You don’t have to be Irish to love Irish soda bread. A typical definition of an Irish soda bread states that it is a free-form bread made with baking soda and buttermilk. Raisins or currants and even caraway seeds are commonly added as well. To me, soda bread looks like a giant scone, and it tastes like a barely, sweetened whole grain biscuit. I, especially, love a good whole grain soda bread full of dried currants. I have even seen some recipes with oats in them as well.
From what I have read on the subject of Irish soda breads, baking soda was more easily available than yeast. This is why a soda bread dough can be whipped up in short order, baked and served hot from the oven in no time at all! Soda breads are quick breads. Baking soda helps to leaven the loaf as long as there is an acidic ingredient in the dough. That acidic ingredient is buttermilk. Baking soda and buttermilk, together, create a neutralization reaction whose by-products include, carbon dioxide gas bubbles, salt and water. The gas bubbles get stuck in the dough. Once in the oven, these trapped gas bubbles are under pressure. They expand, pushing up and down against the dough, causing it to rise.
There are so many recipes for soda breads out there, and so many variations as well. Some recipes use just all purpose flour, while others use all whole wheat flour. I like to use a combo of flours, usually half all purpose and half whole wheat, which gives the bread some heft and a richer, nutty texture.
Here is a gorgeous recipe for you to try. I have modified the ingredients somewhat to create a bread that I especially like, but it is based on Mrs. O’Callaghan’s recipe from the Ballinalacken Castle Country House & Restaurant. I have even included a photo of the one I just made so that you can see what this version of soda bread looks like.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cover a large sheet pan with parchment paper and set it aside. In a large bowl, whisk together 3 cups all purpose flour, 3 cups white whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar(light or dark), and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Using a pastry blender or your fingers cut in 4 tablespoons, cold, unsalted butter that has been cut into small cubes, until the butter is the size of peas. Mix 1 cup dried currants into the mixture. Add 2 1/2 cups buttermilk, and blend until you can gather the dough into a ball. If the dough is still too dry add another couple of tablespoons of buttermilk.
Gather the dough into a large, rough, round shape and place it in the center of the parchment covered sheet pan. Using a large knife or straight razor, cut a large “X”, 1/2 inch deep, across the entire top of the dough.
Bake the dough for about 40 minutes or until the bread is a lovely dark brown color. Allow to cool until barely warm and cut the soda bread into slices. Serve slathered with Irish butter or any butter for that matter! Enjoy!
Valentine’s Day will be here before you know it. I, personally, get really excited about February 14th every year. There are two reasons for this: first, Valentine’s Day is my birthday, and second, I LOVE chocolate!
When I was a little girl I actually thought the world celebrated my birthday. Remember, I was a kid, and all I saw was that everywhere I looked businesses were pushing that special day. Why, even every school brought out all of their finest pink and red cards, posters, hearts and valentines and best of all- CHOCOLATE!! All sorts of chocolate. Hearts and candies in milk, bittersweet, semisweet and white chocolate was EVERYWHERE!
In school, we all had to create valentines for every child in the class. No one was ever left out. I thought this was a beautiful celebration of everyone loving each other, getting along and eating yummy candy together. What could be bad? Love and candy will always go together as far as I am concerned, even if the holiday was concocted by Hallmark, candy makers, and other savvy businesses.
For Valentine’s Day, I love to show those that I love how I feel about them. That means I make truffles. Rich, creamy, dark or white chocolate truffles. The best part is they are the easiest candy to make, and you can even make them ahead and freeze them before the big day. Truffles are just ganache with a little something extra added.
Here is a very easy recipe for truffles that you can make no matter what your skill level is as a baker or candy maker. Are you ready? Here goes.
In a medium saucepan, bring 1/2 cup heavy cream and 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter to a simmer on the stove. Once you see that the mixture is almost at a boil, remove the pan from the heat. Then gently whisk 2 cups of finely chopped, any type you want, chocolate into the hot cream. Be sure that the chocolate has mostly cocoa butter in it, and not vegetable shortening. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and everything is creamy and smooth.
At this point, you can add some flavorings if you want. Perhaps a tablespoon of cognac or liqueur of your choice, or even a teaspoon of pure vanilla or almond extract.
Now pour the mixture into a small bowl and place it in the freezer until it thickens and can really hold its shape. Line a sheet pan with foil and dust it with unsweetened cocoa powder. Take a small ice cream scoop and place small scoops of the truffle mixture onto the cocoa powder. Do not try to roll them into balls yet. They will be too soft at this stage. Place the sheet pan into the freezer until the truffles firm up enough so that you can roll them between your hands to create balls. Roll the balls in the cocoa powder keeping them coated so they do not stick. Place them back onto the sheet pan. Freeze them until they are hard. This will take several hours or overnight.
Once you have your truffles hardened, you can just give them another roll in the cocoa, box them up and give them as a gift, OR you can dip them into melted chocolate and let them harden in the refrigerator. To melt chocolate for dipping, heat a saucepan with about 1 inch of water to a boil, and fit a heat proof bowl into it, such that the bowl does not touch the water in the pan. Add about 2 cups of finely chopped chocolate to the small bowl and allow the chocolate to melt.
Once the chocolate has melted, using a fork, dip each frozen truffle into the chocolate until it is well coated and give the fork a light tap to allow any excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Set the truffle onto a clean, foil covered sheet pan. You can leave the truffles to harden as they are, or you can sprinkle them with chopped nuts or coconut or even drizzle them with a contrasting melted chocolate. My favorite combo is a dark chocolate truffle drizzled with melted white chocolate. Placed strategically in a pretty box they are not only delicious, but pretty stunning to look at too!
I suggest you keep all of your truffles in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to 2 weeks.
So make some truffles for your sweetheart! No one knows what might happen when you give someone homemade truffles on Valentine’s Day. At least you will be making someone VERY happy.
Happy Baking, Happy Truffle Making and Happy Valentine’s Day!!!
The big debate nowadays is whether to put pineapple on a pizza or not. No offense to those Hawaiian pizzas with spam and pineapple, but I say NO to that. There is one exception, however! I will explain in a moment.
I love my Margarita pizza with pizza sauce, lots of mozzarella and basil, so I guess I am a traditional pizza lover. However, if we change the subject to dessert pizzas then that is a different story.
Picture pineapple on this glorious concoction:
A baked pizza crust fresh from the oven. Top it with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, drizzled (heavily) with chocolate sauce and then topped with all sorts of chopped fresh fruits such as: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and YES to fresh pineapple!!!
This dessert pizza is easy and simply DEVINE!!!
Try it sometime and get back to me about this pineapple “thing”.
Every year I like to surprise family and friends with something special for Valentine’s Day. Since my birthday, which is Valentine’s Day, actually falls on Tuesday this year and I teach on Tuesdays, I thought I would make a special treat for my class.
This recipe is so simple anyone can make it. The recipe is for a Chocolate Dipped Marbleized Pink Meringue Kiss. Not only is it easy, it is also gluten free!
Here’s how to make it:
Beat 4 egg whites in an electric mixer on medium speed until very foamy. Add 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (which will stabilize the meringue) and keep beating on medium speed.
Gradually add 1 cup granulated sugar about 1 tablespoon at a time. Once all of the sugar is added, stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Now go full throttle and beat the meringue at high speed for about 8 minutes. The meringue should look very stiff; almost like marshmallow fluff.
Remove the mixing bowl from the motor. Add a few drops of red food coloring and fold in the color, with a rubber spatula, until it is almost completely blended in. Now drop in several more drops of red food coloring, but this time, barely mix the color in, just until there are streaks and the mixture looks like pink marble.
Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.
Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Fill a pastry bag that has been fitted with a large plain tip half full of meringue, and pipe out “kiss-like” shapes allowing the top of the meringue to form a point before you release pressure on the pastry bag. Re-fill the bag ,using up the remaining meringue, and keep forming several more “kisses”.
Bake the “kisses” for 2 hours rotating the pans after 1 hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. They should be firm, but not have any color to them. Note to self: the 2 hours the “kisses” dry out in the oven goes fast and it is unsupervised time. You can go about your business while they are doing their thing.
Now we dip:
Melt some dark chocolate and dip the bottoms of each “kiss” into the chocolate and place it back onto the same sheet pan. Chill the “kisses” in the fridge until the chocolate has hardened. If you use compound chocolate, which has no cocoa butter in it, you can keep the “kisses” at room temperature to harden. Either way, the chocolate hardens VERY quickly. That is why this such a GREAT last minute gift idea! You may even find yourself sneaking a few kisses before you even give them to anyone.
Place your “kisses ” in a clear bag and tie with a red ribbon. Give to the sweetie of your choice and watch how many kisses you get in return!!! Ooo LALA!!!
My mother just turned 85 years old yesterday, and my family and I are having a small celebration tomorrow night to honor this milestone. Although, my mom almost did not live to see this wonderful age. She almost died when I was a young teenager.
After a life saving surgery for a bleeding ulcer, and a tremendous weight loss due to complications after the surgery, the doctors desperately wanted her to gain weight.
Even as a teenager I was always making something in the kitchen, and I knew my mom loved custards. All types– flan, crème caramel, crème brulee, and pastry creams. Looking at a dessert menu at a restaurant the family ALWAYS knew what she would order for dessert. If there was a custard, they had better save one for her.
Knowing this, I thought if I made her some custard it may help her appetite and help her to eat. After checking with the nursing staff they thought it was a wonderful idea.
A few days later, I brought my best vanilla custard to the hospital. It was rich and smooth, full of egg and milk proteins to help mom to bulk up. It turned out she loved it so much she sometimes craved it in the middle of the night. The nurses had a solution for this. The custard was put in an airtight container outside on the window ledge of her hospital room for easy access. It was winter time so there was no chance that the custard would spoil.
Now almost every year I make some sort of custard to honor mom’s birthday, and she loves every bit of it.
For mom’s 85th we will have flan- a coconut coffee flan! Flan is super easy to make. So that you can celebrate along with us here is a quick recipe for you to enjoy:
Coconut Coffee Flan
Melt down some granulated sugar, about 1/2 cup to make a caramel. Add about 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice to the sugar to prevent it from crystalizing. Stir it with a fork. Allow it to melt undisturbed in a small saucepan until it is the color of a lightly brewed tea. Remove it from the heat and slowly whisk in about 3 tablespoons brewed coffee. Do this over the heat so that the clumps of caramel melt.
Now quickly pour some of the coffee caramel into each of 6 ramekins. The ramekins should each have a 3/4 cup capacity. Tilt the ramekins so that the caramel covers the bottoms and slightly up the sides of each. Place the ramekins into a rectangular oven safe pan with a kitchen towel under them.
Heat about 1 1/4 cups of milk and one can of coconut milk to the simmer. In another bowl whisk 3 whole eggs and 2 yolks with 2/3 cup granulated sugar. Slowly whisk the milk into the eggs. Add about 1 teaspoon coconut extract and blend well. Divide the custard evenly between each ramekin. Pour some hot water into the pan being careful not to get any into the custard until the water comes halfway up the sides of the pan.
Bake the flan for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cut around each flan with a knife and allow to cool and chill over night.
Invert each flan onto a dessert plate allowing the coffee caramel sauce to spread all around it. Top with some shipped cream and serve at once!