Belgian Beef, Ale, & Onion Stew (Carbonnade à la Flamande)


The French have made cooking with wine into quite a thing: Cuisine in the US routinely uses wine for deglazing and general flavouring, for example. Yet the Belgians’ love affair with beer, a passion akin to that of the French for wine, hasn’t really caught on in America. Beer is used occasionally in barbecue and fondue, but the classic Belgian beef stew made with beer is surprisingly rare here in the States. You’d think that with all the Coors and Budweiser being quaffed, some of it would make its way into stews with unfailing regularity. Apparently quaffing beer straight up is preferable to coating beef with it.

Beef and ale go together like chocolate and peanut butter; one teases subtle flavour variations out of the other that otherwise would go unsung. The ale imparts a hearty richness that makes you feel as though you’re transported back in time; you and your dining companions, all swathed in fur, are sitting together at a stone table in the tapestry-adorned royal hall, as the fireplace burns against the wicked snowstorm raging outside. But it can’t reach you inside, not just because there are tapestries hanging on the masonry: This stew warms you from within. It’s fabulous.

I still love my balsamic beef short ribs more than any other beef recipe, but when one tires of balsamic vinegar – it happens to the most devoted of gourmands – this hearty, ale-infused stew is just the trick to put everything right again. 🙂 Best of all, it can be cooked in an Instant Pot! That’s what I did. I include instructions for both the traditional Dutch oven and the Instant Pot methods in the recipe below.


Use any ale you enjoy drinking straight out of the bottle. I’ve used blond ale here because it’s apparently traditional in Belgium for use in stews; it has a mild bitterness offset by a light sweetness. You can soar beyond mere tradition and figure out what, exactly, tickles your taste buds in just the way you like. 😉

Belgian Beef, Ale, & Onion Stew (Carbonnade à la Flamande)

5 lbs. chuck-eye roast (or 1″ thick beef blade steak), cut into 1″ cubes (don’t remove fat if using chuck-eye roast; if using blade steak, remove gristle running through the middle, but leave any remaining fat)
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Olive oil, for sauteeing beef and onions
3 large onions, cut into 1/8ths
1 TBS tomato paste
1 head of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
1 1/2 c. beef broth, plus extra for cooking onions (about 1/2 to 3/4 c.)
24 oz. beer / ale (I used two 11.5 oz. bottles of blond Leffe)
8 sprigs fresh thyme
6 bay leaves
3 – 4 TBS cider vinegar

If using Dutch oven, preheat oven to 300°F. If using Instant Pot, disregard. (The Instant Pot method for this recipe is for an 8 quart pot. It will probably fit into a 6 quart pot, but I haven’t tried this.)

Pat beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil until just smoking in 5-quart Dutch oven for oven method; for Instant Pot method, use a large pan (12″ minimum is best). Brown beef in batches, transferring browned beef into a large bowl (you’ll want to keep the juices from this). If fond in pan becomes too dark, deglaze as needed with water, ale, red wine, or broth (or some combination thereof).

Deglaze pan once you are done browning beef, if needed. Add more olive oil and add onions; sprinkle generously with salt. Add tomato paste and stir to combine. Add enough beef broth to just cover onions (this will enable the onions to cook evenly) and cook until onions are softened, about 15 – 20 minutes.

When onions are softened, add garlic and cook about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. At this stage:

If using Dutch oven, add chicken and beef broths, scraping bottom of pan to deglaze. Add beer, thyme, bay leaves, vinegar, and browned beef with juices. Cover Dutch oven with lid and place in oven. Bake until beef is fork tender, about 2 hours.

If using Instant Pot, pour chicken broth, beef broth, beer, and vinegar into Instant Pot. Add thyme and bay leaves. Add onion mixture and layer browned beef on top, making sure to pour any accumulated beef juices into the pot as well. Cover and seal lid. Set to ‘High Pressure’ on Manual mode, and cook for 40 minutes. Use Quick Release method. Serve.

Source: Heavily adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen (Brookline, MA, 2014). Instant Pot methodology my own creation.


Soda Bread, Better than Ever


I think soda bread is my favourite from-scratch bread. It has a tender but firm crumb, and can go savory or sweet: It’s there where, when, and how you need it. Served with butter and jam, it even makes for a lovely rustic dessert.


And it’s just plain fun to make; I like to think I am carrying on the tradition of Irish housewives when I make this. It seems like fewer and fewer people bother to make their own bread anymore, and I wonder if breadmaking and pastry chef-ing in general are truly on their way to becoming lost arts. When Sandra Lee is a viable TV “chef,” society has reached the stage of needing professional help. But I digress. 🙂


I recently made soda bread again for the first time in a long while, using Mrs O’Callaghan’s recipe. As I read through the recipe, I thought it sounded clumsy, and so I set out to make it better. The measurements I give in the original recipe are vague – in volume rather than weight. I wanted a more precise recipe, so I looked up what the average weight of each kind of flour is per cup, and I used those weights in my revamp of this recipe. Next, I took out the flax seed entirely, as I had added it in the deluded belief that flax seed makes bread healthy. It doesn’t. Carbs are carbs; carbs with flax seed added are simply carbs with flax seed added (which itself has carbs). Then I increased the amount of butter by nearly double, and I changed the kneading methodology to get the tender, moist crumb you see in the photo above. Instead of simply cutting in all of the butter, I cut in the first half of the butter, then fraisaged in the remaining butter with the heel of my hand as if I were making puff pastry. This left larger chunks of butter in the batter along with the finer pea-sized crumbs that result from cutting in butter with a pastry cutter, and it coated more of the flour in butter, which retards the formation of gluten and makes for a lighter, more tender crumb. Finally, I baked the bread in a cast-iron skillet, having been inspired by skillet chocolate chip cookie recipes. I got exactly what I wanted: a really fabulous soda bread recipe that bakes more evenly, offers a moister, more toothsome crumb, and has a richer flavour thanks to the addition of more butter and slightly more buttermilk. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂


Soda Bread

Yield: One 8″ round loaf

384 g. whole wheat flour
330 g. all-purpose flour
60 g. cake flour
1 generous tsp. baking soda
generous 1/2 c. light brown sugar
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 stick + 74 g. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces and divided
2 c. buttermilk, plus up to an additional 1/3 c. as needed to correct dough’s consistency

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Stir together dry ingredients in large bowl (8 quarts is ideal for this). Cut in brown sugar until no lumps remain. Cut in 1 stick of butter until butter is in small pieces. Press remaining 74 g. of butter into dough with your hands, leaving the butter in larger pieces this time. Stir in buttermilk. Dough should form a shaggy but cohesive ball; add more buttermilk as needed to reach this consistency.

Form dough into a 7″ round in a 9″ or larger cast iron skillet. Using a sharp knife, cut a deep cross in the center of the bread to let the faeries out. Wet fingers with water and smooth any jagged peaks on surface of bread. Bake until bread is golden brown but not burned, and the bottom is a deep golden brown; this takes about 40 minutes.

Cool bread on wire rack for about 30 minutes. Slice while still warm. Wrap tightly in cling film and store at room temperature. Bread starts to go stale after about 2 days.

Source: Heavily adapted from Mrs O’Callaghan’s Soda Bread

Grated Bread & Chocolate Cake


When it comes to unusual cakes, this one takes the… well. I guess you could say it takes itself! 😉


The texture of this cake is decidedly European. Its structure comes from a blend of ground nuts and beaten egg whites – so, nuts and air. 🙂 This kind of cake is common in Europe, especially in older European recipes, but it is rarely seen in American cake recipes. The crumb is not as sweet as American palates are accustomed to; it is a subtle blend of almond and chocolate, owing to the inclusion of grated semisweet chocolate in the batter. Heightening the complexity of the cake’s flavour is the addition of Merlot. It’s mild-tasting only if you are used to the in-your-face sugary concoctions that define America; it’s stunning if your palate is more open to finessed flavours. The cake is filled and iced with a semisweet chocolate mousse which pairs perfectly with this cake, teasing out the mild chocolate flavour inherent within the crumb. I further enhanced the chocolate flavour by brushing the cake with a mocha raspberry simple syrup. Not only does this further moisten the cake’s soft crumb, it adds yet another subtle layer of flavour.


This sophisticated cake won the $25,000 grand prize of a heritage recipe contest held by America’s Test Kitchen. According to the recipe’s author, the cake was apparently borne of the desire not to waste bread! Indeed, the cake does include grated bread crumbs. I read the list of ingredients and almost didn’t bother making this cake, as it sounded weird. I’m so glad I took a chance and tried this cake out. It really stands out in a sea of oversweetened, one-note desserts. (My taste buds really woke up when I stopped eating sugar every single day!) I’m fairly certain that most people reading the recipe have the same reaction I did; a combination of “Bread crumbs? Huh?” and “That sounds like it would turn out kind of dry.”


Surprisingly, the cake does not come out dry, even without the application of simple syrup. It is reminiscent of an angel food cake. The simple syrup gives it the kind of moisture we associate with devil’s food cake, and that legendary texture coupled with the cake’s intriguing complexity of flavour makes it something unforgettable.

Despite the inclusion of 9 egg whites, the finished cake does not taste eggy. It tastes of chocolate, coffee, and mild sweetness. I urge you to try this, even though it probably sounds a bit odd to you, as it did to me. It’s a taste of Old World Europe, just waiting for you at the edge of a microplane zester. 😉



Grated Bread & Chocolate Cake

Yield: One 9″, two-layered cake


For the cake:
9 oz. (2 c.) almond flour
1/2 c. plain dried bread crumbs
2 TBS all-purpose flour
1 oz. semisweet chocolate (I used 70% Lindt), grated finely (I used a Microplane zester)
1 tsp. baking powder
9 large egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar, optional (use if your eggs are old, or if you aren’t sure how old they are; older egg whites simply won’t beat up as well)
6 oz. (1 1/2 c.) powdered sugar
1/4 c. Merlot or similar (I used a blend of Merlot and ruby port)
2 TBS lemon juice

For the simple syrup:
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. water
1 TBS Chambord liqeuer
1/3 c. coffee, cooled

For the icing:
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped fine (I used a blend of 70%, 84%, and milk Lindt)
2 c. heavy whipping cream, divided
1 oz. semisweet chocolate (I used 70% Lindt), finely grated, for garnish


For the cake:
Preheat oven to 325°F (350°F for electric ovens). Spray 2 9″ cake tins with nonstick spray and dust with flour. Line cake tins with parchment paper and spray parchment paper with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Stir together almond flour, bread crumbs, all-purpose flour, chocolate, and baking powder until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Beat egg whites (and cream of tartar, if using) in bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment on low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and beat until whites form soft peaks, about 1 – 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add powdered sugar, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high and beat until stiff, but not dry, peaks form, about 3 minutes.

Whisk wine and lemon juice into egg white mixture, being careful not to deflate whites.

Fold in 1/3 of the flour mixture until a few streaks of flour remain. Fold in half of remaining flour until a few streaks remain. Fold in remaining flour mixture until thoroughly combined.

Divide batter between pans and smooth tops. They will not smooth out during baking, so use a finger wetted with water to smooth them, if necessary.

Bake until cakes spring back when poked gently with a finger, about 20 minutes. Rotate pans around 12 minutes into baking. Start checking for doneness 16 minutes or so in; you do not want to overbake these cakes. If you poke with a finger and a dent remains in the top of the cake, they aren’t done yet.

When cakes are done, remove pans to wire rack and cool 10 minutes in pans. Release cakes onto wire racks and cool completely, about an hour to an hour and a half.

While cakes are cooling, make the simple syrup and chocolate mousse. Proceed as directed in “Assembly.”

For the simple syrup:
Boil sugar, water, and Chambord until sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in coffee. Cool completely.

For the icing:
Place chocolate in medium heatproof bowl. Heat 1/2 c. cream until boiling; pour over chocolate and allow to stand 2 minutes. Gently whisk together until completely blended. Allow to cool completely.

Beat remaining 1 1/2 c. cream until soft peaks form. Add all of chocolate mixture and whisk until completely blended; continue to whisk until stiff peaks form.

Slice each cake layer in half, for a total of four layers. Place four strips of wax paper on cake plate and place first layer, cut side up, on top of strips; you’ll pull these strips out after you’ve iced the cake.

Generously brush cake layer with simple syrup. You’ll use probably 2 – 3 TBS of syrup for this; it will seem like too much, but make sure cake layer is moist from the syrup. Spread about 2/3 c. of chocolate mousse onto cake layer and smooth. Place next cake layer, cut side up, on top of mousse; brush with syrup. Spread 2/3 c. mousse on top and repeat with third and fourth cake layers, ensuring that the fourth cake layer is placed cut side down. Ice top and sides of cake with remaining chocolate mousse. Carefully pull wax paper strips from beneath cake.

Decorate with grated chocolate. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Source: Cake barely adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Best-Ever Lost Recipes (January 2018), p. 84; icing from Chocolate Stampede Cake; simple syrup a KitchEnchantress Original. The original version of the cake can be found here.