Tag Archives: Ireland

Through Green Colored Glasses

13 Mar

When we were little bickering children, my older sister (an artist now, imagine that) claimed all the colors for herself.  Red, purple, pink, blue… the whole rainbow was off limits to me.  Except green.  Bullying, six-year-old Ava, in her infinite generosity, gave me green, and that was that. From then on, green was my favorite color.  And I believed her.  At my fifth birthday party, the balloons, paper plates, and party hats were bright green; my bedspread suddenly matched the recycling bin; and our mother dressed us in matching jumpers—Ava would be donning a bright magenta ensemble while I was always conspicuously the color of phlegm.

So it’s no wonder I felt the attraction to Ireland immediately.  The green landscape that became my backdrop for a year felt oddly like home.  It’s as if, from the moment Ava told me I loved green, Ireland became my homeland.  I’m a descendant of Russian and Hungarian Jews, so of course this isn’t really true… and I guess under this same rationale, my peculiar affinity for pickles around the same age could have placed me just as comfortably in Hungary or Germany.  But that’s beside the point, and for the purpose of this story, Ava led to green, which led to Ireland.

You’ll see it all over this blog… from Whiskey cakes to Guinness cookies to Bailey’s cupcakes—I just love all things Irish (particularly the booze and baked goods).  So, of course, I had to bake something to commemorate this St. Patrick’s Day (which I have never really celebrated, spending my past Patty’s Days in Greece, cramming for finals, or working long waitressing shifts).  I am aware of the obvious absurdity of the “holiday,” though, and can’t help but detest the way drunken American kids take this day as an excuse to swig massive amounts of bright green beers while wearing leprechaun hats and Mardi Gras beads.  So instead of making some kitschy green-frosted cupcake, I stuck with a classic—Irish soda bread.  Traditional, simple, and delicious.

Irish Soda Bread


Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir the dry ingredients together with a whisk.  Make a well in the center and add 1 cup of the buttermilk, reserving 1/2 cup.  Stir the dry ingredients and buttermilk with a fork, gradually adding more of the remaining liquid, until a dough is formed.  The dough should be soft and sticky, but not smooth.

Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface for 1 minute.  Form into a slightly flattened circle.  And make a large 1/2-inch deep X with a sharp knife in the center.  Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake soda bread for 40-45 minutes. The bread is ready when it is golden and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Allow it to cool slightly, and then enjoy with a pat of Irish butter and perhaps a pint of Guinness.

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Someone Left the Cake out in the Rain

10 Feb

Dublin weather is relentless.   My American friends and family constantly questioned how I, a southern California girl, born and raised in seventy degree sunshine, could handle a year of Irish rain.  ‘Didn’t you freeze?’ I constantly heard.  ‘Wasn’t it miserable?’

The fact is, yes, it’s pretty wretched.  Damp socks and limp hair were an expected part of daily life.  And not only was it always raining, but the rain seemed to be accompanied by perpetual gusts of wind, blowing the torrents down at awkward angles, which made it impossible to shield oneself with an umbrella.  They worked mere seconds before being blown inside out, catching puddles of water rather than deflecting them.  So instead, we Dubliners braved the downpours, protected by nothing more than our Guinness-induced stupors.

The thing is, the rain became a bonding experience. ‘That damned Irish gloom’ created instant camaraderie.  Ducking into the nearest pub when your clothes began to soak through, the annoyance would immediately abate, as the gregarious, pint-drinking Dubliners would bond over the foul weather.  How could anyone stay cranky in a cozy pub, drying off with a fresh pint of Guinness in one hand and a warm ham and cheese toastie in the other?

It was one of those gray days.  I stayed inside, baking a masterpiece of a birthday cake for the friend’s party I would be attending that evening. This cake was indulgence at its finest: three, yes, three, tiers of chocolate Guinness cake, choc-full of butter, eggs, and stout, sandwiched between layers of dark chocolate ganache, which encased the whole thing.  It must have been a foot and a half tall, weighing at least thirty pounds.  It was enough to feed a small army, and, due to my imprecision, uncannily resembled the leaning tower of Pisa.  I finished the tilted masterpiece just in time for the party, a twenty-five or so minute walk from my flat.  Realizing I didn’t own a platter large enough to transport this monster of a cake, I let my creative juices flow.  Propped in the corner of my tiny living room was a box my mother had used to ship extra clothes to me for Dublin’s winter.  I grabbed the box, cut it apart, and fashioned a tray out of the cardboard and duct tape.  Precariously constructed, it wasn’t glamorous but it would do.

I grabbed my coat and an umbrella, just in case, and embarked on the usually brief walk up the Liffey to Smithfield.  I say usually brief because, let me tell you, minutes seem like hours when you’re carrying a thirty pound confection of  questionable structural integrity on a tray of even less structural integrity.

And of course, it began to rain.  Just my luck.  There I am, a wisp of a thing carrying a cake half my size through the Dublin streets… and it starts raining.  What am I supposed to do?  I couldn’t take the usual approach of seeking refuge in a pub until the rain abated— not only would I be late for the party, but there was no way a room full of drunken Irishmen would leave me or my cake unconsumed.

So, I opened my umbrella and trudged on.  The rain came in sheets, and so came the wind.  One arm gripping my umbrella, trying desperately to keep it right-side-in, and the other holding onto the cake for dear life, I marched on.

Boy, did heads turn.  One could only imagine what I was doing hauling an uncovered, three-tiered, chocolate cake through the streets of Dublin. My hair was soaked, my clothes were drenched, but the cake, damnit, the cake would be kept dry.

And so it was.  I finally made it to Jonathan’s flat up the Liffey.  Soaking wet and obviously perturbed, I shoved the miraculously dry cake into his arms, the weight of it taking him by surprise, and pushed past him into the shelter of the apartment.

But, in keeping with the inescapable Dublin cheer, it wasn’t long before my anger was soothed by a full glass of wine, the company of friends, and a large slice of this sinfully delicious and decadent Guinness chocolate cake.

Chocolate Guinness Cake
From Bon Appétit


Ingredients:
For Cake:

  • 2 cups stout (I used Guinness, obviously, and would wince at the suggestion of using anything else)
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups sour cream

For icing:

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preparation:

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and parchment line three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides.  Bring 2 cups stout and 2 cups butter to a simmer in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat.  At this point, the aroma may cause you to feel the urge to crack open a Guinness for yourself.  Follow this instinct.  Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth.  Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl to blend.  Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using a rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer cakes to rack and allow to cool completely.

For icing:
Bring cream to a simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours. This is also when that extra Guinness may come in handy (purely for indulgent and time-passing purposes).

Assembly:
Place 1 cake layer on plate. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake. When you realize it looks like a lopsided mound of chocolate, garnish it with whatever colorful fruit you have on hand, and console yourself with the knowledge that once your guests take a bite, they won’t care what the damn thing looks like.