Chocolate Stout Cake with Burnt Caramel Buttercream: I Really Should Have Told You About This Forever Ago

stout cake 033Niko from over at Damn Cute Bunnies asked what I thought about Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake.  Specifically, she wants to know if the Guinness is just there for shock value or if it really Does Something.  Friends, I am a bit embarrassed.  I have been holding out on you guys.  I have in my possession a fantastic chocolate stout cake.  I have made it many times.  It was the "signature cake" at the restaurant--if someone wanted a birthday cake, this is what they got. I should have told you about this Miracle Cake long ago, but I just didn't.  I will now make amends by telling you all about it now.

stout cake 021First and foremost, the stout Most Definitely Does Something.  Do you guys remember the Maillard Love Story I wrote awhile back?  Well, it was all about why chocolate and coffee go so well together.  You might as well just throw stout into that story and make it a Manage a Trois.  Stout goes so well with both chocolate and coffee because it is based on roasted grain--deep, caramelized, malty goodness.  As we know coffee beans and cocoa beans are roasted as well.  These three flavors have a natural affinity for each other because they share a lot of flavor compounds.

stout cake 003What stout tends to do in a cake is reinforce the chocolatey goodness of the cake, turning it more fudgy.  It can also give just a slightly bitter edge, cutting the sweetness of the cake by just a hair.  In layman's terms, and to channel Martha just a bit, "Stout in chocolate cake?  It's a Very Good Thing."

As to Nigella's cake, here are the ingredients:

  • 1 cup Guinness Stout
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 TBSP pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt

And here are the ingredients from my chocolate stout cake

  • 1 cup stout (whatever was on tap)
  • 8 oz. butter
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c. plus 2 TBSP creme fraiche
  • 2 teaspoons good quality vanilla

stout cake 022Sorry for the whacky measurements--some in ounces, some in cups--this recipe is In Transition.  Guess what?  Mine and Nigella's ingredient lists are almost identical.  The big difference I see is that she calls for soda and I call for baking powder.  That's because we used Dutch process cocoa powder at the restaurant, and it was already neutral.  No need for all that soda to neutralize the acid.  The first time I made this cake, I did use baking soda (I can't remember where I got the original) but the cake had a faintly soapy aftertaste from an excess of baking soda.  Not many people could taste it, but I could.  Switching to baking powder solved that problem.  If you are using regular cocoa powder, go ahead and use the baking soda. The other big difference is that my ingredients contain a Real Amount of salt.  Believe me, the salt will temper some of the stouty bitterness and really enhance the chocolate flavor.  Also, I have added a teaspoon of espresso powder because it is my new Favorite Thing. And I'm trying to get a ménage à trois going on Up In Here. Regarding the difference between sour cream and creme fraiche, it is minimal in this application.  I used creme fraiche because we made it 3 gallons at a time at the restaurant, and we never had sour cream.  Fear not, if you choose to use sour cream.  It will turn out just fine, I promise.

Nigella's method and my method are identical.  You can see her method here, where I also happened to borrow her ingredient list.

stout cake 046Here's where Nigella and I differ.  She wants you to use whipped cream to garnish this thing.  Hey, that's fine; I'm not going to stop you.  But that's not what I do.  Before I tell you, here was my thought process:  I wanted to play up the roasty-caramelly flavor of the stout--not contrast it with sweet and creamy.  I wanted something to underscore it, to reinforce the caramel, to take it from stout cake to Stout Cake! Enter, my burnt caramel buttercream.  Making this buttercream is a Dangerous Enterprise, but it is highly worth it.  This icing is well worth a couple of sugar burns.  Not that I want you to burn yourselves, of course!  I just want you to understand how much you Need to make this frosting and put it on your stout cake, or any stout cake.  Or apple cake, for that matter.  Here it is.

Burnt Caramel Buttercream
Prep time: 
Total time: 
This frosting is Perfect on the stout cake. Perfect. Its perfection depends upon ridiculously dark caramel--the reddish-mahogany color of strong sweet tea is what you're going for, and on using enough salt to perfectly balance and deepen the flavor.

This recipe makes enough icing to generously frost the top and sides of 1 9" cake layer PLUS you'll have about 1 cup or so leftover. Feel free to torte the cake and use some as filling if you want.

This recipe involves many Balls in the Air. You have to caramelize sugar, bring corn syrup to a rolling boil and whip yolks simultaneously. Maybe you should make it with a friend.
What You Need
  • 4 ounces egg yolks (about 8 )
  • 5.5 oz. sugar
  • 5.5 oz. corn syrup
  • 1 pounds butter, cool but soft, cut into wee pieces
  • about ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste (make sure you use enough. Add a bit at a time, tasting as you go)
  • ½-2 teaspoons espresso powder (use the powdered kind, not the crystallized kind. Adding it helps underscore the caramel--add as much or as little as you want. You can leave it out, too)
What To Do
  1. Have a bowl of ice water ready, large enough to dip the pan you caramelize the sugar in. Set aside.
  2. Place yolks and some salt (about ¼ teaspoon) in your mixer bowl fitted with the whip attachment.
  3. Beat the yolks and salt on medium speed.
  4. Bring corn syrup to a full rolling boil, and then slowly stream it into your beating yolks. Pour it slowly right down the inside of the bowl. Try to keep it off the whisk so it ends up in the icing, not on the sides of your bowl. Increase speed to high.
  5. Heat sugar and about ¼ cup of water to a boil, stirring to dissolve all the sugar.
  6. Bring it up to a boil, slap on the lid and let the steam wash any sugar crystals off the side of the pan.
  7. Remove the lid and turn the heat to high. Once the sugar starts to color, you can swirl the pan to keep the color even.
  8. When the sugar is very light amber, turn the heat down to medium. At this point, you can stir the caramel with a wooden spoon (most of the crystals have broken down sufficiently that they won't recrystallize). Take the sugar to a dark caramel. It will start to smoke a little and your eyes will sting. That's how you know it's done.
  9. Take the pan off the stove and briefly (no more than 3 seconds or so) dunk the pan into ice water. This should cool things off enough to keep your sugar from continuing to cook while you're doing the next step.
  10. Once you've dunked your pan, slowly pour the caramel into the still-beating yolk/corn syrup mixture. Pour it in a thin stream right down the inner surface of the bowl so you don't sling it all over the sides of your pan. Whip until just about body temperature.
  11. Add in the cool butter, a bit at a time, along with the espresso powder.
  12. Add salt until the you are happy with the flavor.

This is not kid frosting.  It is a bit bitter and mysterious.  As a matter of fact, I wouldn't necessarily want to eat this off of a spoon, although it is very good.  This icing shines when eaten as part of the cake.  If you want to make this a more kid friendly icing (or if you're not into very dark caramel) feel free to stop the caramelization a little bit earlier.  The lighter the sugar, the sweeter the icing, but the less complex the flavor will be.

stout cake 027So, Niko, whether you knew it or not, your question forced me to share the stout cake recipe.  I'm glad it did, too, because I really should have shared it long before now.

PS  Yes, they make very good cupcakes, too.

PPS  You're welcome.






  1. says

    I didn’t read through the NYTimes recipe that I linked to on my site, but I know in Feast that she uses a cream cheese frosting rather than whipped cream. Your buttercream does look tasty, but I will say that the cream cheese frosting is one of the few that I will actually eat. Normally I ditch whatever frosting there may be.

    • says

      Oh, Brian, I adore cream cheese frosting. Really I do! So, as one cream cheese frosting lover to another, I *implore* you to try this buttercream. I rarely implore, but there you have it. And I do agree, it is the best chocolate cake in the world! 😀

  2. says

    OMG, awesome post on so many points. Just for that, I’m going to try making the Stout Cake! and probably even the Caramel buttercream — now that I’ve fully recovered from self-inflicted burns drizzling hot sugar on croquembouche for the Xmas party.

    This past weekend I made the Chocolate Swooning Cake using the creaming method with 1/3 oil and 2/3 butter. Also, I dissolved the baking soda in the coffee as Brian suggested. The cake was definitely stronger this time (not so tender but it was brownie-like when cold and how bad is that?) and the middle did not cave in. I split the layers and filled two with some sour cherry/raspberry jam and the main with your Crazy Good Mascarpone (spiked with Kahlua instead of Grand Marnier), poured bittersweet ganache and scattered cocoa nibs on top. Your lessons here truly helped make this cake a success.

    • says

      Hi, Connie. I’ve heard that cream cheese frosting goes nicely with this cake, too. I’d use equal parts cream cheese and butter, pinch of salt, powdered sugar to your desired sweetness/consistency and a splash each of vanilla extract and coffee liqueur.

  3. says

    First of all, Nigella has nothing on you, dear! Second, I’m making this cake even if it means snitching the last of the Chocolate Stout in the fridge. I think Mr. Noodle will find it a fair trade. 😎

  4. says

    Great blog btw. I always love glancing and reading food blogs and when I find one that’s got great photography I stick around or else I’m out of there. This blog is def a keeper!


  5. says

    Ha, my friend Jenni is making me do math AGAIN!  Thanks for this recipe 😉  I willed myself to pop open the laptop (I have been so behind reading blogs!

    • says

       Just for you, I quartered the icing, had tons to ice the top and sides (I didn’t torte) and still have about 1 1/2 cups left over.

      Here’s the math:)
      4 oz egg yolk (about 8)
      5.25 oz sugar
      5.85 oz corn syrup
      1 pound butter, cool but soft, in pieces
      salt (more than you think necessary–for me, about 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, give or take)
      2 teaspoons espresso powder


  6. says

    I am the worst with making caramel, it is on my bucket list….well if it isn’t, I need to add it!  But I love the idea of a burnt caramel buttercream, it sounds really fantastic!  Thank you for sharing your little secret:-)  The cake looks so moist and amazing! Hugs, Terra

  7. CharlesR57 says

             I cannot have anything that is a beer or ale.

    Could you help me with a substitute.


    • says

       I use Pernigotti cocoa powder–nice and dark! But I’ve had this made w/”regular” Hershey’s or Nestle, and while not as dark, it is still very chocolatey and delightful!  As to chocolate for baking, I like something semi-sweet to bittersweet, and one that you like the flavor of “straight.” Callebaut makes very good and easily-found options–at Whole Foods or online. 🙂

  8. Betty Ann @Mango_Queen says

    Oh my goodness, I saw this cake a couple of months ago. And I thought I left a comment. This is so good. I must make it. And if I don’t have the “stout” what do you suggest?

    • says

      You could use any beer that’s not too hoppy. You could also leave out the espresso powder and substitute coffee for the stout. But, if you can swing it, use something w/alcohol in it, because I think it brings out the alcohol soluble flavors in the chocolate, making the whole shebang more complex. I honestly don’t think you can go wrong though, BA. This is a seriously good cake!


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