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.
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.