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,


Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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If you have reached this blog for the first time, you may be wondering what on earth a Pedal Pub has to do with marrying an Irish farmer….well, I can tell ya. For 1. we could certainly use a pedal pub or two in our part of the world and 2. I am currently Stateside getting my fill of summer city livin’ {for you Irish farmers interested in marrying American city girls, this is a prerequisite). If you’re not interested in my American summer musings, have a peek at this post or this or even this to see what I am usually getting up to in my little Irish farmhouse kitchen + studio.

This week I have made two too good to be true acquaintances. One, as seen above involves a pedal powered pub and the other, the stunning @freshtartsteph of Dara & Co/Minnesota Monthly and her own lovely food blog, Fresh Tart.

While I was driving through the city centre today, I spotted The Pedal Pub cycling down a busy street. I did a double-take because I hadn’t seen such a thing before. There sat 8 people bellied up to the bar, casually pedaling away. Good way to have some cheer and burn off the calories at the same time. Awesome!

Stephanie Meyer and I had been swapping tweets & messages for a few months before I arrived in the Twin Cities this summer. I am in love with every ounce of her food posts as well as her column in Minnesota Monthly mag. She’s the eyes and ears of the Mpls-St. Paul locavore movement and clearly puts loads of passion + effort into championing her hometown food brands/chefs/restaurants and farms. Stephanie also created  MN Food Bloggers, which has gathered local food bloggers together into one big happy family. She organises special monthly events and shares valuable information on loads of great foodie endeavours in MN.

We met for a light lunch at Lucia’s...and ended up chatting for three hours!  In person, she is delectably genuine +  really sweet (see that smile?). Actually: irresistible. We hit it off straight away and are already planning another foodie gathering before I go back to Ireland. Yay!

Next week: Ireland in America…it started off when I stumbled upon Clodagh’s book at Anthropologie this week

Slan Abhaile,


Photos by Imen McDonnell

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