: Using a food processor or by hand, mix confectioners’ sugar to break up lumps. Add cream cheese and blend until smooth. Add heavy cream, and mix until smooth and spreadable.
Remove cake from pan and place on a platter or cake stand. Ice top of cake only, so that it resembles a frothy pint of Guinness.
Yield: One 9-inch cake (12 servings).