A Baking Mistake Isn’t Necessarily a Disaster …

I’ve said on these pages a number of times that I’m not really a baker. By this I mean I rarely bake cakes and tend to stick to old favourites most of the time when I do. The particular old favourite that I’m writing about here goes back an impressive 40 years! I’ve written about it before – the wholewheat Guinness cake – but I don’t think I’ve made it again since writing that post almost four years ago. Until a few days ago …

The family have been around more and the pleasure of cooking for little grandsons – not to mention my son! – is still as pleasing as it’s always been. I love cooking for the family. And little boys of 6 and 8½ coming back to my house after school some days is incentive enough to do a bit of baking. They’re always ‘starving’ and need something to keep them going until supper time. Often, I have to confess, it’s Bonne Maman madeleines on offer, bought from the supermarket but good. Occasionally it’s home-made banana muffins, my ‘go to’ cake offering, into which I now always put fresh blueberries rather than raisins, along with some walnuts. The muffins have become sort of famous … well, locally ‘famous’ as I make them sometimes for Barrie and his team at my local garage, Turner Automotive, just along the road from me. The guys are so great at helping locals, they’ll happily check tyres and other helpful minor things without wanting me to pay for their time, so I’ve taken to cooking them a batch of the muffins from time to time. It’s become a bit of a fun joke that sometimes when I pass they call out to ask if I’m making muffins. They’ve talked to my son and brother about them and will tell any customer hanging around about them when I go in.

I made a carrot cake about ten days ago, which went down well with the family. But son Jonathan said he’d really like a rich fruit cake (and was talking about making one rather than dropping a big hint to his mother!) and I talked about the Guinness cake from Delia Smith’s original Book of Cakes (published 1977) and ended up making one.

I used to make it so often that a certain amount of hubris set in. I was busy with other things and thus did it in a hurry, my attention not fully on the baking job in hand. As I did the final mix, it did occur to me it was quite ‘wet’ for a fruit cake but it was only as I was quickly checking down the list of ingredients at the end to make sure everything had gone in that it hit me – how had I read ½ pint of Guinness instead of ¼ pint! No wonder it was quite wet. I considered putting in more flour … but then I started thinking about the other ingredients and proportions and finally decided to just put it in the oven and cross my fingers! Hopefully it would be okay …

It certainly smelled good as it cooked, the gorgeous aroma spreading through the house. It looked fantastic as I took it from the oven and left it to cool. Now Delia Smith said it should be wrapped once cool and kept for a few days before eating. Ha ha! There was NO way that was going to happen. It was barely cool before son was wanting a slice to go with a mug of tea and the grandsons wanted to try it. And well, let’s be honest, I was pretty keen to try it myself with an afternoon cup of tea … and check whether it had survived the mistaken Guinness quantity well!

It was so good (and it did, I should say, also improve after a couple of days) that son said I should always put in double quantity of Guinness.

I’ve always been of the baking school that says you should never mess around with quantities when baking – follow the recipe to the letter. But then of late I’ve found I’ve just had to risk cutting down sugar quantities when using old recipes (though not in the Guinness cake), which are often sweeter than a more modern palate likes, and it’s been fine. But twice the amount of Guinness! I’d never have risked that; I’d never have considered it a good thing to do. But it turned out to be great. A mistake not only rescued but a good thing. Well … so it seemed. When there was only a little left, and I decided to make another … I just couldn’t bring myself to put in twice the quantity. I took the preparation more slowly and carefully so that rather than just throwing everything in the bowl and using an electric mixer to bring it all together, I added the flour and Guinness more slowly, and folded them in – à la Delia’s instructions! I did add a little more than ¼ pint but not a full ½ pint, but somewhere in the middle of those quantities. Because as I mixed it, that looked right. So as it went in the oven, I found myself crossing my fingers again. How would it turn out this time?!

Here is the recipe again. I’ve used Imperial measurements, as given in the original recipe. Most scales give an Imperial option and I feel it’s best to keep with the original – rather converted – quantities.

Wholewheat Guinness Fruit Cake

  • 8 oz butter, soft at room temperature
  • 8 oz light soft brown sugar
  • 12 oz wholewheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking power
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ – ½ pint Guinness (see above!)
  • 6 oz currants
  • 6 oz sultanas
  • 3 oz walnuts, broken into pieces (not finely chopped)
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon orange marmalade


  • 1 oz flaked almonds
  • 1-2 tablespoons Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 150C/130 Fan/Gas 

Grease and line a 20cm cake tin.


Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl. Delia suggests sieving the sugar to get rid of lumps but I thought that was a lot of faff and just broke up any obvious lumps of sugar with my fingers. In another bowl mix the flour, baking powder and mixed spice.


Now beat the sugar and butter until it comes together into a light fluffy mixture. Then add the eggs one by one, beating in with a dessertspoon of the flour to prevent the mixture curdling. Next add the flour mix a little at a time, alternating it with some Guinness. Delia folds it in but the first (mistake) time, I just used my hand electric mix and did it more quickly.


When all the flour and Guinness are well mixed together add the dried fruit and walnuts.


Mix well and then add the marmalade and grate the zest from the orange straight into the mixture and mix in.


Transfer the mixture to the prepared cake tin.

Gently level the top with a spoon or spatula. Then sprinkle over the flaked almonds and Demerara sugar. Put it in the preheated oven for about 2-2¼ hours. It’s done when it’s slightly shrunken from the sides and a skewer or sharp small knife pierced gently into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for about 30 minutes then transfer onto a cooling rack. When completely cool, wrap in greaseproof or parchment paper and store in an airtight tin for a few days before eating (if you can manage to wait!!).

Cut a slice and enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.

Now to the big question!! Was it better with or without the larger amount of Guinness?

I have to say that I was quite certain the second version (closer to the one I’d made so many times over years – indeed decades!) would be the best, for I’d made it with a little more care. And we did wait four days to try it as there was still a little of the first cake left. So … I cut a slice, sat down with it and a cup of tea this afternoon. And … well, actually I thought, yes, it’s very nice, but I think I liked the extra Guinness version better. Both for the stronger Guinness flavour and it being a little more moist. A little later son appeared. He cut a slice to go with some tea too. What do you think? I asked. Well it’s very nice, he said, but I think I agree with you … the other one (extra Guinness) was nicer.

So … I’ll have to leave it to you, dear reader, to make up your mind if you follow my recipe. Whichever way you make it, I’m sure you’ll love it too and your family and friends will as well. I can see this is going to become a regular bake again. And apart from its gorgeous taste, it’s a fantastic ‘keeping’ cake, so a great one to have sitting happily in a cake tin so a slice of good cake is always on hand. I also think, as we go into the festive season, that it makes a great alternative Christmas cake – a little less rich than a traditional one but quicker and easier to make.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

12 thoughts on “A Baking Mistake Isn’t Necessarily a Disaster …

  1. I have Delia’s cake book, and use it a lot, but have never tried the Guinness cake recipe, now I will !
    Actually I quite often increase the quantities in her other recipes( not cakes) as sometimes they are better for it. For instance her Lasagne definetely needs more mince.

    1. The Guinness cake is only in the old version, not the new one (I have both). I think it’s good to have the confidence to change recipes a bit – and part of the fun of cooking to make things the way you like them.

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