This is a recipe I used to make regularly many years ago. More precisely, when my daughter was a baby, back in the early 1980s. It comes from Delia Smith’s Book of Cakes, published in 1977, where it’s named Wholewheat Guinness Cake. The page where the recipe is printed in the book is so stained with splashes of decades-old cake dough that I briefly wondered if it was a health hazard when I took it down from my bookshelves.
The baking yesterday came about via a circuitous route, as these things often do. With little grandsons around, I’ve taken to baking more often again, usually banana bread muffins, which seems suitably ‘healthy’ for them and because I so often have over-ripe bananas in my fruit bowl. Larger cakes are generally only made for occasions – birthdays, and Christmas, etc. – and it was the Christmas cake last December that led to baking the Guinness cake again.
The Christmas cake (a Nigel Slater recipe) was made with my son, his two boys (5 and 3) and his fancy new Kitchen Aid stand mixer. It was such a success that he’s talked about making it again soon and not waiting until next Christmas. He was also keen to try making some more cakes. With kids on hand and everyone at home more these days, there’s more use for homemade cakes. And the good thing about homemade ones is knowing you’re putting in the best – usually organic – ingredients and cutting down on the sugar content where possible. I lent him a couple of my cake books, including the newer version of Delia’s Cakes, which a friend had given me as a present. I assumed it was basically the same book updated, with each recipe illustrated (the old book only has line drawings at the beginning of chapters). I happened to mention the Guinness cake to my son as a good fruit cake without the expense and hassle of the big Christmas cake. I haven’t made it for ages but have always remembered it. Partly because it was so delicious; partly because when I first made it, I was working part-time and the nanny we had for my daughter liked it so much I could arrive home to find half of it gone! Not that I minded; she was great and even after all these years, and despite returning to her homeland of Australia, she is still in touch with my daughter.
I looked through the new, revised and updated book to show my son the recipe. It wasn’t there! So I turned back to the old book, and well, after all this talk and searching, I just had to make it again. Delia describes it as ‘a very good “keeping” cake, as it stays nice and moist and seems to go a long way’. Quite how long it will ‘keep’ with the family is yet to be seen, but at least we won’t need to eat it quickly, and it really is very nice to have a good fruit cake on hand to go with a cup of tea in the afternoon.
I followed Delia’s recipe almost 100% with just a couple of changes: I used butter as I never use margarine. At the end, I sprinkled over just a tablespoon of demerara sugar as I couldn’t quite bring myself to put a second on – one looked enough! I also used her imperial measurements (lbs and oz) so it would come out just as I remembered it, but digital scales tend to have a ‘Unit’ button where you can easily change from metric to imperial, so hopefully it’s not a problem for anyone.
Wholewheat Fruit & Guinness Cake
- 8 oz butter (left out of fridge so soft)
- 8 oz light soft brown sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 12 oz wholewheat flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- ¼ pint Guinness
- grated zest 1 orange
- 1 tablespoon marmalade
- 6 oz currants
- 6 oz sultanas
- 3 oz walnuts, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas 2. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with greaseproof paper.
I had some of the ingredients – including my own recently made marmalade – but I definitely didn’t have Guinness to hand. I do occasionally drink beer; I like Leffe a lot and a lovely unfiltered lager, Clausthaler Unfiltered Dry Hopped Lager from Germany, both of which were in my fridge. But clearly neither was an alternative for a dark, rich stout. I’m sure they’d work but wouldn’t give the same taste of old that I was nostalgically seeking. It proved remarkably difficult to find the Guinness, unless I was prepared to buy 4 large cans in a pack. But then the little local Tesco saved the day: they actually had a bottle; a rather attractive, old-style bottle. And I could buy just one.
First of all mix the soft butter with the sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Then add the egg yolks a little at a time, beating between each addition. I like to add just a little of the flour – a dessertspoon – with each egg addition to prevent curdling.
Mix the flour, baking powder and mixed spice together and gently fold in, a little at a time. Between each addition, add about 2 tablespoons of the Guinness. It can be tempting to use the electric mixer to do it all but your cake will be lighter if you fold the dried ingredients in gently by hand.
Now add the orange zest and marmalade and fold in gently. Then finally the dried fruit and nuts. I like to break up the walnut halves by hand rather than chop them, so they don’t get too fine or dusty.
Once it’s all incorporated, spoon it into the prepared tin. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds and then the demerara sugar.
Put it in the oven and bake for 2¼ to 2½ hours. I mostly use a fan oven but I read recently that cakes bake better in a conventional oven – and I’m not sure there were fan ovens when I was first making this cake! – so I used my ‘conventional’ setting. Mine was done in 2¼ hours – it was nicely browned; firm when I gently pressed the middle; and I tested with a small sharp knife. Leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes. Then turn out onto a cooling rack and leave until completely cold.
Transfer to a plate or wrap in greaseproof paper and then foil to keep, or in an airtight tin.
It may be a keeping cake but I definitely thought I should share it and cut it in half and gave half to my son.
Delia says the cake benefits from maturing for a few days before eating it. But really … how could one wait days to try it! So, a slice was cut, a cup of tea made, and I sat myself down in a comfy armchair this afternoon and enjoyed!
Even before I got as far as eating the cake, just opening the greaseproof paper and foil packaging released a wonderful aroma into my kitchen. It smelled fantastic and so inviting. Then, sat with my cup of tea and taking that first bite … the cake was as gorgeous as I remembered it. I rather think it’s about to become a firm regular in the family.