St. Patrick's Day is coming. Originally a religious feast day, it now tends to be a big, loud, hard-drinking celebration that the non-Irish love to crash. Contemporary culinary markers for St. Paddy's include green cookies and green beer, but if you want to class things up, consider some recipes that include the complex, bittersweet taste of Guinness.
The dry Irish stout, which celebrated its 250th birthday in 2009, remains one of Ireland's best exports, along with Aran sweaters and brilliant but melancholy writers. In 1929, the company's advertising campaign included the slogan, "Guinness is good for you," a throwback to those quaint days when stout was prescribed to help "build up" invalids and new mothers. It was also considered a tonic for those with "delicate digestion."
These days, alcoholic drinks are no longer advertised for their perceived health benefits. Still, we can probably all agree that Guinness looks good, with its striking contrast of black velvet and cream, and tastes good, with its rich, dark essence. Tasters' notes on beer-loving websites talk about Guinness's "slightly burnt flavour," the notes of "chocolate and coffee," the "earthy finish."
For your St. Patrick's Day supper, you can try this Irish take on a traditional Belgian beef and beer stew, with its melding of sweet and sour tastes. The easy quick bread uses Guinness for malty taste and lovely texture. And in the improbable but delicious dessert, Guinness cuts the sweetness of the chocolate, while the rich black cake topped with creamy icing resembles a beautifully poured pint.
Beef and Guinness Stew
8 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
1.5-2 kg chuck roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 2.5-cm (1-inch) pieces
Vegetable oil, for frying
4 medium onions, sliced thin
45 ml (3 tbsp) all-purpose flour
750 ml (3 cups) beef broth
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) Guinness
5 ml (1 tsp) dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Pinch allspice or mace
30 ml (2 tbsp) grainy mustard
30-45 ml (2-3 tbsp) dark brown sugar, to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
In large heavy-bottomed pot or casserole over medium heat, fry bacon until starting to crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon and reserve in a large bowl. Pat meat dry with paper towels and, working in batches, brown the meat over medium-high heat, adding more oil if necessary. (Do not crowd the meat, or it will steam rather than brown.) Transfer browned meat to bowl with bacon. Reduce heat to medium, add more oil if necessary, and cook onions until browned, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes, then pour in broth and stir well, scraping up any brown bits on bottom of the pan. Add Guinness and then add bacon and beef and any accumulated juices, along with thyme, bay leaves, allspice, mustard and sugar. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, for about 3 hours, or until meat is fork-tender. Add salt and pepper to taste, and adjust seasoning. Serves 6.
Tester's notes: The Guinness flavour is very strong and bitter at first but mellows with cooking, so wait until the very end to adjust your flavourings. Cutting up a chuck roast takes a bit of time, but the results are better than you get with most pre-cut stewing beef. You can serve this hearty stew with plain egg noodles, mashed potatoes or brown bread. As with most stews, it is even better reheated the next day.
250 ml (1 cup) large-flake oats, plus additional for top
500 ml (2 cups) whole wheat flour
125 ml (1/2 cup) dark brown sugar
10 ml (2 tsp) baking soda
5 ml (1 tsp) baking powder
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
60 ml (1/4 cup) butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 ml (1/2 tsp) vanilla
250 ml (1 cup) buttermilk, well shaken
375 ml (11/2 cups) Guinness
Preheat oven to 190 C (375 F). Lightly oil a 20x20-cm (8x8-inch) square baking pan and then line with parchment paper. In large bowl, mix together oats, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt, using fingers to break up lumps of brown sugar, if necessary. Make a well in the centre. In small bowl, mix together melted butter, vanilla, buttermilk and Guinness. Add to dry ingredients and gently stir until flour is incorporated. (Batter will be soft and quite wet.) Pour batter into prepared pan, and sprinkle with additional oats if desired. Bake for about 35-45 minutes, or until browned and toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.
Tester's notes: This comforting, malty bread is like a cross between beer bread and Irish soda bread. The shape is a bit odd and the batter isn't as thick as the usual soda bread batter. But the texture is moist and dense, and the caramelly taste of the brown sugar balances the bitter Guinness, so the bread could pair equally well with a sharp cheese or butter and honey.
Chocolate Guinness Cake
250 ml (1 cup) Guinness
140 g (1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
175 ml (3/4 cup) cocoa
250 ml (1 cup) superfine sugar
250 ml (1 cup) dark brown sugar
175 ml (3/4 cup) sour cream
10 ml (2 tsp) vanilla
500 ml (2 cups) all-purpose flour
12 ml (2 1/2 tsp) baking soda
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
Cream cheese frosting
250 g (8 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
125 ml (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
325 ml (1 1/3 cup) icing sugar
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla
Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F). Butter and line with parchment paper a 22-cm (9-inch) round cake pan with high sides (at least 5 cm or 2.5 inches) or a 22-cm (9-inch) round springform pan. In large pot, place Guinness and butter. Cook over medium heat until butter melts. Whisk in cocoa and sugars. Remove from heat and let cool. In small bowl, whisk together sour cream, eggs and vanilla until very smooth. Add to the chocolate mixture and stir until combined. In another small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the chocolate mixture and stir until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes. Cool on rack. When cool, invert onto a plate, peel off parchment paper, and ice with cream cheese icing.
Cream cheese icing: In medium bowl using electric mixer on medium speed, beat together cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add icing sugar and beat until light. Stir in vanilla.
Tester's notes: This is what Nigella would call a "damp cake." It is moist and dense and will probably fall just a bit in the middle, and you shouldn't take this personally. The icing is light and not too sweet. Just make sure the cream cheese is softened before you start or you will never, ever get the lumps out.