Irish Soda Bread

My mom’s maiden name is O’Donnell, and she’s quite proud of her Irish heritage. I, however, identify much more with the Eastern European cultural traditions I learned from my Hungarian grandma and Slovak grandpap, who lived just five doors down from my childhood home. So while I’ve got fair skin and freckles, my Irishness has always been much more in theory than it has ever been in practice.

Until today, I’d never made Irish soda bread, and I have to admit that I felt like a total amateur. This recipe comes from my friend Ciara, a woman whose knowledge of Irish culture could certainly put mine to shame. She was Miss Smiling Irish Eyes Pittsburgh a few years back, and this recipe is one she and her mom make each year. You could add raisins if you like, but I chose to leave mine plain.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour*
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs plus buttermilk, enough to equal 2 total cups of liquid**
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces and softened

*You could use regular or gluten-free flour for this recipe as well. 

**Place your eggs in a measuring cup, then pour in enough buttermilk to yield 2 total cups of liquid. I lightly beat my egg/buttermilk mixture before pouring it into the dry mixture. 

Preparation 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour a 9-inch round cake pan or cast iron skillet.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

Add egg/buttermilk mixture and stir to combine, then add butter and stir as best you can; while you’re not supposed to knead Irish soda bread very much, I kneaded my dough to distribute the lumps of butter more evenly throughout the mixture. Next time, I might cut my butter into my flour before adding the wet ingredients.

Shape into a ball and place in prepared cake pan; cut a cross shape into the top using a very sharp knife.

Bake for 1 hour; remove from oven and cake pan and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before serving.

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Gold Coin Cookies

Basic cookie dough recipes, like the one below, offer great flexibility. You can tint the dough whatever color you like, add other flavors of extracts, roll it into a log for slicing and baking or roll it out for cutting, and decorate the finished product however you like.

I honestly can’t remember where I got this original recipe, but it’s incredibly easy to make and bake and came in very handy for my St. Patrick’s Day-themed gold coin cookies, which are destined for my goddaughter Maureen and her family along with some other loot. Be sure to chill your dough for at least two hours so it’s easy to slice.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Wilton Golden Yellow food coloring
  • Gold or yellow sugar sprinkles, for rolling (I used both)

Preparation

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract and beat until well-combined, scraping the sides of your bowl frequently.

Add flour in three batches, mixing well after each until a soft dough forms.

Add food coloring and tint to your desired shade.

Turn dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead it slightly to make sure all of the food coloring is well-distributed and the dough is smooth. Roll into a 12-inch log.

Place sugar sprinkles on a rimmed baking sheet and carefully transfer the log onto the sprinkles, rolling it back and forth to coat.

Wrap log in plastic wrap, slide it onto a baking sheet, and chill for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with foil or parchment.

Remove log from fridge and discard plastic wrap. Slice into 1/4 inch slices and place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 9-11 minutes, until tops are set. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for about 4 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Makes about 40 cookies.

St. Patrick’s Day Cupcakes

st. pattys cupcakesHappy (actual) St. Patrick’s Day! Yes, the baking extravaganza continued throughout this past weekend in my kitchen, and these were my final project. I like to think that St. Patrick would be proud of them…if he liked cupcakes, that is. 

The two things I love most about baking are that it is both creative and apt to make someone really, really happy. These cupcakes enabled me to be both creative, and the bringer of sugar joy to the family of one of my lovely colleagues from work, whose kids love this holiday.

Apparently, the cupcakes went over big…as you can see in the “aftermath” photo below. And yes, that is my laptop in this photo…a blogger needs her resources close by, after all! 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 recipe vanilla buttercream
  • green liquid food coloring
  • leaf green and kelly green gel paste food coloring
  • green sparkling sugar, if desired

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line one regular-sized cupcake pan and one miniature cupcake pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Place eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar and continue to beat for another 30 seconds.

Add vanilla and canola oil and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternatively in three batches, beginning and ending with the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Batter will be very thin.

Using a quarter-cup measuring cup, scoop batter into prepared regular-sized cupcake liners, filling half full. Use a teaspoon measuring spoon to fill miniature cupcake liners.

Bake regular-sized cupcakes for 12-13 minutes and miniature cupcakes for 7-9 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

To frost:

Prepare vanilla buttercream. Add a few drops of green liquid food coloring to the frosting with your mixer running on low to medium speed to achieve a light green color.

Remove about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the frosting and tint darker green; I used a combination of leaf green and kelly green to create my shamrock color. Fit a piping bag with a small to medium-sized plain tip (I used a Wilton #5 tip) and place dark green frosting inside; set aside.

Frost regular-sized cupcakes first; using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop light green frosting onto each cupcake and frost in a smooth layer. Pipe shamrock shapes onto each cupcake; make three heart-like shapes then add the stem.

Frost miniature cupcakes next; replace your dark green piping bag with a large plain tip (I used Wilton 12) and pipe in swirls.

Fit another piping bag with a large star tip (I used Wilton 21) and fill with light green frosting. Pipe in swirls.

Dip half of each shade of the miniature cupcakes into the green sparkling sugar. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for 2-3 days (or store in the fridge to extend the life of your buttercream).

The aftermath at the Houser family St. Patrick’s Day celebration is as follows:

IMG_2262

 

Lucky Charms Treats

lucky charmsI didn’t eat Lucky Charms cereal until I was 16 years old. My mom didn’t stock sugary cereals in our house, claiming that my brother and I would eat one bowl and lose interest. While that might be true, I also suspect that she, a physical education and health teacher, just didn’t believe that anything involving a marshmallow could be suitable for breakfast.

I remember when red balloons joined the marshmallow cast of pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers, blue diamonds, and purple horseshoes in 1989, but not one bite of Lucky Charms passed my lips until I was a teenager. And as an adult, despite my penchant for sugar consumption, I rarely eat this magically delicious cereal. Perhaps my mom was right about my preference for “regular” cereals like Cheerios and Wheaties.

Much like their Rice Krispies Treat cousins, these treats are easy to make and require only a few ingredients. It is important to work quickly once the cereal joins the butter/marshmallow mixture though, to prevent the marshmallows in the Lucky Charms from melting.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 6 cups Lucky Charms cereal

Preparation

Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick spray; set aside.

In a large pot, melt butter and marshmallows over medium heat, stirring until completely combined.

Add Lucky Charms and stir until completely coated with marshmallow mixture; immediately pour into your prepared pan and smooth out using a spatula.

Allow to cool completely, then cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.

Rice Krispie Shamrocks

rice krispie shamrockNearly every American child has probably had, at one time or another, a Rice Krispies Treat. I have distinct memories of standing next to the stove with my mom, waiting to pour in cup after cup of Rice Krispies as she stirred the marshmallow mixture. My grandmother was also fond of making these, and she employed a range of cereals, from Cocoa Krispies to Frosted Flakes, to create her own versions.

According to Wikipedia, the original recipe for Rice Krispies Treats was pioneered in 1927 by Malitta Jensen and Mildred Day, two employees in the Kellogg Company home economics department, as a fundraiser for the Camp Fire Girls. Later, these treats were popular additions to care packages for soldiers stationed abroad during the 1940s. And while they are currently available in store-bought varieties, I think the best treats are still the kind you make on your own stove, waiting for that melted marshmallow smell to waft out of the pot.

The recipe below is an adaptation of the original, using one fewer cup of cereal to yield a more pliable, marshmallowy texture.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons margarine
  • 4 cups miniature marshmallows
  • green liquid food coloring
  • 5 cups Rice Krispies
  • shamrock sprinkles, optional

Preparation

Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick spray; set aside.

In a large pot, melt margarine over medium heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted; add as much green liquid food coloring as desired to achieve the shade of green you’d like.

Add Rice Krispies and stir until completely coated with marshmallow mixture; immediately pour into your prepared pan and smooth out using a spatula. Sprinkle with shamrocks, if desired, using the spatula to press sprinkles into the Krispies.

Allow to cool completely, then turn out onto a sheet of parchment. Spray a shamrock cookie cutter with nonstick spray and cut into shamrocks; reserve the scraps for snacking.