Smoked Porter Cake

02 Sep 2012

Batten down the hatches, it’s chocolate cake time again. Well, Smoked {Dark Chocolate} Porter Cake. So, yes, things are gonna get serious around here. Pour yourself a large glass of milk (either that, or just fast forward to the recipes at the end)

This week, Rosemary McCabe, an Irish fashion journalist that I respect, made a curious remark via social media: Okay, so I still READ I Married an Irish Farmer, but I wish it wasn’t about how a woman gave up her career for a man. ‪#sonotcool

Now, you might think I was offended. Or, you might think, why bother addressing it?  I wasn’t offended, the thing is, I can see her point. I wouldn’t give up my career for just any ole’ man either. I don’t really see it that way.

Rosemary isn’t the first person to spark up motivation for this post. I have had more than one email containing the unusual question: “Is love enough to marry a farmer?” or something similar. The question comes from women who have busy careers/lives, perhaps in a city, who have no inclination to become a farmer (yet), or to move to the countryside, but who are in a loving relationship with someone who farms. It’s a fair question.

For some time I have wanted to write a post about the nitty-gritty of how I got here. I’ve shared a little bit about how Richard and I met,there’s even a little interview with him, there’s the “when and why” I started this blog, along with various bits and bobs about the farm. But mostly, the blog has become about food. Food, glorious food.

I love my husband (and, still think he’s H.O.T. which is what realllly matters after 8+ years right?) and what we have created together. I’m not going anywhere. Some days my life can seem like a dream come true, others not so much. Admittedly, my biggest challenge since moving to Ireland has been rebuilding a creative career. Love is magnificent, but it is not enough ( for me, and wouldn’t be for my husband either if tables were turned). Work is too meaningful. I prefer to earn my own income. It is crucial for me to doing something creative which is valued besides being a wife + mother. Plus, I can’t really sit still or quiet for long periods of time, so I don’t really have a choice in the matter.

When I made the decision to move to Ireland to be with Richard, I fully intended to keep my job and work from Ireland. I didn’t plan on having to start over from scratch. As much as I respect farming, I didn’t plan on becoming a farmer myself. We were two people in love who had to make a choice. We simply knew that he couldn’t “relocate” his farm, and I thought my work was more flexible. I had been mostly working on overseas productions and things were becoming pretty virtual at the time so it seemed like a go. I was young and precocious and must have thought I was invaluable. In the end, that didn’t work out. Still, I believed I would be able to get freelance production work in Ireland on a somewhat steady basis once I was settled in. That started out fairly good, I found work on the production of a popular Irish television series, which happened to be shooting in the countryside near us. When that was finished, I searched for work with agencies in Dublin and Cork to no avail. If they were going to hire anyone, it seemed would be someone local or at least more mobile or Irish than I at the time. {Richard tells me I’ve “become more Irish than the Irish themselves” so perhaps I should call on them again?}

After I had a baby, I became a full-time mommy and it seemed like all serious career bets were off. I could barely manage to get a shower in when Geoffrey was an infant. He was born nearly 8 weeks premature and had some health issues. Thankfully, not serious health issues, but made for difficulty in feeding and nutrition. If you are a mother of a child who is not a “good grubber”, you know that you would die trying to make sure your child is fed.  Richard left at 6AM and didn’t return until late in the evening. I was alone with Geoffrey most of the time and didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. I relied heavily on emails, phone calls, books and internet message boards submitting questions as banal as “what if the poo doesn’t smell?”

Since I didn’t have the security of a job anymore, I had to procure a new set of skills, including, but not limited to DIY’ing my own half-n-half. So, just when I thought my abilities were completely irrelevant here, I turned to food. At first, I started eating digestive biscuits and Hob Nobs by the packet, which wasn’t really helping matters. Then, I discovered that I could actually cook, bake and make butter and that by doing so, I could make new friends and not feel so isolated. I also discovered that I could write, which was, in fact, therapeutic, and also garnered me a job. I took small bits that I learned while producing food commercials and started styling and photographing food for this blog and also for an Irish cookery book. We’ve now turned a bright, unfinished room in our house into a little studio so that I can take on more clients if am called upon to do so. The best part is that I am bringing it full circle and have produced and directed a film on Irish food and farming that I hope will be the start of even more opportunities….and, at the risk of going all Oprah, perhaps this leap will have created ‘My Best Life’ yet?

Now, about that cake.

Porter cake is a tradition in Ireland that started when it occurred to someone that a porter would make a lovely addition to the dark, robust flavour of the popular fruit cake. Since we aren’t crazy for the fruity part of Irish fruit cakes in this house, I kept the mixed spice, but left out the fruit and added some dark, dark chocolate.  The end result is a rich, velvety, smoky chocolate cake that evenly carries the porter flavour throughout. I iced it in chocolate espresso buttercream, but to be honest, it doesn’t even need frosting, especially if you are serving it with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of fresh cream.

Of course, you can use any porter or stout for the recipe. I used a sneaky bottle of gorgeous and ultra smoky porter that I brought back from America, which was home-brewed by Derek Sanderson in the beer mecca of Milwaukee, WI. I bet Knockmealdown Porter would be amazing. Also, a chocolate stout would be super.

To go with the cake, I decided to make malted barley ice cream, which has a lovely malted flavour (think super vanilla malted milkshake), and pairs supremely with the smoky, porter-y, chocolate-y cake. I bought the roasted, malted barley from a home-brew shop and steeped the grains in the custard before straining, adding a scoop of malted milk powder and churning.

Enough with all the seriousness already, have a slice of chocolate cake.

I am!

Smoky {Dark Chocolate} Porter Cake

3 ounces/85g high quality unsweetened dark chocolate, chopped

2 1/4 cups/280g all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice (pumpkin spice works the same)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) salted butter, room temperature

1 1/4 cups/250g plus 3 tablespoons sugar

3 large eggs, separated

1 1/4 cup/350ml extra smoky porter, (or regular or chocolate stout)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F/170C. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides or 4 mini cake pans like I did. Line bottom of each cake pan with parchment paper round; butter and flour parchment.

Put chopped chocolate, butter and beer in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until the mixture is melted and smooth. (smells wonderful) Remove bowl from over water and set aside.

Whisk 11/4 cups (250g) sugar, flour, baking powder, mixed spice, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add egg yolks 1 at a time to (lukewarm) melted chocolate, butter, beer mixture beating until well blended after each addition. Beat flour mixture into chocolate mixture in 2 additions just until incorporated.

Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in another medium bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into cake batter to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites in 2 additions.

Divide batter between prepared cake pans (about 3 cups for each); smooth tops.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer cakes to racks and cool in pans 20 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks; remove parchment paper and cool completely.

Dark Chocolate Espresso Buttercream

4oz/114g high quality unsweetened dark chocolate, chopped

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

3 tablespoons milk

1 cup (2 sticks)/227g butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

4 cups/500g powdered sugar

Place chocolate in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until melted and smooth. Dissolve instant coffee in milk in glass measure. Beat butter, vanilla extract and salt in large mixing bowl for 3 minutes. Beat in melted chocolate until blended, scraping occasionally. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in coffee mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired spreading consistency.

Malted Barley Ice Cream

2 cups/475ml double cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup (90 g) malt powder

½ cup/100g roasted malted barley grains

1 cup/240ml whole milk

3/4 cup (150 g) sugar

pinch of salt

6 large egg yolks

Whisk the cream, vanilla and malt powder in a large heatproof bowl and set a mesh strainer over the bowl.  Combine the whole milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and heat just until warm.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a bowl. Slowly add the warm milk mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour back into the saucepan and set over medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens enough to create a custard that coats the back of a wooden spoon. Pour through the strainer into the malt powder mixture and stir to combine. Add the roasted barley grains and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain again.

Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (overnight is best). Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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35 Responses to “Smoked Porter Cake”

  1. Elon Hawkins says:

    Wow. looking delicious. New and most unique idea. Thanks for sharing this beautiful recipe with us.

  2. […] too good, too good. Each post typically comes with a recipe, and they are all amazing. The Smoked Porter Cake post is one of my favorites. Check it […]

  3. Michele says:

    Well, there sure are a lot of opinions about your journey Imen 🙂 All of life is a journey and we all seek love, no matter what the form. Some of us find a love that inspires us to change our entire lives, and others to simply make a new dessert. It’s all good. Recently (here in the states) I have been watching a show on PBS called Clodagh’s Irish Food Trails (w/Clodagh McKenna) as she travels around to different farmers markets and also features the local farms and restaurants in various counties. Lovely show.

  4. Lorna says:

    Funny – I’ve never interpreted your blog like that. I know you started it as ‘I married an irish farmer’ to demonstrate the difference in your life and how you are adapting etc etc but I never read it as giving up your career. One of you had to move and you can’t exactly move land.
    I don’t see it as a ‘farming blog’ either though. Yes, you’re located on a farm but I view it more as a food blog (a fab food blog I must add) and as you bring in your personality, stories of the farm come in.
    It’s a wonderful blog – don’t change a thing 🙂

  5. Beautifully said, Imen. I love to read about where your path took you, and I can’t wait to see what you do next, because it is endlessly inspiring.

    I always wonder where my path will take me (this is both a fun and frightening daydream), but for now, I know I must have a slice of that cake. I have been craving a deep, dark, chocolate cake for a few days now, and I think I have finally found one that is worth a try.

  6. Jill says:

    The comment is a lot funnier when you change the hashtag to #firstworldproblems. And her additional comment “I wish you had found your way to writing about and photographing food by accident rather than through marriage”? Why would that ever matter? You made a choice for yourself to marry your husband and move to Ireland, a grand new adventure, you followed love, and you found new passions. What’s the big deal? That sounds much more exciting and fulfilling than climbing the ladder in some job.

  7. Kit Mitchell says:

    Can’t wait to try making the cake! Thanks for sharing such a treat. More importantly, I appreciate your candor and openness of your farm life realities.
    Best wishes,
    Kit

  8. […] I’m also grateful for posts like this […]

  9. I love your take on porter cake – and on life, Imen. Cx

  10. Mairead says:

    Imen – Anyone who says they cannot understand how you could give up your career to marry and live on a farm in Ireland, has never lived on a farm in Ireland. After twenty-four years living in America I still miss our Irish farm in the Ballyhoura Hills.. There are no words to describe the joy a newborn calf can bring to your soul. Like you Imen, I transitioned from a responsible busy job when my kids were born. As Vice President for a large healthcare system here in America the change in pace to being a stay-at-home mom was quite dramatic. I had every intention of working from home, but once my triplets were born I knew this was only a pipe dream. There are times when I miss the hustle and bustle of work, but then I watch my kids playing outside, happy in the knowledge I am with them, and all those regrets disappear. You made the right choices for you and your family, and pay no attention to the nay-sayers.
    Love your porter cake recipe – one of my favorites.

  11. […] Smoked Porter Cake | {farmette} September 4th, 2012 | […]

  12. Thanks for posting about such a sticky topic. Always nice to hear perspectives on the great work-relationship/family divide. It’s hard to have your whole cake and eat it too. But it’s helpful to know what’s important (to you!) and it seems like you’ve struck a nice balance. (Also, having a smoky chocolate stunner like yours doesn’t hurt a bit.) 😉

  13. Cathy Norrie says:

    I love the title of your blog, which first attracted my attention, and love the content even more, which keeps me coming back! Good on Rosemary for adding a nice long explanatory followup comment (some of these text/twitter bare bones messages can be misunderstood or misinterpreted so easily). I believe that true feminism supports and encourages freedom of choice. I love your choices, Imen! Now must try that cake…
    Cath

  14. Dawn says:

    I have to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for this post. I grew up in a farming family and during my teenage years, my father suffered quite badly from depression and my mother took over many of the responsibilities on his farm on top of her regular job and taking care of me and my siblings. There was no acknowledgement of what she did from outside the family because that’s just what farmers’ wives do, they just get on with it. When they got married, she gave up her career and maybe she has regretted it, but that was what life threw at her and I am proud to have a mother like that. I guess the point of this comment is to say that while someone might comment that your life is easy, anyone who has experienced farming life in Ireland can appreciate the choices you’ve made in your life.

  15. If Rose McCabe thinks your column is about what you gave up for a man, then she doesn’t actually read it.

  16. Julie says:

    I’ll tell you what is #sonotcool — women making snarky comments about other women lives. Not to mention the utterly galling implication that raising a family is not work. It is your life to run as it suits you – your readers are more than happy to follow your journey. Keep up the good work. Now, then. Off to make some porter cake!

  17. Siobhan says:

    Hi Imen,

    I always stop what I’m doing to read your blog and interesting stories.. I too left my family and my “climbing the ladder” job and moved to Ireland from Canada to be with my true love… with absolutely no regrets. I started my own family here and we live on my husbands family farm together with all of the dairy cows and dry stock.. completely new life for me that’s for sure, but I love all of it. Before the kids came along, I would be up at all hours with my husband helping to calve cows in the dead of winter.. do I miss that? Uh…no.. I prefer the warmth of my bed at that hour.. However.. my kids are still young and I haven’t met too many women.. but that will happen when they start school.. I know I have a creative side bursting to get out and you are a real inspiration to me.
    So when it’s my time to get up and running (aka blogging) I hope you will read and I welcome any feedback.
    Take care.

  18. Reading your post reminded me of so many of my own experiences moving to Ireland Imen. I too gave up a very successful and promising career in pursue of love with the same naive misconceptions that youth provides us with. I was convinced I was just going to get a similar job, earn a similar living and continue in the path of success that I had left in Mexico only now I had the man of my dreams to share it with. The reality proved to be a lot harsher and I had to start all from scratch, never got to where I was, but this new and greener path, took me to places I never dream off, I discovered new passions, a better life and I managed to find an inner peace and the feeling of fulfilment my previous life never provided. It takes a brave person, man or woman, to take a leap of love, a leap of faith; it takes an even braver person to admit the hurdles of the chosen path. Well done and thank you.

  19. Val says:

    Well well, mush heated debate here on this beautiful sunny morning where I know I would love to be on a farm anywhere in Ireland, alas I am busy with autum planting and diggingin chicken manure @oneperysquare. it’s funny how perspectives are different, in Ireland, marrying a farmer, ESP one with ” front land” has always been a much envied one. I have relatives and friends who farm and I also know that it’s nit at all easy to make a living off the land. Rosemary MacCabe differs from many commentators in that she expressed her opinion under her own name and not some lambasting troll like way online and anonymously, and big deal, it’s a valid comment. Are we not all grown up and able to take commentary? when you put yurself in the public eye, in any way, you leave yourself open for criticism, both good and bad and Imen, yu certainly get more gushy adoring comments than any bad ones. I had my two babies in another country, Germany, and the isolation of being in a foreign place was all consuming. I had no problems with babies feeding,they never stopped. My partner worked such long hours and it was, well, very hard. we faced the questions that all parents do, who will work? I had a direction in press photography, he had his nose to the grindstone. To be with someone whose life situation you can meld with is the ultimate. Love is so imporanat and helps us in ways we don’t know about until were in it. Ireland, and Limerick is a challenge to work in in the media right now and fair play to you for striving and you are doing well and making a name for yoursef in what seems to be a totally flooded arena. you have style and distinction and if you don’t mind me saying, a husband who is definitely H.O.T. P.S cake looks great

  20. Kristin says:

    That was a pretty callous comment to make, it’s not like these things are so black and white. I didn’t give up a career to move here – I came over one week after I graduated college – but I still struggled with the dynamic that I had been the one who had to make all the sacrifices for us to be together. Even now, 14 years later, after building a life and a business from scratch, I still struggle with it sometimes – I have gained much, but I gave up a lot too. I tip my hat to you for forging a new career from your new opportunities. (And that cake! That ice cream! Gorgeous.) x

  21. Aisling says:

    Thanks for this post.
    I have been getting serious with an Irish farmer and am getting somewhat fed up of the assumptions that within a few months I’ll be leaving my job and milking cows so I can sort of see what the original columnist meant.
    He’s ran the farm for a number of years without me, he’ll do it for many more. And if he can’t, he can hire someone because I have no intention of becoming a farmer.
    However, I have every intention of becoming a farmers wife and that’s why I like this blog. I’m a total feminist and if I want to define myself as a farmers wife then I can. That’s feminism.
    A lot of my current career choices were made because I became a young single mother. A label I am proud to wear but a label I don’t wish to wear forever. And I’d imagine that my career choices in the future may be affected or influenced if I were to become a farmers wife due to the all encompassing nature of farming (which I am slowly learning about).
    Love is not enough. We need to have our own interests and things that make us happy. Be that an office job, baking, being a mother, milking or all of the above.
    As for the blog title, I never would have found the blog had it not been names as such. I was searching for other women who were city folk or townies and who somehow hooked up with a farmer…..and it lead me here. It does what it says on the tin and I, for one, am grateful for it.

  22. Imen,
    I applaud your honesty and think this post is both heartening and inspiring. I’ve just come back to work after my first baby and the age old tension of home vs work is at the top of my mind every day. So many of the comments here resonate with me. On leave, at home with my daughter I indulged in so many other creative outlets, cooking, writing, blogging and felt far more creative than I’ve ever done in my so called ‘successful career’.

    Follow your heart if the finances allow (or possible even if they don’t) I say!
    Keep up the fabulous blog
    Elaine

  23. Krista says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Imen. 🙂 You phrased so beautifully what I feel about leaving my life behind to be with my Aussie farmer. 🙂 Love is not enough – we must have passion, fulfillment, work to do that is OURS to own and be responsible for. I’m so glad we have such good men who support us in being US and want us part of their lives. 🙂 This life is not easy sometimes, but I love it. So much. 🙂

  24. Veru says:

    You decided to write a post to explain your choices and your life BUT it’s your life and if it’s right for you nobody has the right to say something. I would never have written a post like this to make people happy (or to make them talk about you): just live your life which seems, to me, quite fabulous! 😀 [I love the cake and the idea to have fresh milk every day of the year! ]

  25. All smart women I know don’t do things just for love. Yes, love can be important factor, but putting everything on one card is too big burden for everybody.
    I don’t think she would read your blog if “it was about how a woman gave up her man for a career.”
    Anyway, for me you are the happy, successful, brave woman and you bake fabulous cakes 🙂

  26. I love this post. I guess what I meant was, that I wish this blog was originally called “I made the best with what life threw at me” or “from filming to farming” rather than the crux of the whole “I married an Irish farmer”, as if one thing led to another in a very obvious way.

    Regula, I’m not an “emancipated career woman”, so-called or otherwise, and I would never look down on someone’s life choices – I think that feminism has brought many wonderful things to pass, including woman’s ability to choose family or work or both (although perhaps I wouldn’t go so far as to use that dreaded term “having it all”). My comment wasn’t about wanting all women to be career women; I just don’t like the idea that some women are career women for HIS career, is all.

    In essence, Imen, I love that you pulled me up on it. I love how you handled it and I love that you wrote this post. (I still wish, for the “story”, that you had found your way to writing about and photographing food by accident, rather than through marriage (because you’re damn good at both), but here we are, and no worse off for it.) I’ve also never wanted to taste porter cake until now, so there’s that.

    Slán abhaile xo

    • imen says:

      Thanks Sue! Been an interesting week for sure. Try the cake and ice cream…it is truly divine. Imen xx

  27. Oh my word, I can’t believe that woman…
    When finding your blog, what she said was the last thing I thought.
    In my eyes you did not give up your life and career and are therefore a obedient wife. In my opinion you were brave. Career woman often think they are emancipated females and look down on those who choose to leave a life of career pursuing for a different one. They are actually jealous of those women. This extremely rude “lady” didn’t get the point of this blog I think.
    I have a career… and I got really sucked up by it. But two years ago I got ill and I saw the light. This job isn’t a life, it doesn’t make a difference. Who cares about graphic design? Do I want to put my children into day care cos I want to be a “career woman”? No I don’t. At the end of the day that career leaves you with empty hands. Now since I took a step back at the office and became less of a career woman, I started to feel more alive than I ever was. Yes at the office they make fun of my blog, look down on the fact that I now spend my time cooking and photographing food. I don’t care, taking a step back at work opened up my creativity again. Strangely enough my career was a creative one, but too much involved in meaningless business. I feel more a strong woman now than when I was highly regarded in my career. I do my office hours now, nothing more. Now I have a life and not -just a career- I would make the same choice you did and I know a farmers life is a hard one, it’s still my dream…
    On a more cheery note 😉 I love this cake and malted barley ice cream. Normally I use stout but I recently found some good organic porter so I will try this out!
    Take care

    • imen says:

      Regula, you are such a darling. Thank you for your thoughtful comment…much of it has resonated with me and I appreciate and respect what you are saying. I think the smoky porter is far better in the cake….I have a recipe on this blog for Guinness cake and it’s just not the same. Thank you again! I am so glad we’ve connected via instagram! I love your blog..really inspiring! x

  28. Móna Wise says:

    The nerve of some people. All you need is Love Imen. The rest comes easily. We are long overdue for a catch up xx

    • imen says:

      Well, maybe that’s true…I was not sure if I should write this post, but glad I did. Thanks for your comment Mona, and YES we must meet xx

  29. Mary says:

    I’d say you have the best of it….you go girl!

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