As a rule, an abiding principle, a personal boundary: I hate anything that suggests even the merest hint of “team-building exercise”, three words that make my shoulders immediately stoop earthwards in resigned anticipation of all the time I’ll never get back from my one wild and free life. That being said I also like to please and being in this endless (necessary! but endless) lockdown does strange things to all of us, in my case it’s that I’ve ended up kind of throwing myself wholeheartedly into Mum’s lockdown project of honouring a new theme each day. Which brings us to this Vegan Chocolate Guinness Cake.
You see, first we did a letter of the alphabet each day (for example on W day we listened to the Who and classical waltzes and I made a Woon Heng recipe for dinner) and when lockdown exceeded 26 days we hastily assembled the next ongoing theme: a new country each day, that at least one person in the family had been to, in – and bear with me here – alphabetical order, with music from that country and at least one regional dish or attempt thereof for dinner. We’re up to the letter I, which brings us to Ireland, which I visited in 2005, and The Cranberries/The Undertones/Thin Lizzy/My Bloody Valentine/Enya as the day’s soundtrack. I found a couple of cans of Guinness in my cupboard leftover from making last year’s Christmas Cake and before I knew it I was spontaneously and enthusiastically throwing together a vegan version of Nigella Lawson’s classic Chocolate Guinness Cake, like someone who enjoys activities and showing initiative. I don’t, but I do like hyperfocussing on a project and I love the opportunity for arbitrary culinarily decisions and in all honesty it has been a lot of fun – not a bit like team-building exercises, in fact.
As I said, this recipe is inspired by Nigella Lawson’s cake from her book Feast, which I used to make all the time – because it was so incredibly delicious! – and while this version lacks that throat-coating full-cream dairy factor from the cream cheese icing, it’s a pretty fantastic tribute and I’m very pleased with myself. In case you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this combination of chocolate and Guinness before, the bitter aggression of the Guinness provides an intense and dark backdrop to the cocoa and yet all its rough edges are entirely bevelled back and tempered by the cake batter and the sweetness in the icing. Curiously, despite the sugar in the cake exceeding that in the topping, the latter is much sweeter than the former, such is the black-hole abilities of Guinness to absorb everything that comes into its path. I’m not someone who can sit down and drink a Guinness with any conviction – it’s too blood-nosedly ferrous for me – but mixed with chocolate it’s quite spectacular, entirely palatable, and makes perfect sense – after all, dark coffee and chocolate are a go-to pairing, this just takes it one step further in the direction of bitterness.
Real hungryandfrozen-heads will notice that this recipe method doesn’t differ too much from my Incredibly Delicious Mocha Cake; that cake has never failed me and so I figured it would be a decent blueprint for this Guinness cake – and once more it came through. As well as being utterly delicious, dense yet light-crumbed, rich and celebratory yet unpretentious and comforting, this cake is a mere one-bowl situation and it leaves you plenty of Guinness leftover to drink from its tall can – if you have the palate for it – otherwise, I guess you’ll just have to make another cake.
Vegan Chocolate Guinness Cake
A dense yet light-textured chocolate cake full of rich bitter Guinness – my vegan take on Nigella Lawson’s classic recipe. This is a one-bowl affair with a creamy, tangy frosting, and is just incredibly delicious. Recipe by myself.
- 2 and 1/4 cups flour
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/4 cup good dark cocoa (see notes)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup plain oil, eg rice bran
- 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
- 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or light corn syrup or treacle if you’re in the US)
- a pinch of salt
- 1 cup/250ml Guinness
1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and grease and line a 21cm springform or loose-based cake tin. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl, then sieve in the baking soda and cocoa and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre and add everything except the Guinness, and stir briefly – it will look thick and dry and unlikely at this point but we’ve still got the Guinness to go, so don’t you worry.
2: Pour in the Guinness and slowly stir everything together to form a thick cake batter, making sure there’s no lumps of flour caught in it. Spatula this mixture into your prepared cake tin and bake for forty minutes, covering with tin foil in the last ten minutes if need be. Allow to cool completely on a cake rack.
For the Icing:
This uses the sourness of citric acid and the fulsome saltiness of miso paste to emulate the vibe of the cream cheese icing that customarily goes with this cake; that being said if you can get hold of vegan cream cheese (or you’re happy to eat dairy) then feel free to use that instead in place of the coconut oil and coconut milk, leaving out the citric and miso and adjusting the lemon juice quantities as needed. I’ve included coconut milk here for its creaminess and because I figure you’ll have some leftover from the can you opened for the cake; you barely taste any coconut in the finished frosting. Finally, if you don’t have a food processor you can use a bowl and a wooden spoon to make this but it’ll take considerably more effort to get it thick and smooth. But, this is how people make icing for centuries so it’s not impossible.
- 1 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
- 3 tablespoons soft refined coconut oil
- 1/4 teaspoon citric acid
- 1/2 teaspoon miso paste
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1-3 tablespoons full-fat coconut milk
1: Tip the icing sugar into the food processor and pulse a few times to get rid of any lumps. Add the coconut oil, citric acid, and miso paste, and process to combine. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice and the coconut milk, one tablespoon at a time, and process until you have a very thick, very smooth, bright white frosting. If it needs more liquid add it a little at a time. Set the icing aside in a cool place until needed. (I put it in the fridge, which made it entirely too solid, but sitting the bowl in a second bowl of hot water and stirring it helped.)
2: Spatula the icing onto the top of the cooled cake and spread it evenly over the top, leaving the sides bare. Store in an airtight container.
- When buying cocoa, look for a brand that has a minimum of 20g fat per 100g – I try not to be fussy with you about ingredients but anything less than 20g is not worth your while and will taste weak and is false economy.
- I accidentally overcooked my cake – it was fine, but the edges were a little crisp, so I just prodded it with a skewer and brushed it with a quick syrup of a few spoons of brown sugar dissolved in an equal quantity of hot water before applying the icing with a pastry brush, and I pass this along in case you find yourself in the same predicament.
- You could probably use soy milk or something similar instead of coconut milk in the cake and still have it turn out fine; but Nigella’s original recipe uses sour cream and I wanted something particularly creamy and fat to offset the bitter Guinness, so I do think it’s necessary – the finished cake doesn’t taste anything like coconut, I promise.
- If you don’t have miso paste or just don’t have any confidence in my decision making – and it’s true, we do ask a lot of miso paste these days, perhaps too much even – then leave it out and add a pinch of salt.
I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby! by CMAT – who, coincidentally, is from Dublin. My friend Jordan recommended her music to me and in turn, I enthusiastically recommend her to you (I also recommend to you to recommend songs to me in general, as long as you’re prepared for my candid evaluation.)
For Good from the musical Wicked as performed by original cast members Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel at the Tony Awards this week. Now – this is not something I say lightly – I don’t necessarily love this song in and of itself, it’s not the most exciting or lyrically dexterous, to me, but I will always drop everything to watch a live performance of it because what it does give you is four and a half minutes of Acting and Emotion and Unbearable Momentousness. To see Chenoweth and Menzel reunited here – a very rare occurrence in the eighteen years since Wicked launched on Broadway – at the first Tony Awards since 2019, to see them hold hands and perform this song with all the sincerity of their long-ago characters but also as themselves, to hear those gentle but defined harmonies where she goes low and she goes high – well, you already know I cried.
You Mean The World To Me by Toni Braxton, simply a perfect song – obviously you could take Babyface’s back catalogue to a desert island and never run out of hits but he and Braxton together are a match made in heaven – that “oh baby baby, baby baby, babyyyy” bit at the end of the chorus has to be up there with the various pinnacles of human creative achievement.
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