Learn how to make porter cake – a traditional Irish dessert known for its rich dark fruit sweetness and spice aromas. It leverages the robust flavors of porter ale and makes a great partner to coffee or strong tea.
What exactly is an Irish Porter Cake?
Porter cake is a type of moist fruit cake made with porter ale. Its flavors develop and get deeper over time and it tends to taste better a day or two after first made.
It saves very well – traditionally people baked porter cakes in November and kept them to enjoy during the holidays.
Across the British isles variations of the same cake are prepared with whiskey or brandy.
In essence Irish porter cake is a boiled fruit cake. This is because traditionally the dried fruit ingredients of the cake simmer in a decadent bath of porter, butter and sugar.
While many genuine Irish desserts are made with alcohol in the case of porter cake the alcohol evaporates during the boiling. The result is plump fruit infused with bold sweet and toasty flavors.
Porter Cake Ingredients
The ingredients are typical for fruit cakes:
- butter (high quality Irish)
- porter ale (commonly stout is used as replacement, see comments further down)
- sultanas or raisins or both
- dried citrus peel and fresh citrus zest
- spices like cinnamon and nutmeg
The latter few are symbolic of Christmas and represent the exotic fruit and spices of the Orient where the three Wise Men came from. Traditionally Irish porter cake does not include nuts as other fruit cakes do.
How to Make Porter Cake
- Start by heating up the butter, sugar and porter.
- Add the sultanas, raisins, citrus peel and zest one orange.
- Stir, bring to boil then reduce the heat and let simmer for several minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool down while you work on the dry ingredients.
- Sift flour, baking soda and powder, salt and the spices. Traditionally ‘mixed spice’ is used – you can simply make a mix of 1/2 tsp each cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin spice.
- Prepare a springform cake pan (see demonstration below if needed) and once the fruit mixture has cooled add it to the flour.
- Slowly fold in the beaten eggs, transfer to the springform pan and bake for about an hour.
- Once the baked cake is out of the oven you can drizzle a couple of tablespoons of porter on top. It will add another layer of flavor, additional moisture and help preserve the cake.
The cake must cool off completely before you transfer it to a container.
NOTE: Simplified modern day recipes for porter cake skip the fruit boiling step.
If you are interested in trying this method simply pulse the flour, baking soda, salt and butter in a blender. Mix with the sugar, spices and fruit, beat the eggs with the porter and add them to the other ingredients. Mix and then transfer to the springform pan.
We recommend the traditional approach of simmering the fruit in the ale along with the butter and sugar. The resulting flavors are much deeper, richer and satisfying.
Porter or … Stout?
We used Wasatch Brewery Polygamy Nitro Porter Ale this time around.
However, despite the name of the cake stout is commonly used as a substitute for porter. After all stouts evolved as stronger versions of porters and proceeded to dominate, almost wiping porters out of existence.
In fact – many contemporary porter cake recipes simply direct you to use a stout. Because of the flavor similarities we feel that you should simply use your favorite beer from either style.
If you do go with a stout, bear in mind that certain ones are aggressively hopped or made with significant amount of roasted barley and you may want to slightly increase the spices and perhaps add an extra tablespoon or two of sugar to counter the bitterness.
Barrel aged or flavored ales such as vanilla, chocolate or coffee porters or stouts brewed with cherries make amazing contributions to this cake.
If you are up for experimenting beyond the basic recipe you have many exciting options. Especially among the boozier imperial varieties.
(You might enjoy reading Stout vs Porter)
Feeding the Cake
You don’t have to do this, but it is worth writing about as it is said to be a part of the fruit cake traditions in Ireland and the British isles in general.
Feeding the cake refers to periodically adding booze to it to keep it moist and enhance the flavors. Plus alcohol is a preservative. Typically this is done on a weekly basis for cakes baked a few weeks before Christmas. A small amount of brandy or whiskey is poured over the cake each week and the cake is turned over to ensure that the liquid penetrates everywhere.
If you choose to add cherries, fold them into the batter right before you add the eggs. Fresh, thawed frozen cherries or dark cherries in sweet syrup will all work. Traditionally the cake is not eaten right after it is baked. Two to three days of waiting before the first slice is cut is typical. The cake 'improves' as it matures. Keep it in an air tight container. *See section on 'feeding the cake'under the recipe card if you are interested. ** See step by steps pictures on how to line a springform cake pan below.
Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 399Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 87mgSodium: 302mgCarbohydrates: 52gFiber: 2gSugar: 18gProtein: 6g
If you choose to add cherries, fold them into the batter right before you add the eggs. Fresh, thawed frozen cherries or dark cherries in sweet syrup will all work.
Traditionally the cake is not eaten right after it is baked. Two to three days of waiting before the first slice is cut is typical.
The cake 'improves' as it matures. Keep it in an air tight container.
*See section on 'feeding the cake'under the recipe card if you are interested.
** See step by steps pictures on how to line a springform cake pan below.
How to Line and Grease a Springform Cake Pan
Remove the sides from the base and apply grease with a brush.
Place parchment paper – it will stick nicely to the bottom. You can also pre-cut the parchment paper in a circle just a tad larger than the bottom area. Place the round wall on top and close the clamp.
Brush inside the walls and line with parchment paper pre-cut per the dimensions of the walls.
Carefully tear the parchment paper around the perimeter.
If it seems like too much work and you bake/plan on baking cakes that require a springform often you can always purchase a silicone springform cake pan which does not require lining.