Friday, December 16, 2016

Irish Porter Cake

Porter cake is traditionally served around St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, or so say a lot of recipes. But when I was visiting Eileen Connolly—the Connolly who gave her name to Connolly’s of Leap, the model for Sullivan’s Pub in my books—I walked into her kitchen while she was baking a batch of loaves to give as Christmas gifts to friends. The room smelled wonderful, and she shared a warm loaf with me. What could be better? Sitting in the “real” pub with a hot-from-the-oven cake and a cuppa tea and talking with a friend about the business so I could write about it later? Perfect.

She wouldn’t part with the recipe, but her secret is to marinate the various raisins in Guinness overnight.

A lot of recipes call for candied fruit, which you’d find in a fruitcake. I can’t stand the stuff—and Eileen didn’t include any (maybe we’re related after all?)

The result is a soft, rich, dark cake, which if you warm it up a bit goes well with some butter. It’s not quite a fruit cake (everybody’s not-favorite loaf).

Irish Porter Cake (thank you, Eileen!)


1-1/3 cups currants
2 cups raisins
2 cups golden raisins
1 bottle Guinness (assuming you don’t have a keg handy)

Everything else

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup soft dark brown sugar

4 cups flour
spices (cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg) – at least a couple of teaspoons of each
Pinch of salt
1 tsp baking soda
grated rind of one lemon
3 eggs, beaten together


Mix the currants, raisins and sultanas with the Guinness in a large bowl and let soak overnight.

On the day of baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Drain the raisin mix well. Grease whatever pan(s) you're using (see below) and line with parchment paper.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Sift together the flour, spices, salt, baking soda and lemon rind. Gradually add the mixture to the butter-sugar mixture, alternating with the eggs.

Mix the raisin mix into the batter by hand. Note: this will be stiff!

Spoon the mixture into a greased and lined 9" round cake pan, or 2 4 x 8-inch loaf pans (easier to give as gifts).

Bake in the preheated oven until a skewer comes out clean (start checking after an hour, but it may be a bit longer). Cool for 20 minutes in the pan before turning it out on a wire rack.

The cake’s flavor improves with age if you let it sit for a couple of days. Wrap with foil while still warm to keep moist.

And share with friends!

And now for the giveaway! I’d send you a loaf of the cake, but I don’t think it would survive the trip (besides, I’d have to admit to our nice post office employee that it’s perishable, right?). So instead I’m offering this very useful small jar to keep whatever you like it (pennies for your next holiday fund? spices? lost buttons?). Oh, all right, it's for cat treats--I'm just a bit biased, with three of the critters.

PLUS a copy of the latest of any of my series: A Turn for the Bad (County Cork Mysteries), Seeds of Deception (Orchard Mysteries) or Dead End Street (Museum Mysteries), in print or e-format. 

It was the lovely spicy smell of the porter cake that drew me into Eileen’s kitchen (and kept me there for an hour or more). What smell of baking means “holiday” to you? (Or if nobody in your house bakes, is there another scent that reaches you?) Leave a comment and I’ll draw a winner.

And happy holidays to you all! 


  1. Love the recipe, jar, and the books!

  2. Beautiful post, Sheila. Your description is wonderful. I can almost smell the cake baking. Thanks for sharing the recipe and its Irish roots. May your Christmas be merry and your New Year be bright!

    ~ Cleo

    1. And to you as well. Ireland is always full of happy surprises like this one.

  3. Mmmm! I love cake with lots of spice! My cats think a treat jar on the counter where I could see it and remember to give them treats is an excellent idea. Thanks for the contest.

    1. I was kind of guessing on the spices, since I came in on the end (the right time!) of Eileen's baking, but my version tasted a lot like hers.

      My cats at breakfast sit on the floor in front of the refrigerator staring up at the bag of yummies on top--they know where it is and they expect their treats!

  4. Next time I visit Ireland, I want to stop in Connolly's of Leap. ♡

    1. And it's easy to find! Right on the main road that runs along the south coast. Eileen (Mom) says son Sam is doing a good job with bringing in the music. It's lovely to watch it come alive again.

  5. Cake sounds like what is needed on a cold Ohio day.

  6. What a thoughtful and very practical idea sister of mine! You are the baker in the family and have enjoyed many wonderful meals at your home!! My favorite, hands down has to be your Christmas sugar cookies!! They are outstanding.... As mine are hockey pucks!! The cake sounds great����

  7. A friend's mother made a spiced bread similar to your recipe for the holidays except her recipe was from the West Indies where she grew up. Thanks for reminding me of a lovely lady.

  8. This cake looks delectable and enticing. Thanks for your feature and giveaway. Have a wonderful holiday.saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  9. Thank you for this chance to win this giveaway. I love the recipe the her and your books. mommomsworldATyahooDOTcom

  10. I don't think half a cake would mail well.
    sgiden at verizon(.)net

    1. Plus it's pretty heavy--all those raisins add up. But it does taste good.

  11. What a lovely recipe. Your giveaway is great. Thanks. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  12. Cookies baking- any kind- makes me feel the holiday cheer.
    nerdsrgood AT msn DOT com

  13. Cookies baking reminds me of Christmas, sugar cookies.

    1. That was always my family's tradition. I still have the cookie cutters.

  14. I love anything spiced for the holidays! My family makes wassail every Christmas when we decorate. Very festive when you walk in the door and smell that citrus and spice and see a warm fire in the fireplace!

  15. Pumpkin pie! I could use the jar for cat treats. I have three cats. I'd pick a County Cork mystery if I win.

  16. Our freshly cut tree arrived late yesterday and the house now sells delightful.

    The cake sounds delicious. Guess I'm going to have to make some since you aren't mailing any out!

    libbydodd at comcast dot net

  17. Love Porter Cakes and Barmbracks! I even like a well made Christmas Fruitcake ! Problem is, there are far, far too many really bad ones! But, I still remember the wonderful smell of my mothers fruitcake! This sounds like a wonderful recipe! Anxiously awaiting " Cruel Winter" . Thank you for the recipe! I have the County Cork mysteries , but have not read your Orchard series, and would love to start.

  18. Your porter cake looks good. It reminds me I have a recipe I clipped for cake made with beer. As for smells of the season, cinnamon and ginger!

  19. Love your books! Great recipe and I could put the cat treat jar to good use. Enjoy your Porter cake and happy holidays!

  20. We always have cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, so anytime throughout the year when I smell cinnamon I think of Christmas.

  21. I love the treat jar (and Simon's Cat) and the smell of any kind of cookies baking. centraleast2 at gmail dot com

  22. I love the smell of baking bread, and of chocolate chip cookies! I love the jar! And I would love to win one of your books. Thanks for the chance to win!

  23. Mamiebrightwell@gmail.comDecember 17, 2016 at 11:52 PM

    My favorite holiday smell