Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day

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!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail



Teaching Puff Pastry at Different Drummer’s Kitchen

The class I taught at Different Drummer’s Kitchen was FANTASTIC!!! Everyone had a wonderful time getting right into the dough, and by the time the class was over, we as a group, were a puff pastry baking machine!

The class began at 1:00 and went to 3;30. It was perfect timing. I broke the class down into 4 groups, and each group got to form a dough with my guidance. Then the folding began. Since puff pastry is steamed leavened, there needs to be hundreds of layers of fat and dough. This includes making 4 letter folds before we could begin shaping our pastries for the oven.

I gave everyone my special tips for success on how to make the finest, and flakiest, puff pastry EVER!!  The class made a savory, Parmesan and pesto pastry, and then a sweet, pecan praline, caramel, glazed sticky bun pastry. You could smell these treats a mile away! Warm from the oven, both baked goods were spectacular.

If you could not make it to the class last Saturday, you can still see how to makes these incredible pastries on video on my web site: . They are, also, in my newest book,”Baking with Success” .

I will let you know when I will be teaching another class, and I will hope to see you there!

Until then,

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Celebrating My Husband’s Birthday with Molten Chocolate Cake

My husband’s birthday was yesterday, and I wanted to have a special meal to celebrate. Of course, it was a crazy week so I was looking for a simple, yet stunning dessert that I know he would love. So I made my Molten Chocolate Cakes. The batter is SO easy to make that you can make it several days ahead,divide it into the ramekins and store it in the fridge until you are ready to bake them off.

During dinner, I took them out to get to room temperature before baking. They take only 16-18 minutes in the oven. That’s it! Then I carefully cut around each one, and invert them onto dessert plates. I love to serve them with ice cream and a few fresh berries.

Making these individual cakes took me back to the days when I was working in a restaurant, and molten chocolate cakes were all the rage and quite trendy and popular!  There are really two different ways to get the molten part. Did you know that?

One way is to make small balls of frozen ganache, and once you have filled the ramekins with the batter, you gently stick a ganache ball down into the center of the batter. You bake the cakes and as a guest cuts into the cake, the ganache oozes out all warm, and gooey.

The other way to make this oozy, chocolately fudge center is much easier and less work, because you don’t need to make any ganache. This second way is just to under bake the cake. It can be risky, since you must estimate the baking time and when it has baked just enough that only the center of the cake is still under baked.

My molten cakes came out GREAT!! And most importantly, my husband knows how much I love him.

Please make these easy cakes. So simple and so good! The recipe can be found in my new book, Baking with Success.

Happy baking!

Chef Gail



Show Some Chocolate Truffle Love on Valentine’s Day

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!!!

Chef Gail



Join Me for a Hands-On Class at Different Drummer’s Kitchen

i am most excited to invite you to join me for a hands-on class that I will be teaching on Saturday, February 17th at Different Drummer’s Kitchen from 1:00-3:30! I will show you how to make my easy and FAST Puff Pastry and two easy recipes to make with it.

I stated that the class is hands-on which means that YOU and any friends you bring with you will be creating Pesto and Parmesan Pastry Crisps and Pecan Praline Sticky Buns with your OWN two hands!!

The Pesto and Parmesan Pastry Crisps are so crispy and flaky! They are amazing for an appetizer with some wine or while watching a game on TV. They go with any beverage and can be used as a salad or soup topper or just as a snack.

Making them is truly a ” bring the family together” activity. I have made these with kids AND adults alike and they are a blast to assemble. Baking them is quick an before you know it you are munching on them hot and crunchy from the oven!

The Pecan Praline Sticky Buns are just as easy to make, and so gooey and “caramelly”. Great for breakfast or brunch paired with a nice cup of coffee, cocoa, tea or milk.

Please join me and sign up for the most fun you can have in 2 1/2 hours. The course costs $65 and includes everything you will need. It will held at : Different Drummer’s Kitchen, 1475 Western Avenue in Albany, NY.

You will need a reservation to get into the class, so call 518-459-7990. I would love to work with you and see you there. I will, also, be selling and signing my new book, “Baking with Success”.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail




Nothing Says Happy Winter Birthday Like Potpie

My mother’s 86th birthday is coming up at the end of January and I always have her and my dad for dinner on their birthdays. Of course, they are invited for dinner at several other times during the year as well, but birthdays are extra-special. For this birthday, I want to make one of the dishes that they always seem to love: Individual Chicken Potpies!!

Now, if truth be told, Mom and Dad always seem to like what I make for them. However, when I make those individual potpies, they go a little crazy and make mmmmm noises as they eat. They are like little kids enjoying their food. I can’t blame them, because they are right. Those crazy chicken potpies are to die for! Truly.

I have made large potpies that you cut into wedges, and they are quite good, BUT a potpie that you don’t have to share with anyone else is HEAVENLY. First, you break through the flaky crust on top, and then you get into the silky, saucy chicken and veggie concoction on the bottom. You can use any combo of vegetables that you like, but my favorite combination is what is in season at the moment.

In this version of my birthday, chicken potpies, I will use poached chicken, mixed with cubed and roasted butternut squash, fennel, green beans, onions and garlic. It’s a killer combination. When everyone at the table is moaning over the food, because it is so yummy and comforting, especially during this COLDEST of Winters, you know you have a winner and a keeper of a recipe.

I build my potpies in ovenproof soup bowls or coquettes. They are pretty deep, and larger than just a ramekin, and they give everyone a really, generous portion.

Once you have made the filling, you start building the pies. First, place some filling into each of the heatproof, containers (whatever you decide to use), then brush some egg wash all along the edges of the containers. The egg will help the dough to adhere to the containers or bowls. Then roll out some circles of flaky pie dough, or even some store bought puff pastry or my Puff Pastry in a Hurry recipe. Make sure the dough circles are large enough to completely cover each container of filling, and be sure to have a large enough circle so that the dough can be pushed down over the sides a bit as well.

At this point, you will want to make some steam holes, and they can be simple or you can get creative. A simple, unadorned steam hole can be made by taking a paring knife and making about 2-3 slits across the top of the pies. To serve as a fancier steam hole, I love to carve my guest’s names or initials into the dough. I do this with a paring knife. The baked potpie looks very personalized when you serve it, and your guests will know that you created that little pie JUST FOR THEM. Now eggwash the entire top of the pie and bake until golden brown and the slits are bubbling up with the filling.

A super quick way to create a potpie is to take a stew, like beef or lentil, or any thick soup that you have made, or purchased, and add things to it. For example, you can add some store bought, roasted, shredded chicken, or roast pork, ham or turkey to the soup or stew for an easy filling. Then you can just purchase a pre-made pie crust, and you’ve got the makings of a great, “thinking ouside the box” meal.

I will let you know how those chicken potpies come out, and how the birthday girl, and the rest of the family, enjoyed them. Until then…

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail