Tuesday 7 December 2010

Cooking with Beer: Barley Wine Cupcakes

Snowed in and cabin fever approaching dangerously fast, I needed something to do before Lauren’s five-minute weather updates drove me to insanity (“It’s still snowing... It’s still snowing... It’s snowing a bit harder now... Oh, look at those icicles... Still snowing...”). I decided that I needed to occupy myself in the kitchen and to make it more interesting I tasked myself to cook with beer. A few inspiration-finding flicks through recipe books later and I was ready to bake some Barley Wine Cupcakes.

The idea was a combination of inspirations: rum and raisin, warming and rich winter beer, the rise in baking beer bloggers and brewers and the Hummingbird Bakery (who make cakes so good that I had one and immediately bought their cookery book). For the beer I chose Nils Oscar Barley Wine because it was pretty much all I had in the cupboard that would work... thankfully, it was the perfect choice given its raisin, booze and bread sweetness and a mellow green bitterness (I nearly used a bottle of BrewDog Paradox Isle of Arran and soaked the raisins in whisky, but then decided to use the Paradox elsewhere...). Something like Fuller’s Golden Pride or Robinson’s Old Tom would also work well.

Beer gets into the cakes in three ways: in the sponge, in the beer-soaked raisins and in the icing. It also leaves you half a glass, which is important. Drown a couple of handfuls of raisins in beer so that they are just submerged. Leave for around an hour and then drain well before adding to the cake mix. With the icing, just add it to loosen the mix and give a little extra beer kick.

The finished cakes were the best I’ve ever made, which is probably down to the Hummingbird recipe than the beer, but I think the beer still deserves credit. They are light and lovely with a delicious butter icing on top and loaded with little bursts of chewy-sweet raisin. The true test of a beer recipe is if Lauren (who hates the taste of beer) will eat it... she loved them. It’s easily adaptable to other beers, too, or you can leave out the raisins or replace them with something else (cherries, blueberries, chocolate). Stout (or, even better, imperial stout) is an ideal choice to use instead of barley wine and the recipe can be adapted to add cocoa; I’d like to try it with a sweetened cherry beer; a Belgian dubbel or quad would be good, I’m also tempted by a really fruity IPA but would want one that’s not too bitter.

Here’s the recipe, which is copied/adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook (makes 11/12):

120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter at room temp
20ml milk
100ml beer
1 egg
Drop vanilla extract
Two handfuls of beer-soaked raisins

200g icing sugar
80g unsalted butter at room temp
25ml beer (maybe a little extra)
Drop vanilla extract

Oven to 170C. Mix the dry stuff with the butter in an electric mixer. Gradually pour in the milk and half the beer. Separately mix the egg, vanilla extract and the rest of the beer. Add this to the flour mixture and continue to beat together. Add the raisins, draining off the beer and discarding, and stir through. Spoon into baking cases until two-thirds full. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Once cooked, allow to cool before adding the frosting. To make the frosting, whisk (electrically, if possible) icing sugar and butter until well combined. Add vanilla extract and mix. Gradually add little splashes of the beer until the icing is the desired thickness (really thick) and then beat until light and fluffy, ‘at least 5 minutes’ the book says. Spread the icing on and EAT.

What other beer cakes could work?

This wasn’t all I made while snowed in and the rest of the time I was making Imperial Chilli which I’ll blog about soon... 

P.S. This is my 400th blog post! 


  1. I'm gonna try this recipe. Nice to see that you used a Swedish Barley Wine. Not a very bad one either, if you ask me. Hopefully it wasn't one you had been saving for years?

  2. Needs smarties on the iceing. Cakes with chocolate stouts would work really well, like marble chocolate or rouge chocolate stout...mmmmm

  3. Looks delicious! We've got a great recipe for chocolate courgette cake/cupcakes made with stout:


    This recipe was one of my all-time favourites before we even tried adding beer to it, and the stout makes it even richer.

    Look forward to reading other suggestions!

  4. Mmmm these look nice the frosting sounds yummy!