Wednesday, March 10, 2021

An Irish Country Barmbrack (Irish Fruit Cake)

If you've read any of the "Irish Country" novels by Patrick Taylor, you know how charming they are, a rare window into a specific time and place unlike any other. You also know the two main characters are no strangers to excellent food, prepared in large part by their housekeeper, Maureen "Kinky" Kincaid. Her good self, as well as her cooking, merited a collection of her recipes, An Irish Country Cookbook. After all, if Hercule Poirot can have an obituary, why shouldn't Kinky have a cookbook?

This traditional barmbrack, or "spotted bread," is typically made at Halloween, but since we all love being Irish for a day every March, I was keen to make it this spring. Heavy on the currants and raisins, with a bit of orange zest for freshness, this fruited cake is a little holiday all on its own!

A slice of Irish barmbrack on a wild strawberry plate.

Irish Barmbrack

2 cups dried fruits (I used currants and raisins)
1 cup brewed black tea
1/4 cup whiskey (see notes below)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon spice mix, optional (such as chai spice mix or pumpkin pie spice)
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
zest of one orange

In a large mixing bowl, combine dried fruits with tea and whiskey, cover tightly and let sit overnight.

When ready to make the next day, butter a 7- or 8-inch round baking dish (at least two inches deep), and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir together flour, baking powder, salt and spice mix (if using) in a medium bowl. Add sugar, egg, and orange zest to the fruit mixture, stir to combine completely, then add the flour mixture and blend gently until fully incorporated. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top with back of the spoon, and bake for 75-80 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out mostly clean (a few tender crumbs are ok). Let the cake cool completely, then store in an airtight container for up to one week at room temperature.

Currants and raisins soaking in tea and whiskey.

Kinky says to let the barmbrack sit a day before enjoying it, as this will allow the flavors to develop. It helps to bake the cake in a dish with its own lid, to make storing easy. The traditional way to eat barmbrack is toasted and slathered with (Irish) butter; it's also very good with softened cream cheese!

Other Irish-inspired treats to enjoy on St. Patrick's Day:
Orange-Currant Shortbread Buttons
Devil's Food Cupcakes with Baileys Buttercream Frosting
Chocolate-Lager Cake with Tangerine Dream Frosting

An Irish Country Cookbook by Patrick Taylor

Adapted from An Irish Country Cookbook by Patrick Taylor. If you don't want to use whiskey, just increase the amount of tea to 1 1/4 cups, and add in a splash of pure vanilla extract. The basic template of this recipe lends itself to many variations, so be sure to use your favorite flavor tea, dried fruits, and spices. If you use larger fruits like dried apricots, dates, or figs, simply dice or snip them into small pieces before soaking.


Monday, April 20, 2020

Nice "Ketch": Easy Homemade Tomato Ketchup

I love ketchup, but I grew weary of buying it from the store—too much money, too much sugar, and another single-use plastic bottle to recycle. There had to be a better way! Thankfully, I found this recipe, and very happily tailored it for my very own! Although most ketchup recipes call for cooking on the stove for while, this no-cook version satisfies your ketchup craving in just minutes:

Easy Homemade Tomato Ketchup

Easy Homemade Tomato Ketchup
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic and herb seasoning (salt-free, such as Mrs. Dash)
1 teaspoon granulated sugar (or honey)
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or vinegar of your choice)

Mix everything together in a small bowl, and enjoy! This will keep, tightly covered, in the fridge for several weeks. I love how little sugar is used here because, honestly, I'd rather save those sugary calories for dessert :-)

As mentioned above, all credit goes to this recipe by Served From Scratch, which also encourages you to season as you like and make this ketchup your own. As you may have guessed, there are many other scratch and homemade recipes on the site—be sure to visit and explore while you're there!


Monday, February 24, 2020

Nothing But the Truth: Cherry-Almond "Bakewell Tart" Bars

I cannot tell a lie: I was only using #CherryMonth as an excuse to make these "Bakewell Tart" bars! The idea for this recipe had been on the back burner for quite some time, so when I finally had all the ingredients together, I got to work.

And boy, was it work! Mixing the dough turned into a hands-on workout, but the end result was smooth and dreamy. The cherry spread I used for the filling was a bit tart, but only because I used a juice-sweetened brand. The glaze, however, was perfect: just a drizzle to hint at that flawless white pool so iconic of those miniature Bakewell Tarts you see stores:

cherry-almond bars

Cherry-Almond "Bakewell Tart" Bars

1 cup butter, softened
7 oz. (about 10 Tablespoons) almond paste
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
10-13 oz. cherry jam, spread, or preserves
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon milk (half and half would also work)

Butter an 8x8- or 9x9-inch baking pan; set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, cream butter, salt, and almond paste together, breaking up the paste with the back of the spoon—it may be lumpy, but that's okay. Stir in one cup of the flour, then start stirring in the second cup. If the dough isn't coming together, scrape any bits off the spoon and get in there with your hands! Mix and knead everything together until there is nothing stuck to the side of the bowl, and you have a smooth dough. Reserve about a third, then flatten out and press the remaining dough evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until set and slightly golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and carefully (that pan is HOT) spread the cherry jam evenly over the base (if your jam isn't spreadable, give it a vigorous stir to loosen). Pinch off bits of the reserved dough and scatter over the jam, then return to the over and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until the edges are a deep golden brown and the filling starts to bubble around the edges. Remove and let cool completely.

In a small bowl, stir together confectioner's sugar and milk until smooth. Drizzle the glaze diagonally across the entire surface of the cooled bars. Let the glaze set, then cut into 16 pieces.

cherry-almond bar

Notes: Bakewell Tart is traditionally made with either cherry or raspberry jam, but I think blackberry, peach, or even plum jam would be great here. Almond paste can be quite expensive, so if you have some almond flour knocking around, you can try making your own! Store any leftover bars tightly covered at cool room temperature for up to three days, or in a airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.