chocolate espresso Guinness cake.

Doesn’t look very much like a traditional birthday cake, right? Certainly it’s not the mile-high, multi-layered numbers I like to push here, but this was indeed someone’s birthday cake. Someone who really. likes. drinks. because they tend bar, people, don’t worry; I didn’t make a beer-infused cake for a recovering alcoholic. No one fell off the wagon on my watch. I have it on good authority, however (Mr. Table), that if you were going to get addicted to a cake, this one would be it. I hear this was maybe the best chocolate cake a bunch of coworkers have ever laid waste to; if you knew this bunch, you would know they’ve probably demolished some food in their day.

Why don’t I know this firsthand? Funny you should ask. It’s the same reason there are no photos of a singular piece of cake for you to see; because I wasn’t even invited to the birthday party. You see, when your partner in life is a part-owner in businesses and stuff, they tend work around lots of people during the day. Those people have birthdays sometimes. Typically, people who are busy owning things couldn’t bake a cake if their life depended on it, because they’ve been way too busy checking emails and fantasy football on their iPhone running stuff or whatever to learn how. Or, they are married to a famous potentially famous food blogger, and in exchange for ignoring perpetual (and always intriguing) kitchen messes, aforementioned blogger gets to fulfill birthday cake dreams from time to time for the office.

And she, by the way, never gets to attend the cake-eating part.

I didn’t even get a piece brought home to me. But this cake smelled so good when I was baking it, I knew I wouldn’t even have a shot at a leftover slice. Obviously steps had to be taken to ensure I sampled this cake.

So when I loosened it from its Sprinform pan and plated it, I “accidentally” ran my thin-bladed knife on a very slight incline towards the center of the cake. For some reason, this grave error meant a very thin, basically undetectable few bites of cake were left on the pan. Whoops. Good thing this cake is so heavy and dense and full of body that it sunk down as soon as it was plated, so no one even saw my “mistake.”

Lest you think I was put out by all this birthday cake making, I’ll stop you right there: I love excuses to make things I’ve wanted to make forever. Mostly, I wanted to know what adding Guinness to chocolate cake did to that cake, and it does something otherworldly. It really rounds the chocolate out and makes it less chocolatey sweet and more chocolatey deep. There’s a sweetness to it, but it’s an earthy, dark sweetness that you’d get from a fig rather than a grape, if that makes sense.

Because I wanted to put my little spin into it, I added some espresso powder. It took me a little bit to mull over what I wanted to add to it; I opened a bottle of Guinness and smelled it, chocolate sitting beside it, trying to get a handle on what would work well with this little mashup of flavors. I didn’t want to take away from either, but rather wanted to enhance that damp, earthy feeling I got from it.

The espresso powder was magical in this. When you add it in, you can totally smell the transformation of flavors. Like everything sort of reforms itself and the three main ingredients meld together like they were meant to be. I knew the espresso would be subtle in the cake, and indeed I wanted it that way, but I also wanted to carry that flavor into the frosting. I think that’s important, which is why I do it with almost all of my frosting-based things. Like an outfit, things don’t (and shouldn’t always) “match,” but they should feel like they flow and make sense. A pinch of espresso adds an equally subtle coffee flavor to the frosting, but it marries it to the cake perfectly.

Here’s to very un-birthday cakes: sometimes, they out-birthday even the most layered of layer cakes, as this one seemed to do. From what I hear, songs were sung about this cake. Probably Irish drinking songs, or one would hope. I shall sing one when I make another one for myself. I want a proper piece next time.

Adapted from Feast: Food to Celebrate Life by Nigella Lawson. Julie over at Tastefully Julie made a version of this cake a few months ago, and she is responsible for placing this recipe back in my line of vision. Pauley (the birthday cake recipient) is responsible for being the sort of person whom this cake fits so perfectly.

Chocolate Espresso Guinness Cake

for the cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon espresso powder*
  • 1 cup Guinness
  • 10 tablespoons (1 stick + 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghirardelli, which is a good quality one at a decent price and gave this cake a lovely, deep chocolate flavor)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup sour cream (I beg you; use regular and not low-fat. sour-cream phobes, if you substitute with greek yogurt, make it the full-fat sort. Your cake will be texturally identical, but may have a slightly different flavor than mine)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

for the frosting:

  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese (yes, DO use the full-fat kind; you’re already going for it with the sour cream)
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus more set aside if you need it to thicken
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon espresso powder*

*I say this from experience: espresso powder is not the same as using instant coffee granules. Although some recipes I’ve seen out there act like they are interchangeable (and in some recipes, indeed they may be), they will not impart the same flavor to your finished product. I’m certainly not one to discourage experimentation, but I would strongly recommend finding espresso powder for this recipe. Some grocers carry it in the coffee/tea aisle, but I know for certain you can purchase it at both Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table (and, quite obviously, Amazon.com because you can basically purchase unicorns and live fairies there as well.)

Make this incredible cake:

Preheat your oven to 350˚F. Butter (use actual butter, no spray) and line a 9-inch Springform pan with a circle of parchment paper. Perplexed? Take your pan and a pencil, draw a circle on the parchment using your pan as a guide, then cut out your circle slightly smaller than your line. Poof: pan liner.

In a medium bowl, whisk together your flour, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder. Set aside.

Pour the Guinness into a large, wide saucepan, add the cubes of butter, and heat until the butter is completely melted. Remove from heat and stir in the cocoa and sugar, using a fork or spatula to work out any lumps that form (cocoa powder can be difficult like that, but you don’t want cocoa pebbles in your finished cake.) Whisk your eggs, sour cream, and vanilla lightly together in a small bowl and, once your mixture is smooth and lump-free, add them to your Guinness mixture, stirring until incorporated. Finally, whisk in your flour mixture, again working out any lumps as you go, and mix until your batter is smooth and completely homogenous.

Pour the cake batter into your prepared pan and bake for 35-45 minutes, checking at the 30-minute mark. This is one you definitely want to keep a close eye on towards the end, because it’s meant to be a damp cake, and how disappointing were it not to be. Use a cake tester in the very center to make sure nothing is liquid, and refer to the photo above (cake only, no frosting) for a good visual of what your end result should look like: It should have a perimeter of maybe an inch worth of cake which looks to be done, but the inside area should look slightly depressed (meaning “lower” and not “in need of therapy”) and a little underdone. Mine took right at 35 minutes. If you feel like your oven runs hot, check at the 25-minute mark for doneness.

Once baked, remove from oven and leave to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack. There’s no hurry to unearth this, because your frosting needs a cool surface to exist on.

Frosting time:

It’s nothing really: beat your cream cheese until whippy and soft, 1-2 minutes. Add your confectioner’s sugar a 1/2 cup at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated. Once you hit the 1 1/2 cup quantity, add your heavy cream and espresso powder and beat until creamy. Scrape down the sides and check your consistency, remembering that this will firm up if you chill it in the fridge. Want a thicker frosting? Add more confectioner’s sugar by 1/4 cup increments until it’s how you like it, being sure to taste it: you don’t want too much sugar in there because then the taste will be off. I like to put this in the fridge at this point for about an hour to set up a little bit; you don’t want it too stiff, but you do want it thickened up so you can do a few swirls and peaks.

Unearthing your cake and finishing:

Springforms are great to bake with, and they make freeing the sides from the pan easy; it eliminates the “flip and hope” technique I employ when trying to remove cakes from normal cake pans. However, getting a Springform cake from the base is the tricky part.

Since you lined your pan with parchment (and you did, didn’t you?) you should be able to take a long, thin-bladed knife and ease it between the parchment and the pan base. Start by pushing it in about an inch or so, then rotate your pan, dragging the knife with and gradually moving forward with it, until the knife is completely underneath the cake. Once you’ve loosened the entire cake, leave your knife underneath and scoot a large pancake-flipper-like spatula underneath for leverage. Using the spatula and your hands, gently but swiftly transfer it from the base to your plate.

Once your frosting has set up to desired consistency, spoon it over top your cake, aiming for the center. Spread in a circle out from there, swirling and peaking with a spatula as you go. This is one of those fun cakes where haphazard = still beautiful, so have a good time with it.

I suppose this serves around 12-16 people, but that’s assuming everyone just wants one polite little piece, which shouldn’t be assumed with this particular cake. Expect no leftovers, but if you have them, they should store well in the fridge for 2 days.

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21 Comments on "chocolate espresso Guinness cake."

  1. natalie says:

    Don’t worry, BF isn’t “part-owner” of anything but still loves to spend all of his time “checking work (or non-work) emails all day every day … in fact we tease him because if he sets down his phone long enough to do something else, he often runs into the computer room to “check something real quick” and will disappear for an unspecified amount of time… usually not returning until we’ve all forgotten he was ever there to begin with……..

    I’m not a huge guiness fan, but I do love cake. and chocolate. and espresso powder’s magic that it works with chocolate, so i’m pretty sure i would enjoy the crap out of this cake, too.

    And i applaud you on your self-control, only taking scraps… Mine would be look “oops i dropped this for right into the middle of the cake and when i picked it back up all this cake was stuck to the end!” ;)

    • shannon says:

      ha! i should have included a footnote about how you don’t have to be part-owner in anything to act like you’re “takin’ care of business” by constantly checking your phone/ipad/laptop/anything that beeps. :) thankfully everything mr. table owns is portable or we’d need to send out search parties. :)

      confession: i wouldn’t drink a guinness by choice. i don’t not like it, i think it smells nice, but it always seems heavy and not very “refreshing,” if that makes sense? I like more of a Blue Moon with orange slice-type beer, if i have one at all. The flavor in this is like, heady; you should have smelled it, because i know you love chocolate, and this almost makes those Momofuku chocolate chocolate cookies look like chocolate lite. You would love this cake, i promise.

      it was (literally) touch and go for a few minutes while i debated how indeed i would reserve my bite(s). i considered many options, and my house smelled amazing at the time, so i’m surprised i didn’t run with plan b of “drop entire cake on floor and then fake cry about how you can’t make another one in time.” i managed to stick with “just scrape the bottom” but only because i also swore to myself that i’d make this again very soon.

  2. Now I’m rifling through my blackberry to see who’s birthday is coming up…I need to make this. That voluptuous layer of frosting is killing me!

    • shannon says:

      sue, you have to find someone to make this for! :) it does actually look really great with white candles popped into the top of that frosting. And yes, that frosting will be topping many a future cake/cupcake/whatever in my kitchen; i loved it.

  3. Man, you’re a nice wife to be baking up something you don’t even get to taste! The specimen you sampled was perfectly justified. It’s all about quality control, right? You can’t go sending something out to be enjoyed by others if it hasn’t passed your screening. This looks great!

    • shannon says:

      thank you! amy, you’re sweet, but i’ll level with you; i knew i’d find a way to sneak at least one bite, and knowing it turned out so well means i guess i’ll just have to make it again in a few weeks to make it up to myself. This time, it’ll be mine and maybe i won’t share. :)
      so true about quality control! it’s why pies/cakes/tarts have always made me nervous: when you bake them, you can’t really know how they taste or if they’re good until the same time as everyone else does. it’s nerve-wracking, and since i added the espresso powder, i wanted to make sure i wasn’t sending out the Worst Birthday Cake Ever, you know?

      at least that’s what i tell myself…

  4. Ashley says:

    I love that you have dreams of baking fabulous birthday cakes that need fulfillment…because I have them too. Alas, my boyfriend thwarts those almost every year (I just want plain old brownies!!! he says). And my lack of cake assembly and decorating skills also seems to stop me. But, oh man, this looks delicious. And I have Guinness. It’s a go.

    • shannon says:

      brownies!?!? come ON, boyfriend; that’s as bad as mr. table’s request every year that “you don’t have to make a big cake or anything” which he never gets away with. i love a good excuse to make a cake. and this one is so easy to decorate, it’s not even scary, which is great; talk about a relaxing frosting job.

      now you have me wanting to turn this into brownies. i’m turning this into brownies so i can make it all the time. now it has to happen.

  5. Emma says:

    I had a friend make one of these a few St Patrick’s Days back, and I remember how incredibly good it was then. SO so so good. And I’m not a big Guinness person either.

    Hehe, funny story about life up here in nowhere. We bought a few Guinness beers last winter, probably around St Patrick’s, and the clerk at the store said “Hmm. Hmm. Where did you find these? I’ve never seen them before. ……. Is this some new kind of beer?”

    Okay, sure.

    • Brianne says:

      WHAT?!? They don’t know what Guinness is up there?? That is appalling. That is worse than appalling. How is that even possible? Do I really live in this state? Whoa.

      Kevin doesn’t do chocolate, but he definitely does Guinness. He’s gotta have blueberry pie for his birthday (next week…yikes!), though. But you don’t really need an excuse for chocolate cake, right?

      • shannon says:

        i love it when you and emma piggyback on the comments. :) Maine (in a way cooler way, mind you) sounds like how Missouri can be; i live 5 minutes away from tons of things, and there’s tons beyond it, we have a film festival and lots to do, etc. but in some other parts, it’s remote. Have you ever seen Winter’s Bone? that’s set in Missouri, so if that tells you anything (besides how methamphetamines are big business around those parts). :)

        so..kevin isn’t a chocolate eater; not at all? and no; you let him have his blueberry pie (happy early birthday, kevin!) and you just make this cake as a belated celebratory “i’m home!” cake. this cake doesn’t need any excuse; i firmly believe that.

    • shannon says:

      It does make me wonder how big Guinness fans would feel about this cake? because i’m not a huge guinness fan at all, but it made the cake crazy good. so you know how that goes; will the die-hards fall all over themselves for it, or do they go “meh, it’s not like drinking one” and move on? honestly, i don’t know how anyone could not like this cake. it’s almost the perfect cake unless you HATE chocolate. and like, life.

      if anything has really put in perspective how rural your part of the country is, it’s that story right there. I would be delighted/afraid to live there. alternately, and depending on the mood or day. there’s a certain charm to that which makes me eternally happy. :)

  6. ARG! This is what I should have made 2.0 for his birthday. LAST WEEK. He would have loved it. Instead, I bought a cake at Dairy Queen last night, and tried to convince my parents that I learned how to make ice cream cake at baking school last week. They didn’t believe me.

    So, here’s what I’m thinking: I’ll make this cake for 2.0 soon. Real soon. For, like, no reason. Just because it’s stamped with your seal of approval…

    • shannon says:

      oh it was soooo good; at least my hijacked bite was. and it’s such a masculine cake, too. fluffy frosting? nope, it’s like beer suds or something.
      sometimes dairy queen cakes totally rock it, though. i wouldn’t have believed you, but i wouldn’t have been disappointed, either.
      listen, so between you and me (and all the other people who read this, and also i just told Julie), i think i’m going to try a cupcake version tonight. or i’m going to attempt it. your post this morning about breaking down full-on made ME break down, and then i feel stronger because i know you made unsucky pie crusts today. so now i feel confident. it’s a real roller coaster of emotions you’ve taken me on today, but that, for us, will result in me trying to figure out how to make mini-sized cakes. that way 2.0 can just take one everywhere he goes. but in the meantime, make him the cake. grab a big piece of it for yourself also, because you deserve it. big time.

  7. I like that yours used a bit more sour cream than mine. I thought mine was a touch on the dry side although no one agreed. I’ll bet yours was perfect. You really can’t go wrong with this cake!

    • shannon says:

      i meant to ask you; did you feel like yours cooked way faster than the book seemed to indicate? i pulled mine out (and typed my directions accordingly) a full 10-15 minutes early, because i was worried it would dry out. although yes, i can’t imagine this being a) dry or b) that being a problem. :) i’m sure yours was fabulous; it looked amazing!
      i loved this recipe; as i sit here i’m debating whether or not i should attempt a cupcake version this afternoon with the leftover guinness (because i have all the ingredients here, and if i can make this portable…YES!)
      i do think i’ll try it.

  8. Can you fulfill my birthday cake dreams? What a lucky co-worker. This cake looks delicious. And, you’re famous in my book :)

  9. ED says:

    Wow, that looks awesome. I make a savory Guinness beef pie and this would be a great addition. Now, maybe a side dish with Guinness in it would round out a “Guinness Feast Night”. Maybe Guinness glazed carrots? Guiness marinated grilled onions? :)

    • shannon says:

      thanks, Ed! Add a Guinness beef pie to this and you have my idea of a perfect snowy winter evening. I’m in for Guinness feast night, and i’ll take both the carrots and grilled onions, please. :)

  10. Carla says:

    My husband loves his beer so when his birthday came along I baked him something like this. The recipe called for guiness but I went to 3 grocery stores and couldn’t find any and since his birthday was the next day I bought heineken instead. And partnered it with chocolate glaze. Tasted great inspite ofthe substitution.

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