Monday, October 11, 2010

ingredient: GUINNESS

When I was fifteen, I went with my parents on a vacation to Ireland. One night we joined a crowd that was waiting on the sidewalk in front of a bar, and my father explained that we were going on a literary pub crawl. It was awesome. I’ve been on literary pub crawls in other cities and countries since, but nothing compares to the interwoven history of writing and drinking in Dublin. A troupe of actors led our slightly embarrassed, increasingly intoxicated group around to various pubs, telling us who drank there, lived there, wrote there. It was one heavy-hitter/drinker after the next: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Shaw, Beckett. Each pub was warm and cozy against the cold and rainy Dublin night. And at each stop, the crowd was encouraged to have a beer, but not just any beer, a Guinness.

Being fifteen, my parents and I knocked back that other world-famous black brew; Coca-Cola.

That day I wanted what I couldn’t have. I wanted to join in the fun and the history. I wanted to be a poor, drunk writer whose greatest achievement in my lifetime was wearing down a bar stool to adhere perfectly to my butt. Because then I could be posthumously famous and people would touch that butt-shaped indent in awe. Unfortunately, the New York Times claims that “the classic English pub may be a disappearing relic of a bygone era” so I guess I’ll have to settle for a Guinness instead.

As it turns out, now that I’m well past legal, I’m an I.P.A girl myself. Still, there is no denying that Guinness is a fine beer. It looks like it’s all chocolate and cream puffs, but the truth is that Guinness is surprisingly light. Indeed, Guinness’s most recent ad campaign alerts consumers to the fact that Guinness actually has less calories and alcohol than a typical beer. I’m unclear how everyone started to believe that Guinness tastes like a milkshake in the first place. No; Guinness has and has always had a tangy, malty flavor that cuts across its characteristic foamy head.

Here’s the other shocking truth: Guinness is a high maintenance beer. It’s a high maintenance beer that looks like a low maintenance beer. (That must be why men love it!) According to the master brewers at Guinness, Guinness should be served in a special twenty ounce tulip shaped pint glass. It should be served at 42.8°F when coming from the tap, and 38.6°F if it’s Guinness Extra Cold. The Guinness website includes a six-step video on how to make the perfect pour. There are obvious things, like angling the glass, and less obvious ones, like “drink with your eyes first.” I’m OK with all this brew-ha-ha surrounding the beer because a perfectly poured Guinness lets me do this:

Now that you know that Guinness isn't it's own meal in a glass, think of it as a great ingredient to cook with. It's no secret that alcohol is a flavor enhancer, and Guinness can add a nice depth to stews and stocks. Beef and Guinness pie, for example, is traditional pub fare. Thanks to Nigella Lawson, I've started baking with Guinness too. Try this cake and I think you'll agree that Guinness was made for chocolate.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

Adapted from my number one partner in kitsch, Nigella Lawson

My boyfriend’s mother makes him the best birthday cake ever. Faced with the certainty that there could be no replacement and that anything that tried to replicate the secret recipe would fall flat, I needed an alternative, a totally different cake that could be his New York birthday cake. But what to make? Well, when in doubt on how to please a boy, add beer. And when your boyfriend is of Irish descent, add Guinness.

This is a damp, not too sweet cake. It’s similar to a pound cake and I’ve eaten it plain in the morning for breakfast. And of course, with the frosting it’s full on dessert.


1 cup Guinness
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup Dutch baking cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda


12 oz cream cheese
3-6 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 9 inch springform pan.

Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter and stir occasionally until the butter is melted.

When the butter is melted, whisk in the cocoa and the sugar.

In a separate bowl, beat together the sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Then pour the sour cream mixture into the saucepan. Whisk in the flour and baking soda. Take off the heat.

Pour the cake batter into the greased spring form pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour.

While the cake is cooling, make the frosting. Put three cups of confectioner’s sugar in the food processor and pulse to remove lumps. Then add the cream cheese and the vanilla and pulse until the frosting is smooth. Add the heavy cream and mix again until the frosting is a good, spreadable consistency. Try the frosting at this point, if it’s too loose, or you like your frosting to be super sweet, add more sugar.

The frosting of the cake is up to you. Personally, I like a high icing to cake ratio (particularly with this cake, because it is so dense) so I always cut the cake in two, then put a layer of icing in the middle.

This cake ended up being doubly special because when you’re finished, the black cake topped by the white frosting makes the whole thing look like a pint of Guinness. IT'S A META CAKE! Hurrah!


  1. Hey Carrie,
    Guinness is my favorite beer, but this recipe is making me curious about cooking with other beers. For instance, fruit flavored beers like Magic Hat #9 or Sam Adams Cherry Wheat. Are there only certain beers that can be used for baking? Will the fruit flavor, even remain after the cooking process?