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Bittersweet 

Irish stout and chocolate cake

Sure, everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day, but that doesn't mean everyone loves the food. Corned beef and cabbage is fine comfort food, briny and piping hot with soft potatoes, and my family didn't wait for March to cook it. But the heart-slowing food of ancestors who got up in the dark and worked until it turned dark again isn't for everyone — nor is a firm round of seedy soda bread, which so many Americans dutifully slather with butter once a year, silently wishing it was a scone.

What we do love on this side of the pond is a dark, creamy-topped porter, much of which will be downed on the 17th. (Skip the green beer. Have some dignity.) Porter cakes with spices and dried fruit are traditional in Ireland, but the heavy richness of Guinness Stout is an easy partner for chocolate cake.

This one, adapted from Baking Unplugged by Nicole Rees, is a user-friendly recipe that requires no electrical gadgets beyond your oven. The sharpness of the Guinness bakes out, making for a deeply chocolaty cake that's not too sweet with a grown-up bite. I let my kids lick the batter, full of bitter, cooked stout, off the mixing spoon and they ran from the kitchen, betrayed. A St. Patrick's Day dessert everybody loves and quiet time in the kitchen. That's a bit of luck right there.

Chocolate Stout Cake

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa to dust, plus 3/4 cup for the batter

1 ¼ cup Guinness (measured without foam)

1/3 cup dark molasses

1 ¼ cup unsalted butter, very soft

1 ½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour (whisk briefly before measuring)

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

6 ounces dark chocolate chips (mini)

a handful of powdered sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Grease a large bundt pan (spray is easy, but butter tastes better) and dust it with the 1/4 cup of cocoa as you would with flour, discarding the excess. This will keep it looking nice and dark when it comes out of the pan. Heat the beer and molasses in a saucepan, stirring, and simmer it a minute before putting it aside to cool. With a wooden spoon, beat the butter and brown sugar until creamy. Beat in one egg at a time very well.

In a dry bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa and salt. Use a fine mesh sieve to get any lumps out of the baking soda and baking powder and then whisk those into the flour mixture.

Is the Guinness and molasses concoction tepid yet? If so, alternately stir the flour and Guinness mixtures into the creamy butter/egg/sugar mix: flour, stout, flour, stout, flour. Stir until combined each time before adding the next part, but don't go crazy and make it tough. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed.

Pour the batter into the bundt pan — do this by pouring in one spot and then tipping the pan to fill it evenly. That way you won't get a big hole from pockets of air. Knock out any little bubbles by holding the pan firmly and banging it on your counter a few times. If you want a nice, tall cake, make this the last loud noise in your kitchen until the cake is cooled.

Bake the cake for 45-50 minutes. A toothpick poked into the cake should not come out clean or gooey, but with a few crumbs on it. Let the cake rest in the pan for 20 minutes before popping it out onto a wire rack to cool further. If you want it just a wee bit warm, sprinkle it with powdered sugar just before serving. But it's just as marvelous the next day.

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