overhead

Finding a white egg in Ireland can be a bit of an adventure. If you live here, this is common knowledge. If you don’t, it could come as a {happy} surprise. Brown eggs are part and parcel to Irish life (and, to most other European countries as well). If you really must have white eggs, your best bet is to look for duck eggs at a farmer’s market, gourmet food grocer, or perhaps visit a local farm.

While we prefer brown hen eggs with their vivid yolks, each spring I go round-robin and gather a couple dozen white duck eggs so that we can carry on the American tradition of dyeing hard-boiled eggs for Easter. I also like to use a few of these ivory beauties to bake up a bevy of special sponge sandwich cakes layered with fresh cream and jam to share with family and friends.

eggs

Irish duck eggs are extra large with yolks that are deeper in colour and richer in flavour than hen eggs. But more importantly, they make for an extremely thick and scrumptious Victoria sandwich; a sponge cake originally dreamed up for the queen’s tea in the UK and later became a baker’s staple in Ireland as well.

Discovering the Victoria sponge is easily one of my favourite food encounters since moving to Ireland. Yes, quick and easy to make, but the best bit? You are meant to eat it with your fingers!

hen

I’ll never forget meeting with Irish Country Living editor, Mairead Lavery, for the first time. She had invited me to her home for a chat. It was a sunny spring day.  I sat in her kitchen with a cup of tea watching in awe as she talked about farming and food and family while effortlessly whipping up a sponge. She baked it, jammed it, sliced, and then finally served each of us a generous warm wedge waxing on nostalgically about a dinner party she had recently hosted. When I looked for a fork, she informed me in her lovely Irish lilt “not all all, you pick it up with your hands and eat it like a sandwich” From that day forward, I have had a love affair with the Victoria sandwich.

rhubarbspongespoon

This year, I scored some beautiful rhubarb at the market, {thankfully, as I cannot seem to grow more than a stem or two in our own garden!} and somewhat outrageously decided to make up a batch of gorgeous velvety rhubarb-vanilla jam specifically for slathering in between spongey sandwich cake layers. What can I say? With the unrelenting cool weather, I was craving a ‘consummate spring cake’. And, If it wasn’t for me, everyone at the farm would not have been spoiled silly with messy thick duck egg sponge sandwich slices slathered in fluffy fresh cream and rhubarb jam for days….{right?}

springcollage

You may have noticed a few small adjustments here on the blog. Keeping in the spirit of spring, I’ve incorporated a new header and layout, along with a few new buttons, bells and whistles. All designed by the marvelous Graham Thew who mostly works on much more important jobs, such as designing an arsenal of cookbooks for Gill and MacMillan. I am thrilled to bits with the new look, it just feels fresh and ready for fun. Let me know what you think!

Duck Egg Sponge with Fresh Cream and Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam

6oz/170g caster (superfine) sugar
6oz/170g soft butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 large duck eggs at room temperature
6oz/170g self-raising flour
1-2 tbsp of milk
5-6 tbsp rhubarb-vanilla jam (see below)
¼ pint/140ml double cream, lightly whipped
caster (superfine) sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/gas4
Grease and line two 8in/20cm sandwich (or springform cake) tins
Beat the sugar, butter and vanilla essence until very pale, light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time.
Very gently fold in the flour by hand. Add enough milk to make a dropping consistency.
Divide between the prepared tins, spreading out the mix gently.
Bake for about 25 minutes until well-risen and golden brown.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out on to a rack to cool.
Spread the underside of one cake generously with jam and top with whipped cream. Lay the second sponge on top, topside up. Dust with sugar, slice into wedges or fingers and serve.

Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam
Makes 2 x 340g jars

500g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 2.5cm chunks
300g jam sugar (sugar with pectin)
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

Warm the rhubarb, jam sugar and vanilla pod over a medium-low heat and cook, stirring gently and being careful not to break up the rhubarb, until all of the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat and cook at a rolling boil for five to 8-10 minutes, until the setting point is reached.
Remove from the heat, use a fork to fish out the vanilla pod (you can snip this into four pieces and put one in each jar if you like), and leave to stand for five minutes before potting up in warm, sterilised jars and sealing. The jam will keep in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Slan Abhaile,
Imen

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2013

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The days of summer are coming to a close, but I am still clinging on…here’s to a few more ice cream dreams.

I first sampled brown bread ice cream at Murphy’s Ice Cream Cafe in Dingle, Co. Kerry. It was 2005 and I was pregnant. As far as I was concerned, it was the next best thing to apple pie. 2 years later, I had it again and truth be told, it’s delicious, bold flavour stood the test of time (and pregnancy taste buds too)

Making ice cream in Ireland goes back to the early 20th Century, when Irish farming families such as ours discovered that by mixing eggs with sugar and cream and popping it into their newly discovered “deep freeze” overnight, you could create a delightful dessert that used ingredients that were always at hand. Over the past few years, R and I have pondered the idea of producing artisan ice cream on the farm as we are both are lovers of this frozen dairy delight, but, alas, there are only so many hours in the day and so many projects we can take on (still, we never say never!)

I discovered this recipe for Brown Bread & Irish Whiskey Ice Cream in Clare Connery’s lovely book, Irish Food & Folklore. I love that the brown bread is carmelised and crunchy which gives it a nice texture (and, of course, the whiskey gives it a kick). After doing further research, I found that there are other popular variations including the classic Brown Bread & Guinness (Murphy’s Ice Cream does an amazing one) and Brown Bread & Bailey’s Irish Cream, both of which are absolutely heavenly.

This very creamy home-made ice cream is remarkably easy to make and tastes better than any scoop of Häagen-Dazs I’ve ever had so go on, give it a try. If you’d like, you can swap out the whiskey for Guinness or Bailey’s for something a little different.

Brown Bread & Irish Whiskey Ice Cream

Preheat over to 240 C/475 F

Prep time: 30 mins. Cooking time: 10 mins. for crumbs

175 g/6 oz day old brown bread crumbs (use wholemeal or whole wheat in USA, not soda or wheaten)

125 g/4 oz demerra (brown) sugar

3 eggs

65 g/2.5 oz caster sugar (fine sugar)

75 ml/3 fl oz Irish Whiskey

450 ml/3/4 pint double cream

Fresh mint leaves to decorate

Combine bread crumbs and demerra sugar in a mixing bowl. Spread over a large roasting tray and bake in preheated oven until the sugar has carmelised, usually 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

Whisk the eggs and caster sugar together until very thick ( you can use an electric mixer) and pale cream in colour. Fold the carmelised bread crumbs into the eggs followed by the whiskey and double cream, whisking until it holds it’s shape. Pour into a rigid container (stainless steel works well) and freeze overnight.

Cook’s notes: Irish wheaten or soda bread is not suitable for this ice cream as it makes it rather heavy and unappetising. However, any type of brown wholemeal or granary bread is excellent. Freezing is done in the deep freeze and no stirring or churning is required. An ice cream maker is not needed.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Slan Abhaile

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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Paddy Cake Paddy Cake

16 Feb 2010

Today is “Pancake Tuesday” in Ireland.  And while I love pancakes, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that this day always conjures up hilarious thoughts and images of pancake feeds and chicken booyah in church basements across small town America. This is just the way my mind works. I must always have one identifying American memory matched up to one Irish living reality. Forgive me…it helps with homesickness.

Pancake Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday is a not a national bank holiday, but it is widely recognized throughout the State. And it has an extremely large following in farmhouses across the country.  Ok, maybe just our farmhouse.  But seriously, everyone seems to jump on the bandwagon. The tradition is that pancakes and doughnuts were associated with the day preceding Lent because they were a way to use up rich foodstuffs such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical fasting emphasized eating plainer food and refraining from food that would give pleasure. In many cultures, this means no meat, dairy, or eggs. So, as you know, anything to do with Christianity here must be absolutely obeyed. (or you could very possibly go here) And even though I’m not really a religious person, give me an excuse to eat pancakes or doughnuts all day and I promise I will take you up on it, no questions asked.

Irish pancakes are a little different than the gigantic fluffy buttermilk variety in the USA. You can actually eat more than one because they are dainty. More like crepes which can be filled with loads of yummy surprises: lightly sweetened with a drizzle of lemon and a pinch of sugar; richly slathered with chocolate or toffee sauce and fresh cream; spread with raspberry or strawberry preserves and sprinkled with icing sugar; generously lined with smooth Nutella butter, savoury and filled with soft cheese and boiled ham; potato-y with a bit of sour cream and stewed apple….the list goes on and on and they are all oh..so… divine.

Here is a gorgeous recipe for Irish Pancakes from Donal Skehan’s The Good Mood Food blog:

Makes 12-14 pancakes

110g of plain flour.
A pinch of salt.
2 large eggs.
200ml of milk.
75ml of water.
2 tablespoons of melted butter.

Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and with a spoon make a well in the center.  Break the eggs into the well and using a whisk slowly incorporate them with the flour.  Don’t worry too much about lumps as they should disappear when you add the rest of the liquid.  Gradually add the milk and water until you have a light batter.  Heat a little butter in your frying pan over a hot heat, and add 2 tablespoons of melted butter to the batter, stir through to combine.  Add a ladle full of the batter to the hot pan and move from side to side until it evenly covers the surface of the pan.  Reduce the heat and cook for about a minute each side or until the batter begins to take a nice golden colour.  Feel free to try your hand at flipping half way through!

Serve straight away with your filling of choice, or try the classic filling of lemon juice and sugar.  You can cook all the batter off and save the pancakes for later.  Simply layer the crepes on top each other, cover with some cling film and store in the fridge.  They should heat up well in a microwave.

Make some for dinner tonite!

Happy Pancake Tuesday,

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

photo courtesy of Donal Skehan of The Good Mood Food blog

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