Friday, 24 February 2012

Chocolate Guinness Cake

I'm afraid that I'm about to shatter a few fragile, innocent illusions. As Lady Bracknell said in The Importance of Being Earnest, "Ignorance is like a delicate, exotic fruit. Touch it - and the bloom is gone". Well, the time has come to tell the truth. I'm about to reveal to my mum that her all time favourite cake - her birthday cake of choice for the last five years, at least - is pretty much the most unhealthy thing since bored Glaswegians decided that Mars Bars were too wholesome and needed to be battered and deep-fried. Sorry, Mummy. Just try not to read this bit. Or, um, look at this picture. 

You see, the cake in question - Chocolate Guinness Cake from Nigella's Feast - uses a whole pack of butter. And a whopping 400g of caster sugar. And I haven't even mentioned the cream cheese icing yet, otherwise known as "the reason why everyone likes carrot cake". But if you ignore the threat to your arteries, or recklessly decide to plunge ahead regardless, I can promise that this is a really wonderful cake. Why else would my dear mother be so attached to it? Mummy Knows Best, that's what I've always been told.

If I may mention a few mitigating factors, this does make a seriously huge cake. Because my mum would never get through a cake that size, I tend to follow the quantities below and bake the mix in two 21cm tins, giving the Birthday Girl one cake to eat now and one safely stashed in the freezer for future greed. When you do the Maths, I'm sure that brings the alarming ingredient quantities down to reasonable levels. Ssh, don't break my illusion.

I should also stress again just how good it is. This cake is tender and moist, and the Guinness is surprisingly subtle. The finished cake doesn't taste of beer, or alcohol of any sort, it just tastes rich and complex. Because the bitterness of the Guinness balances out the sweetness, the flavour can best be described as sort of grown-up. It's much more interesting than a basic chocolate sponge, and much classier than a chocolate fudge. And not at all offputting to anyone who doesn't actually like Guinness (ahem, like me and my mum).

Sadly,the pictures haven't quite captured the full glory of the edible glitter scattered all over the icing (I can assure you that the effect was mesmerising in person). But if you think that sounds tacky, just be glad I didn't photograph the further adornment with edible gold spray paint, which my mum gave me on the same day. It was...remarkable. Never knowingly understated, that's how I was brung up.

Chocolate Guinness Cake
From Nigella's Feast, recipe available here 
Note: Nigella suggests a 23cm tin, but as discussed above I use two 21cm tins. If you do the same, you'll only need half the quantity of icing below.
For the cake
- 250ml Guinness
- 250g unsalted butter. Yes, that's a whole pack.
- 75g cocoa
- 400g caster sugar (gulp)
- 1 x 142ml pot of sour cream
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract, or 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
- 275g plain flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
For the icing
- 300g of cream cheese - you really need the full fat stuff, anything "light" will go far too runny and collapse on you
- 150g icing sugar
- 125ml double or whipping cream (if I've used half of a 300ml pot of sour cream in the cake, I use the rest of the pot here)
Preheat the oven to 180C and line one 23cm tin, or two 21cm tins (see note above).
Pour the Guinness into a large, wide saucepan or deep frying pan (I use something like a wok), and add the butter in slices. Heat gently until the butter has melted, then whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Nigella doesn't actually tell you whether your pan should stay on the heat, but I turn it off as soon as the butter's melted and that method's always worked for me. Whisk  the sour cream, eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl or jug then pour into the pan and whisk in gently, trying not to splash. Finally, add the flour and bicarb and whisk until all lumps have gone. It'll be a very runny mix but don't worry, that's normal.
Pour into your tin(s) and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in its tin on a rack.

To make the icing, blast the icing sugar in a food processor to get rid of any lumps then add the cream cheese and whiz together. Add the cream, whiz again, then blob it on top of your cake and try to make it look pretty. You could also try not to lick the bowl but let's not expect miracles.

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