This bunch of recipes started as an idea where I wanted to do something drawing inspiration from my childhood in Ireland to my current life here in Toronto. It also helped that St. Patrick’s Day was impending so that provided a nice motivational kick. I’ve included three (or should it be four?) recipes here as frankly I couldn’t decide which to include for a single recipe post. However, I do think it works quite nicely to chart the influences on my passion for baking. I shall try to keep the background blurb short as I have to admit not being a fan of rambling anecdotes myself on recipe posts (“Seriously Janice- get to the recipe already! No one actually cares about your traumatic experience with bangs and how it rekindled your childhood love of popovers…)
In the meantime have a great St. Patrick’s Day. Eat (plenty); Drink (responsibly) and Be merry (it goes without saying).
Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibhe!
Traditional Plain Soda Bread w/ Blueberry, Rosemary & Juniper berry conserve
This is where I began. Well, I mean my love of baking. Soda bread was the first recipe that my mom showed me how to make in the kitchen. The bread is simplicity itself with little or no baking skill required. The conserve recipe is my substitute for the sticky jam jars of childhood. If you asked me to sum up childhood memories of baking it would be of freshly cut warm plain soda bread, slathered in butter and jam. And now I pass it on to you to make your own memories.
Plain soda bread
- 3 1/2 cups All purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk*
- Preheat oven to 450°F
- Line a tray with baking parchment and dust lightly with flour. Set aside until needed
- In a large bowl combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Whisk to combine and break down lumps. Make a well in the centre
- Pour in most of the buttermilk
- Using one hand stir the flour into the liquid from the outside of the bowl, turning the bowl as you do. Continue until the mixture comes together in a soft dough that is not too wet or sticky (you may need the remainder of the buttermilk here)
- Turn the dough out into a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a few seconds. Don’t overknead here- you just want to do it enough so that it holds it shape. Don’t do it to the extent that you would with standard bread dough!
- Using your hands, lightly floured, pat the dough into a round shape about 2 inches thick. Transfer to the floured baking sheet
- With a knife (I use a bench scraper) score a cross into the top of the loaf, so that it goes almost all the way through the thickness and over the sides of the loaf
- Bake in the preheated oven for 15mins then reduce the heat to 400°F and continue baking for an additional 20mins until cooked. The baked loaf will be deep golden in color and sound hollow when the bottom of it is tapped
- Remove and cool on a wire rack
- This type of loaf will cool with a hard, crispy crust. If a softer crust is desired wrap a clean kitchen towel around the hot loaf and allow it to cool
*If you don’t have buttermilk to hand you can make your own by combining 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon squeezed lemon juice or distilled white vinegar in a jug. Stir to combine and leave to sit for 15 mins. After 15 mins the liquid will have thickened slightly and small curds can be seen. Use in the recipe as required. Any remaining milk can be stored in the fridge.
Blueberry, rosemary & juniper berry conserve
- 4 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoons dried juniper berries, lightly crushed
- 2 tablespoons water
- Sprig of fresh rosemary (6 inch length apx)
- In large pot combine the blueberries, juniper berries, sugar, lemon juice and water
- Stir over a medium heat until the mixture becomes loose and the berries start releasing liquid
- When the berries have soften and you see more liquid add in the spring of rosemary, ensuring it is submerged in the liquid
- Continue over a medium, stirring occasionally, for 30mins until the fruit has broken down and slightly thickened
- Remove from heat, transfer the mixture to a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature and infuse
- When cool place in a sterilised jar. Serve with traditional soda bread
Báirín Breac (Irish Barmbrack)
As a kid I hated dried fruit. Hated it with that primal fervour only a child can manifest when presented with something they don’t like. Not only was barmbrack out- also Christmas cake, fruit cookies and anything else harbouring any sign of a shrivelled morsel. Interesting then that as an adult I can have a hankering out of the blue for something with dried fruit. Perhaps making up for lost time? Whilst more traditional to see it at Halloween, barmbrack for me is synonymous with my roots in Motherland Hibernia. Here I’ve made some additions and substitutions- mead in addition to the traditional tea steeping fluid to give a little extra indulgence; Red Fife flour to add an extra layer of nuttiness to the loaf; and cranberries as, even after all these years, candied peel still abhors me.
Makes 1 loaf
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup sultanas
- 1 cup cranberries
- 1 1/2 cup black tea, freshly made
- 1/4 cup mead
- 3/4 cup dark muscovado sugar
- 1 cup All Purpose flour
- 2/3 cup Red Fife flour (or substitute wholewheat)
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- Put the raisins, sultanas and cranberries in a large heatproof bowl, pour over the tea and mead. Stir to combine ensuring all the fruit is wet. Leave to soak overnight, or minimum 6 hours, stirring occasionally
- Heat the oven to 350°F and grease 4.5″ x 8.5″ loaf tin pan and line with baking parchment
- In a second bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, spices and salt, making sure you break up any lumps in the sugar, then stir in the fruit mixture (including liquid), beaten egg and vanilla extract. Mix well to combine
- Tip the loaf mix into the tin, smooth the top and bake for 80 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. (If the top looks to be going too dark or burning on top towards the end, cover loosely with foil)
- Take out of the oven, leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out on to a baking rack
- Whilst the loaf is cooling make the sugar syrup.
- In a small saucepan combine the sugar and water. Heat the sugar and water over a high heat until the sugar has been dissolved. Bring to a boil and continue stirring over a high heat for 1 minute
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before applying to the loaf
- When the loaf has been turned out on to the rack, liberally brush the top and sides with the cooled syrup
- Allow to cool fully to room temperature before slicing and serving
- Serve slathered in fresh butter and with a hot cup of tea for the quintessential Irish experience.
- Store the baked loaf wrapped in wax paper, or baking parchment, in an airtight container. The taste and texture of the remaining loaf will improve over time becoming more “fudge” like.
Irish Cream Nanaimo Bars
While the previous recipes had their roots firmly planted in childhood memories and influences, this is a blatant (and heady) nod to the influences of my current home. Numerous Canadian baked goods have won me over – butter tarts; beaver tails; Pouding Chomeur but the Nanaimo bar truly hits my sweet Achilles heel. And how do you make something that perfect better? Why by adding booze of course! More specifically Irish Cream. Take your pick of the ones available out there but my preference is for the stalwart that is Baileys. Not that I’ve made trays of liqueur riddled sweet bars in order to research. Of course not!
- 1/2 cup of salted butter, melted
- 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa
- 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 1/4 cups of graham cracker crumbs
- 1/2 cup of sweetened shredded coconut
- 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate, chopped finely
- 1/2 cup walnut pieces, chopped and toasted
- 2 cups of icing sugar
- 1/2 cup of butter, softened
- 2 -3 tablespoons of Irish Cream liqueur, I use Baileys
- 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 3/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
- 2 separate tablespoons of butter
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9x9inch baking pan with parchment paper
- For the bottom layer, in a medium bowl, combined the sugar and melted butter. Stir until the sugar is nearly dissolved. Add in the graham crumbs, shredded coconut, cocoa, chopped chocolate and walnut pieces. Combine well. Add in the beaten egg and again mix well to combine
- Press the mixture into the lined baking pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, remove and set aside to cool (I usually cool mine in the fridge as i make the middle layer)
- Whilst the bottom layer is cooling prepare the middle layer
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (paddle attachment fitted) combine the icing sugar, softened butter, cornstarch and liqueur. Beat on slow until all ingredients are combined and then increase the speed to high for a few minutes until the mixture is whipped and fluffy. Spread the whipped mixture evenly over the cooled bottom layer. Place in the fridge to cool while you make the top layer
- Combine the semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon of butter in one heatproof bowl and the white chocolate chips and the other tablespoon of butter in another heatproof bowl. Melt both bowls of chocolate, one at a time, set over a pan of hot water. Spoon dollops of each melted chocolate over the cooled middle layer and using a knife spatula or spoon swirl together to evenly coat the top of the mixture
- Place in the fridge and chill for minimum 2 hours before slicing (4x 6) and serving.
- Keep the bars refrigerated for up to 3 days in a closed container, or frozen for up to 3 months