Well, the warm weather’s certainly taking its time to rouse itself.
I’ve just popped out to the village shops and a biting wind took me quite by surprise as I got out of the car.
After last week’s warm weather excitement, I’d started gearing myself up for some lighter cooking this week, but it seems like the slowcooker has earned itself another week’s freedom before heading into the cupboard until the Autumn.
Certainly for me, the weather affects my cooking enormously – miserable, blustery days demand satisfying comfort food, and blistering hot blue skies mean I won’t be standing over the stove much.
A quick grilling or, better still, barbecue-ing of something, and a tasty salad is all I’ll bother with.
For me, what I drink, like the food I eat, varies much according to the weather.
Wine-wise, in the colder months I find I put away much more red wine and dark spirits than in the Summer, when I’m all over the bone-dry rosés, crisp whites and gin drinks.
I’m no great beer drinker, but occasionally get a hankering, and the seasons affect my thirsts here, too.
Summer is about low-ABV amber ales, good lagers and nice crisp cider, and as the cold weather approaches, I find myself craving darker ales, bitters and stouts.
Which, conveniently, brings us to this week’s recipe, a delicious chocolate cake made with a rich, tasty stout.
Beer has been used in baking for many centuries, thanks largely to its wonderful leavening properties – think of those crispy, flavourful batters that one can make with lagers and golden ales.
And the rich, unique flavour of beers makes them perfect for stews, pies and casseroles.
The Belgian dish Carbonnade de Boeuf is one of my very favourites: chunks of tender beef in a rich sauce laced with tasty dark beer, topped with crisp croutons – gorgeous.
And a little beer in a fiery Texan chili certainly adds a new dimension.
In baking, too, a little beer here and there can make a really tasty difference, and this cake uses the rich, iron-y flavour of milk stout (so called because of the addition of the sweetener lactose) to permeate the batter, resulting in a dense, deeply chocolate-y cake with a little hint of that dark, magical ale.
Of course, you could select a dark beer rather than a stout, but here we’re really after a good flavour that can match the cocoa powder’s intensity.
I used a powerful stout, Brewdog’s ‘Jet Black Heart’, which really asserts itself, but any porter or stout, perhaps Guinness, will do fine.
To top the cake we’re making a standard cream cheese icing, which helps to cut through the richness with a welcome touch of cool, tangy dairy flavour and makes this a cake with a difference.
Pop open a bottle and let’s get baking shall we?
For the cake:
110g plain flour
225g unrefined golden caster sugar
60g cocoa powder
One teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Half a teaspoon of Maldon salt
One large free-range egg
120ml soured cream
110g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
180ml good-quality artisan stout, at room temperature
For the icing:
125g softened butter
250g cream cheese
50g icing sugar
The seeds of one vanilla pod
A little milk (just in case)
1 x 9” cake tin, with removable base
Butter and flour, for lining the tin
Preheat the oven to 180°C / Gas 4.
Butter the base of the baking tin and line with baking parchment.
Butter the whole interior of the tin lightly and dust with a little plain flour.
Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a bowl and add the bicarb and the salt.
In a separate, large bowl, whisk together the eggs and the soured cream until smooth.
Whisk in the melted butter and the stout, tip in the sifted flour and fold the two mixtures together quickly but carefully.
Tip into the prepared tin and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool in the tin for five minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen it and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
While the cake is baking, prepare the icing.
Put the softened butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed for about 10 minutes, until fluffy and light.
Reduce the speed to low and add the icing sugar and vanilla seeds, mixing until combined.
You’ll be looking for a good, thick icing that holds perfect peaks, so add a little milk if it’s too stiff.
When the cake is cold, pipe or spoon the icing on top of the cake and even it out to the edges with a palette knife.
Allow the icing to firm up a little before slicing the cake.
It’s lovely with a good strong cup of coffee.