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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Bakewell Tartelettes

16 Jan 2012

In Ireland, school kids have a longer break during the holiday season. The little farmer was home from school from the 19th of December until the 9th of January. In the States, I believe most children head back to school sometime during the first week of January. This lengthy vacation seems to be justified by having a far shorter summer break, again, opposite of the American school system. {repeat mantra: tis different, not better or worse, tis different, not better or worse….}

The weather was too poor for assisting daddy on the farm, so let’s just say we had a lot of time on our hands here in the house. And too much time on our hands in the house = baking up a storm together (it also means dressing up our Airdale, Teddy, each morning; planning month-long trips to outer space, and building no less than fifty forts and obstacle courses…but, I digress).

Another new baking discovery for me here in Ireland is the beautiful Bakewell tart. Originating in Bakewell, England (thank you for enlightening me, Angharad), it is a firm fixture in bakeries, shops and cafes around this fair country as well.  The Bakewell tart (which would be called a ‘pudding’ if you were in Bakewell itself) is essentially a jam tart filled with a little almond-y (frangipane) cake on top. The story goes back to the 1860′s when a kitchen maid accidentally poured the almond mixture into a jam tart, a winning mistake if I do say so myself!  It’s modest: not too sweet nor gooey, and goes perfect with a cup of tea or coffee in the afternoon.

The first time I enjoyed a slice of Bakewell tart was in the sweet little cafe at Brown Thomas department store. On a Sunday afternoon city-fix with the baby farmer in tow, I collapsed in for a cappuccino. Upon spying a pear almond version of the tart in the pastry case, my nutty sweet tooth could not resist. The waitress brought a slice out topped off with a dollop of whipped vanilla cream and a persimmon on the side. The rest is history.


We decided to make a chocolate version since there are more than a few chocoholics at the farm and I thought it would be a nice treat. We baked a dozen tartelettes, had a little tea party and they were gone in a flash. Here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Bakewell Tart

Serves 4-6

For Pastry

75g/5 tbsp unsalted butter

140g/1 cup plain flour

25g/2.5 tbsp caster sugar

1 egg yolk

2 tbsp water

For the Filling

3 tbsp dark, chocolate grated

150g/2/3 cup butter

150g/2/3 cup caster sugar

75g/2/3 cup self-raising flour

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla

150g/3/4 cup ground almonds

grated zest of one lemon

3 tbsp lemon juice

6 heaped tablespoons of raspberry jam

icing sugar

Preheat oven to 220c/425F/gas mark 7

Work the pastry ingredients together to form a dough, and chill inthe fridge for 30 minutes Roll out pastry and use to line a loose-bottomed (springform) flan tin that is 25cm in diameter and 5cm deep (or 10 mini tart tins). Chill again and bake blind for 10 minutes.

For the filling, place the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water then remove from the heat when melted. Cream the butter and sugar together. Fold in the flour, adding the eggs and vanilla extract, melted chocolate, ground almonds and lemon zest. Add lemon juice until the mixture is of a dropping consistency.

Spread the jam over the bottom of the pastry case, then spoon in the chocolate mixture. Bake for 15 minutes at 220c/425f/gas mark 7, then reduce the heat to 180c/350f/gas mark 4 and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the filling is cooked.

Sprinkle with icing sugar if you please.

Serve warm or cold with a big dollop of cream…and a persimmon on the side if you wish =)


I am very excited to announce that I have been asked to share recipes on Irish Abroad, a lovely online community for Irish expats, descendants and persons wishing to travel to Ireland…should be loads of fun!  I chose a classic Victoria Sponge for my first recipe, have a peek here.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos & Styling by Imen and Geoffrey McDonnell 2012

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