If you said to me 10-15 years ago that my favourite cake would be a fruit one, I’d probably retch and tell you to eff off. As a kid I would steer clear of anything baked with dried fruit – the strong spicy smell used to turn my stomach – mince pies, hot cross buns, spotted dick, Christmas cake, plain fruit cake, teacakes, Christmas pudding…you name it. If I was ever served bread-and-butter pudding I’d pick out the sultanas – raisins and sultanas were only good for putting on your cereal or eating in handfuls as far as my fussy childhood self was concerned….funny how times change.
Irish cuisine is somewhat overlooked in this country – we all know soda bread and Irish stew for example, or maybe barmbrack loaves, and even some of us know what colcannon is. (I sometimes keep the lurid rust-hued curiosity red lemonade in the drinks cabinet just for its aesthetic value as opposed to taste) But there’s many other traditional foods beloved by the green nation that have passed most of us by. For example this bake I’m sharing with you – I certainly had never heard of porter cake until the middle of last year, finding one in the Irish section of my local Tesco and then googling it.
So what is it? Well, it’s a fruit cake, made with porter, a lighter form of stout, which of course is most famously made by that bordering-on-stereotypical brand, Guinnness. Most recipes also suggest Beamish brand as another good alternative. It is also a kind of boiled fruit cake, which sounds pretty unappetising but actually, this obscure method makes the cake-making process much easier – no steeping-for-hours and no creaming required, the pan does all the work and you’re guaranteed a moist cake. I touched upon this in my Christmas cake recipe.
I will put up a ‘proper’ porter cake in due course; this one, as the title suggests, is quick – and it’s also vegan and dairy free. I adapted my much-loved tea loaf recipe (which I probably should also put up) for this, and to make it even easier, you don’t even need scales. You just need a mug – think your average white coffee or tea holder – anything that’ll hold at least 200-250ml of liquid. I promise you this somewhat lazy, imprecise method of measurement works.
I’ve listed dark brown soft sugar as it’s cheaper and more commonplace (ie most good corner shops sell it) than dark muscovado, which would offer an even more robust flavour, and personally I’d prefer to use that – but you can use as much or as little as you like as of course the fruit itself is sweet. It’s totally according to your taste – I used the full mug (admittedly packed down a bit) when testing and I think it was probably a little too much, so three quarters or maybe two-thirds of a mug would suffice, but it is entirely your choice. You could even add a teaspoon of black treacle if you have that lying around..
When I say line the loaf tin, I mean place a sheet across that hangs over the sides (makes it easier to lift out the tin!)
Initially once cooled you’ll be horrified at the slightly tacky, hard crust that forms, but trust me, it slices beautifully with a serrated bread knife and is moist on the inside and full of flavour (and probably fantastic toasted for breakfast). I know this time of year, most of us are on a health kick, and a rich fruit cake (or not as this contains NO eggs or butter) is the last thing on our minds, but it’s a nice thing to have (that’s not too sinful – no larded-on frosting either) sitting around at the weekend, it keeps well like all fruit cakes providing you store it correctly and you can just have a thinner slice if you’re really watching the calories. I firmly believe in all things in moderation!
You won’t find you have some weird fruity beery concoction either, the dark stout just lends a ghost of intensity that lurks in the background, letting the wintry treacliness of the dark sugar, spice and fruit shine. After all, it’s a common component in the Christmas pud.
Quick Porter Cake
You will need one bog standard, medium sized tea or coffee mug. No big Starbucks-style affairs or dainty bone china please.
1 x mug mixed dried fruit
3./4-1 x mug dark brown soft sugar (use less if you like your fruit cakes less sweet)
1.5 tsps mixed spice
1 x 440ml can Guinness or any stout/porter, such as Beamish. If using a bottle that’s bigger, just measure out this amount.
2 x mugs self-raising flour (use regular, wholemeal SR or a mix of both; though I think all-wholemeal would make a very heavy cake)
- Preheat oven to 160 degrees C (fan) or 180C regular. Grease and line a 2lb/900g loaf tin.
- In a small saucepan, put the fruit, sugar and spice, before pouring over the stout. Bring to the boil.
- Briefly boil then simmer for 10 minutes until reduced slightly. The fruit should swell and absorb some of this fragrant sweet liquor.
- After the fruit is plumped up with beer, remove from heat and cool slightly, about 15 minutes.
- Add in the 2 mugs flour and stir well to combine but careful to not over-mix. It makes a batter with a soft dropping-ish consistency.
- Pour the wintry-scented, manilla-toned batter into the loaf pan, quickly smoothing the top and bake for one hour (but check after 45 minutes if your oven’s on the fiercer side) or until a cake tester (toothpick, cocktail stick, raw spaghetti) comes out clean.
- Leave to cool completely before slicing into fat raisin-studded slices. Enjoy on it’s own with a cup of preferably Irish tea or with some butter. Sláinte!