In college, my favorite bar hands down was an Irish bar. I went to one of those big Arizona so called “party” schools, packed with scruffy sports bars serving $2 pitchers of Coors Light. Don’t get me wrong, I frequented those establishments often but when my friends and I had a spare 10 bucks we’d head to our Irish bar for pints of Guinness or black and tans (Guinness and Harp) and a few rounds of darts. It wasn’t until much later, in Chicago, that I discovered the other Guinness drinks: the Black Velvet – Guinness and champagne – and the Snakebite – Guinness and Hard Cider. Being a champagne and a Guinness lover, I could never really get behind mixing the two but a Snakebite was quite nice on occasion. The deep dark notes of the stout were accented rather nicely by the tart, effervescent cider. Today, for St. Patrick’s Day I made this combination into a cake. Of course I did.
It took me three different cakes to figure this one out. What the hell? It shouldn’t have been that hard but I had this kooky idea in my head – really dark spicy gingerbread with big chunks of apples baked on top – and stubbornly pursued it. I shouldn’t have. It wasn’t good. This version, my final and by far my best, took a simple upside down cake idea and spiked it with stout. Sliced apples are nestled in a brown sugar/butter mixture with a little Guinness mixed in then topped with a very nice gingerbread type of cake spiked with more Guinness. Apples and stout pair incredibly well in baked goods too.
A tip on upside down cakes: there’s caramel involved. It’s hot. After baking, let the cake sit for 10 minutes to cool just a bit. If you flip out of the pan immediately, hot caramelized sugar might run everywhere and the apples go every which way. But if you wait too long or let the cake cool completely, the caramel sets and that sucker isn’t coming out in one piece. If the latter happens, warm the pan gently on a low burner to soften the caramel. And most importantly, flip quickly, firmly and with confidence. Don’t hesitate – that cake will smell your fear. You can do it.
Some apples will inevitably stick to the pan. It happens. Simple remove them and gently replace on the cake, in a pattern you find pleasing. I’ve been eating slices of this cake for breakfast all week. It’s held up pretty well, though it was better the day it was baked. Regardless, beer for breakfast works incredibly well for me apparently.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SLAINTÉ! When you can put beer into your cake, why not? All joking aside, this cake is pretty damn good. The Guinness isn’t overly bitter or “beery”, it adds some very subtle dark notes to a nicely spiced cake. The caramelized apples on top are a happy addition. Caramelized fruit and beer in dessert are a pretty winning combination, one we should do more often. This cake is excellent served warm with ice cream and even better with a pint of Guinness. Because really now, what isn’t better served with a pint of Guinness, St. Patrick’s Day or not?
Other Guinness recipes for St. Patrick’s Day: Guinness Beer Bread, Guinness Chicken & Mushroom Boxty, Guinness Stout Floats, Guinness Crème Anglaise, Guinness Pretzel Toffee
Eight years ago: Khachpuri (cheesy Georgian bread)
Seven years ago: Parmesan Black Pepper Crackers
Six years ago: French Onion Soup
Five years ago: Corned Beef & Potato Cakes
Four years ago: Reuben Knishes
Three years ago: Brown Bread Ice Cream
Two years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies
Last year: Bakewell Tart
UPSIDE DOWN GUINNESS SNAKE BITE CAKE
Makes one 10” cake, serves 8
for the apples:
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter (¼ cup/½ stick)
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1 Tablespoon Guinness stout
2 large sweet firm apples, peeled cored and sliced 1/8” thick (like Golden Delicious or Gala)
for the cake:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (½ cup/1 stick)
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses (not blackstrap)
¾ cup Guinness stout
- Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack set in the lower third of the oven.
- For the apples: In a heavy 10” cast iron skillet (or other deep, heavy 10” pan), melt the butter over medium heat.
- Add the brown sugar and Guinness, stirring until melted.
- Turn off the heat and arrange the sliced apples on top of the brown sugar mixture. You should have two layers of apples; arrange the first layer tightly then arrange any extra apples on top, filling in any gaps.
- For the cake: in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and all the spices.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl and a hand mixer), cream butter and both sugars on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Reduce the speed to medium-low and mix in the egg, then the molasses. Scrape the bowl and the beater.
- On low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the Guinness and mixing well after each addition. Scrape the bowl and the beater.
- Carefully place spoonfuls of batter on top of the apples, smoothing gently so as not to dislodge the arranged apples.
- Bake for 45-50 minutes and a toothpick inserted just off the center comes out clean with moist crumbs.
- Cool for 10 minutes then place a serving plate on top of the pan and carefully flip to turn out the cake. Nudge the apples back into place if needed. Best served warm. With ice cream. And a pint of Guinness.