Back to previous post: Two hundred yards to safety, death was fifty yards behind

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: “Dear Twelve Rabid Weasels of SFWA, please shut the fuck up.”

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

July 2, 2013

Cocoa-Guinness Cake
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:10 AM * 40 comments

Doyle found this somewhere, some years back. The original was in a metric form. I translated it into English (más o menos; I regret that I do not have a kitchen scale), and now that I’ve made it a couple of times with Great Success and to Universal Acclaim, figure I’ll share it with you.


  • 175g (7/8 cup) plain flour
  • Pinch baking powder
  • 5 mL (1 tsp) baking soda
  • 100g (scant half-cup) butter
  • 250g (1 1/4 cups) dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 200 mL Guinness stout (I am happy to report I have a glass measuring cup marked in metric on one side)
  • 60g (1/3 cup) cocoa (preferably Dutch-process)

Prepare a 20cm (8 inch) cake pan. To prepare a cake pan: Take some wax paper. Lay it on the table with the pan on top of it. Score around the pan with the point of a pair of scissors, then cut out the circle of wax paper along the scored line. Grease the inside of the cake pan, then dust it with flour, then lay the wax paper in the bottom of the pan.

Pre-heat a medium (350° F) oven with the baking rack about in the center.

Beat the heck out of the room-temperature eggs. Make them very fluffy.

In another bowl, take the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Sift them together three times.

In yet another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together.

In one last bowl, put the cocoa. Add the Guinness a little at a time to make a paste, then add the rest and stir well.

Now: Add the eggs to the creamed butter, beating well. Then add the cocoa/Guinness mixture to the butter/sugar/eggs mixture, alternating with the flour mixture.

The resulting batter will be quite liquid. Pour it into the cake pan, then place the pan in the oven. Be careful of walking heavily in the kitchen while the cake is baking lest it fall. Cook for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Allow to cool for a while on a wire rack, then turn out the cake onto a plate. Carefully peel off the wax paper.

Allow to cool completely, then serve, dusted with powdered sugar, and accompanied by whipped cream and/or ice cream.

Cooking with Light [Recipe Index]

Comments on Cocoa-Guinness Cake:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 07:15 AM:

That reads nummy! I'll have to see if I can persuade somebody to try it ...

#2 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 08:39 AM:

My mother makes a cake like this, and glazes it with a chocolate-Guinness icing. It is delicious. Dense and chocolaty and not too sweet.

I'm not sure where she found her recipe, but hers is also in metric. As a native USian, she did the conversions and noted them.

My favorite recipe units story is the time my Polish best friend and I wanted to make szarlotka, a Polish apple tart. My friend's mother pulled out her gradmother's handwritten szarlotka recipe. My friend reads Polish, so could follow the recipe, but was stymied by one request for "three glasses" of an ingredient.

"Did she mean cups?" she asked her mother.

"Oh," her mother replied, "I know which glass she meant" -- rummaged in the cabinet for a minute, and produced an old glass teacup.

(The teacup turned out to be almost exactly 8 fl oz when I checked.)

#3 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 08:51 AM:

Are you sure the pan isn't lined with *parchment* paper?

#4 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 09:06 AM:

TexAnne@3: Are you sure the pan isn't lined with *parchment* paper?

Parchment paper would probably work, but the canonical cake-pan liner around here is wax paper.

I'll also note that "be careful of walking heavily" is, if anything, an understatement.

#5 ::: Ali B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 10:00 AM:

I do a chocolate stout cake in a bundt pan from Smitten Kitchen that is dangerously easy. No lining pans, no careful walking required. Link here and I also included some basic baking tips for those who are afraid of cakes.

#6 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 11:15 AM:

In my case, it would definitely be parchment paper. The paraffin melted into the cake from the wax paper might be enough to kill me, and I'd rather not find out.

Tip for those who like baking parchment: don't bother with the stuff on rolls you can buy in the grocery stores. Go to a restaurant supply store or find an online supplier for commercial parchment. Half-sheet size will fit most cookie sheets meant for home ovens (while you're at it, you might want to get a couple of commercial-grade cookie sheets; mine are Chicago Metallic, were $10 apiece, and I've been using them for ten years without warping and without scorching the bottoms of any cookies), but you can always tear the full-sheet size in half if you can't find half-sheet size.

A box lasts a long, long time. I've had my box for nine years and it's only getting low now, and I use it to replace foil as well as wax paper. It's REALLY convenient.

#7 ::: Mea ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 11:57 AM:

Looks delicious. And looks like that particular recipe would not survive the subtraction of eggs or dairy.

For folks with food limitations, there are several vegan versions floating around the Internet.

This one looks like it would be good (since it has the sense to use chunks of chocolate to replace the butter, although I don't like the vegan margarine approach - I go for straight oil like canola or coconut)

200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
200g brown sugar
200ml stout
2-3 tbsp cocoa powder
75-100g dark, good quality chocolate, broken in pieces
2 tbsp vegan margarine, melted
2 tbsp apple sauce
3 flax “eggs” (3 tbsp ground flaxseed + 75ml warm water)
powdered sugar, to dust

#8 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 12:10 PM:

I've made this sort of thing a few times. (Using melted chocolate instead of cocoa, and I think the recipe involved cream cheese too. This changes the texture somewhat, I expect.)

Tasty. I don't drink beer (much) on its own, because I don't enjoy bitter without sweet, but the cake is fine.

#9 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 02:39 PM:

Mmm, Guinness stout cake. Our local cupcake & pie bakery makes a very nice version of this, which they frost & fill with a wonderful Bailey's buttercream frosting that I wish I could find a recipe for.

#10 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 03:33 PM:

Andrew @ #8:

I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer to eat it in my chocolate cake.

Stay crumbly, my friends.

#11 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 04:01 PM:

I shall do the sensible thing with this recipe; namely, pass it straight over to my wife, who has the triple benefit of being a better cook than I am, enjoying the process more, and having more time than I do :-)

#12 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 04:36 PM:

As an aside... it's curious you call cups "English" measurements, because I've never seen them used in a cookbook published primarily for the English market.

Over here you're expected to own scales, those publishers that haven't meticated yet use pounds and ounces.

(for one thing, this makes things like sponge mix easy to remember - 2oz each of flour, sugar and fat per egg)

#13 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2013, 11:53 PM:

"The original was in metric form" initially misunderstood as meaning that it was in some form of poetic rhyme scheme.

#14 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2013, 01:29 AM:

We make something a bit similar from a Nigella Lawson recipe - the chief difference being the presence of sour cream and the absence of brown sugar. It works pretty well, though it's more dark and brooding than you'd expect a chocolate cake to be.

I made it very recently for winter solstice (probably summer solstice for most readers). Dear gnomes, please allow this url through as it points to chocolate cake:

#15 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2013, 03:14 PM:

Dave@12: does that (use of measurements) hold true for older UK cookbooks? I'm remembering car travel after Worldcons in 1995 (when gas prices were quoted for both gallons and liters) and 2005 (when prices were quoted for liters only), but blanking on when metric measurements began appearing in the UK.

"English" as a US antonym for "metric" goes back >50 years in my recollection, even though US measurements didn't always match those then in use in the UK (e.g., "ton" = short ton, pints contain 16 ounces, ...).

#16 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2013, 04:24 PM:

Caroline @2, regarding other countries' "cups" --

My German mother-in-law shared her recipe for an apple loaf cake. The handwritten recipe called for "2 Pinnchen Rum", which I understood to be colloquial for 'small glass'; wasn't exactly sure, but a miniature glass we'd gotten at a wine-tasting sounded right (don't ask me why! Looking back now I don't know why the heck I thought that much rum would be workable; in my defense it was a new recipe to me). So I used 2. That amounted to 200ml (nearly a cup) of high-proof rum. We didn't let the kids have any of the cake! Talking to my MIL later, it turned out it should have been 2 shot-glasses' worth.

#17 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2013, 05:36 PM:

Chip@15: Mrs. Beeton quotes dry ingredients as lb/oz and liquids in (British) pints, so it goes back at least to 1860.

When I first encountered flour etc. being measured in volume, my reaction was pretty much "why would you do it that way?" Especially since, as I said above, when measured as weight the majority of "classic" recipes are simple ratios (usually of whole numbers of ounces), and the conversion to cups destroys that since it depends on the density of what you're measuring. (Plus I can never remember what a standard "cup" is, anyway...)

#18 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2013, 06:11 PM:

Hannah Glasse (1741) measures flour either by weight or by volume -- smaller recipes will call for pounds or ounces, but large ones sometimes have flour by the peck. Liquid measurements are done by volume, anywhere from wineglass to gallon. "Spoonful" is occasionally qualified by such terms as "dessert-spoon", and I think the unmarked state is a table spoon, which is NOT necessarily the 15ml modern tablespoon, but whatever size a soup spoon happened to be.

When I try to use any of her recipes that haven't already been redacted by a third party (bless you, Lobscouse and Spotted Dog), the longest part of the prepwork is sitting down with conversion tables and a calculator, not only to get consistent modern measurements, but to scale the things down -- I don't think my oven is large enough for a seed-cake made with a peck of flour and baked in a hoop the size of a moderate cart-wheel! I even halve the Lobscouse version, because I only need one 10" springform pan.

I'd have to go hunting for earlier cookbooks than that -- I know there's a transitional period between the medieval "until it be enough" and the attempts at reproducible measurements like Hannah Glasse's before the Boston Cooking School standardization came in with Fannie Farmer in the late 1800s.

The measurements got more precise as cookbooks became more of instruction manuals for housewives & servants who might not be well trained and less of a collection of mnemonics for skilled professionals... at least until you hit Escoffier, and that was more a training manual FOR aspiring professionals, and "until it be enough" was no longer sufficient.

#19 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2013, 08:34 PM:

Amelia Simmons (1796) uses both weight and volume (sometimes int he same recipe).


One pound sugar boiled slowly in half pint water, scum well and cool, add two tea spoons pearl ash dissolved in milk, then two and half pounds flour, rub in 4 ounces butter, and two large spoons of finely powdered coriander seed, wet with above; make roles half an inch thick and cut to the shape you please; bake fifteen or twenty minutes in a slack oven--good three weeks.

#20 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2013, 07:30 AM:

Once we finally gave in and got a kitchen scale it made it much, much easier to deal with recipes from multiple countries. (And, as others have said, it makes it much easier to deal with flours and other things prone to packing.) One problem we didn't foresee in choosing our scale, though, was finding one that was easy to switch from grams to ounces; we used to fiddle with the little switch hidden under a cover on the bottom of our scale, but eventually just left it set to grams and got used to doing the conversions.

On the "what size was that little cup they were talking about?" problem, I think I've previously mentioned the Brazilian "xícara de chá" ("teacup") measurement, which despite being standardized is still used in lots of modern recipes to mean anything from 200ml to 250ml.

#21 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2013, 11:10 AM:

David Wald: that Brazilian variable teacup reminds me of the maddeningly vague "scant" cup or fraction thereof, along with the "dash".

Interestingly, I've found some recipes that have a "scant" cup in some versions, and "7/8 cup" in others, and it helps to know that an eighth of a cup is two tablespoons.

Likewise, some "dash"es have "1/8 teaspoon" in alternate versions, and while 1/8 teaspoon measures are available but uncommon, honestly, it's not easy to approximate without one, and I resort to a literal "generous pinch" -- taking as much of the substance as I can between my thumb and forefinger. If it's liquid? Well, usually it's vanilla extract, and my principle on that is "a little extra rarely hurts." The exceptions are in Italian meringue and marshmallows, which, come to think of it, are also Italian meringue (plus gelatin), where the extra alcohol-based liquid messes with the texture.

Pro tip: the same principle does NOT apply to rosewater, unless you enjoy having your foodstuff's flavor approach rose-scented soap. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES and my spoiled batch of ratafia biscuits.

Also interesting note: the place I most often run into the "scant" or "7/8 cup" measures is in cake recipes using all-purpose flour. I learned in pastry school that this is a standard substitution for a full cup of the lower-gluten cake flour. As I keep cake flour on hand (my favorite pancake recipe calls for it, and we consider pancakes a dinner food around here) I'd be tempted just to go for a full cup of cake flour and screw this 7/8 business.

I have a kitchen scale, but it only has ounce/pound measurements, to two decimal places. I wind up doing a bunch of metric conversions in my head. My Victoria sponge came out just fine. :D

#22 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2013, 02:20 PM:

If you can afford one, and you don't need to measure anything more accurately than to the nearest quarter ounce / 5g (and IME anything less than that is done as teaspoons anyway), I strongly recommend that you buy an actual balance and a set of weights (in both g and oz) rather than a digital scale. This has multiple advantages: they never break, never run out of batteries, and you can switch between metric and imperial without having to wonder where the switch is :)

The one big advantage digital scales have (other than cost) is that you can measure everything directly into the bowl; and this is less of an advantage if, like me, you tend to overshoot and then have to carefully pick the grains of sugar out of the flour :(

#23 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2013, 03:02 PM:

I tried a balance scale. I didn't like it one bit. Far too clumsy and time-consuming to use. And I speak from having used them both in a small-scale home setting and a large-scale commercial bakery setting. A digital scale where you can tare the bowl with the touch of a button? That's for me.

#24 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2013, 05:06 PM:

I have now learned the verb "to tare", and my goodness, that's useful. (It's a little peculiar that I don't recall ever hearing it before, as I've worked with manual scales more than once, all the way back to childhood.) I'll have to remember that one.

#25 ::: Cassy B. has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2013, 06:23 PM:

Fade Manley @24, I knew the word "tare" as an adjective modifying the word "weight", but not as a verb. Nice to learn something new.

#26 ::: Carrie S ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2013, 06:32 PM:

I'm not sure tare is "officially" a verb, but in English you can verb almost anything, and the meaning is perfectly clear in context so why not?

Upon checking, lists it as a nice regular transitive verb, which comes originally from Arabic by way of Old French. The Arabic verb meant "reject, subtract, throw away".

I love the Internet.

#27 ::: Cassy B. was NOT gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2013, 06:48 PM:

I was NOT gnomed @25; I forgot to change my nym. Apologies to the gnomes.

#28 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2013, 08:16 PM:

The start button on our digital scale also says "Tare" on it. And I've developed a method for weighing objects that I'm mailing that are big enough to obscure the digital readout on the scale: turn the scale on, set the object on the scale, then reach under to push the "Tare" button. Remove the object, and its weight is shown in negative ounces (or grams, but the USPS likes ounces). I find this very useful.

#29 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2013, 08:54 PM:

I'm another lover of digital kitchen scales; I can switch metric to English, I can measure 32 cups of flour as quickly as 4, and with mine (which goes to 8 kg) I can even weigh a baby to make sure it's growing. (And yes, I have pictures of my children naked in giant bowls--how did you guess?)

#30 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2013, 08:59 PM:

Forgot to put the link in my previous post.

#31 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2013, 10:59 AM:

The dating for early weight-based recipes makes me rethink my notions of what might be found in the 18th-c kitchen. I'd never thought about scales. And when I did think about them, I thought more in terms of balance scales, which seem fairly precision-type equipment, and therefore expensive. OTOH, I recall a late-19th-c. scale that my grandmother had as part of family leftovers, and it was a fairly inaccurate-looking spring scale with a hook. (She never said what it was used for, but ISTR it had a max weight of 5 pounds and was marked in halves and quarters rather than in ounces.)

#32 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2013, 11:45 AM:

I don't know about the cost of 18th-century balance scales, but there's also the consideration that many of the ingredients were sold by weight as well, which might make it easier to keep measuring them in that fashion.

Seems to me that a two-pan balance scale (as opposed to a sliding-weight sort) wouldn't be that complex a piece of equipment.

#33 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2013, 12:35 PM:

Every shop would have balance scales in the 18th century to check for light coins. They were the equivalent of today's counterfeit-detecting pens, sitting beside every cash box.

#34 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2013, 04:02 PM:

Weights and balances are common long long ago--Leviticus has the command Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.

It's one of my amazements that things that could have been made took so long to be made--the double-beam balance (making the position of the weights in the pans irrelevant) didn't come into use until the 1800's.

#35 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: July 07, 2013, 07:37 PM:

re 34: It may not have been widely used until then, but Roberval demonstrated in in 1669, which makes it barely pre-Newtonian.

#36 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2013, 03:14 AM:

Jim #33 They were the equivalent of today's counterfeit-detecting pens, sitting beside every cash box.

Except that they worked.

#37 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2013, 08:33 AM:

C. Wingate @ 35

Thank you! I was almost certain that the double-beam balance had been demonstrated earlier, but the best I could find with a fairly quick search was the 1800's.

#38 ::: SamChevre has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2013, 08:34 AM:

For an overly-enthusiastic expression of thanks. I have an egg sandwich if the gnomes would like some.

#39 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2013, 06:08 PM:

I made this for a family dinner for the 4th of July. The multiple-bowls technique is rather time-consuming to wash up from, but it was pretty easy to actually do. I don't have a circular 8" cake pan, so I used a squarish Corningware container instead. The corners ended up a bit dry, so I'd take it out a bit sooner next time. I served it with a strawberry sauce (made from fresh strawberries), which worked very well.

#40 ::: Mary Aileen sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2014, 03:17 PM:

more spam, here and elsewhere

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.