Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cook's Illustrated, American-Style Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread is essentially a very large scone, one that isn't sweet, but yet is tender, delicious and perfect with a cup of tea.  American-style soda bread adds a little bit more sugar, some caraway seeds and a good amount of plump, juicy raisins.  It was such a bread that I was looking forward to baking this weekend for St. Patrick's Day.

After asking several people for their favorite versions of soda bread, I settled on the recipe by Cook's Illustrated, which can be found in their Baking Illustrated book.  Their recipe uses buttermilk, and I have to say that it makes all of the difference.  The bread is tender, the crumb is light.  

This is the Baking Illustrated recipe!  Please note that I doubled the recipe in these photos, because I wanted to bake 2 breads.  

  • 3 cups lower-protein unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup plain cake flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon melted butter for crust
  • 1-1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoons caraway seeds
Step 1

Step 1
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Whisk the flours, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt together in a large bowl.  Work the softened butter into the dry ingredients with a fork or your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
    Step 2
  2. Combine the buttermilk and egg with a fork.  Add the buttermilk-egg mixture, raisins and caraway seeds and stir with a fork just until the dough begins to come together.  Turn out onto a flour-covered work surface;  knead just until the dough becomes cohesive and bumpy.  12-14 turns.  (Do not knead until the dough is smooth or the bread will be tough.)
    Step 3

    Step 3
  3. Pat the dough into a round about 6 inches in diameter and 2 inches high;  place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.  Score the dough by cutting a cross shape on the top of the loaf.
    Step 3 
  4. Bake, covering the bread with aluminum foil if it is browning too much, until the loaf is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, or the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees, 40-45 minutes.  Remove loaf from the oven and brush the surface with the melted butter; cool to room temperature, 30-40 minutes.

My only regret this time around was scoring the breads a little deeper than I should have.  This caused the cross in the middle of each bread to spread more than I was hoping for, but nevertheless, the breads were still tasty.

I've already had a couple of slices of Irish soda bread with my afternoon tea.  If there is any bread left, tomorrow morning I will toast some pieces and slather on the butter and jam.  Give this recipe a go in the coming days.  I think you'll like it as much as I do.  Cheers!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

St. Patrick's Day Shamrock Cookies

Sugar cookies in the shape of four-leaf clovers are a festive way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.  This year I was so happy to make several dozen for folks around town, especially after having spent days without being able to bake.  With a couple of batches of sugar cookie dough and some smooth royal icing, I set about gilding and icing some pretty shamrocks, for a little bit of that luck of the Irish. 

The brand new shamrock cookie cutters (proudly made in Missouri!) that I purchased on eBay, make beautiful cookies.  The largest of the cookie cutters create a very generous sugar cookie, while the smaller ones make tasty mini bites.  

After cutting out the large cookies, right before baking, I used the smallest of the cutters to score the dough in the center.  The impression of the small, four-leaf clover was etched onto the surface of the cookies as they baked.  This made it easy to ice them.

Three shades of green royal icing were used for this project.  

You have to have a little gold on St. Patrick's Day!

Outline and flood the centered shamrock in any of the green royal icings.  Let the icing dry completely.  Mix unflavored vodka with tiny amounts of gold cake decorator's highlighter until you have a smooth paint color;  add highlighter to a small bowl, and slowly add the vodka, drop by drop.  Using a fine paint brush, apply the highlighter onto the small shamrocks as shown.  These cookies might take 3 coatings of the highlighter before they are picture perfect.  Let each coat dry completely before giving it another go. 

Note: don't worry if you get highlighter onto the negatives of the cookies.  These are going to be covered in royal icing.

After the gold shamrocks have dried completely, use green royal icing and a #4 piping tip to outline each shape.

Outline the perimeter of the entire shamrock using the same royal icing.

Immediately flood the shamrocks in the green royal icing until they have been filled.  Proceed with the rest of the cookies until you have a variety of shades of green.  Let the cookies dry completely.

It's up to you whether you want to go back and add a bead of icing to create borders on your cookies or dots where you see fit.  I made a variety so that people could choose what they wanted.


Don't let St. Patrick's Day pass by without making some shamrock cookies.  You can quickly make dozens of these for your friends, family and neighbors, or for a birthday party.  Gild them, ice them and then devour at least one cookie on St. Patrick's Day.  A Shamrock Sugar Cookie will probably bring you some good luck!    

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

March Winter Storm

This past week has been a rough one for our area of Pennsylvania. With snow, wind and downed trees, power was cut off for much of our region. Thankfully our power was restored after four long, cold day.

However, we are in the midst of another Nor'Easter. I hope that everyone in the affected areas of the Northeast is safe and warm.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

For the Love of Green

Spring officially begins for me with the first sightings of our beautiful crocuses and snowdrops which surround our house.  It doesn't matter what the calendar tells me, these little harbingers of the coming season, signify that our landscape is slowly but surely waking up.  In a matter of weeks, everything will be green!

I simply had to go outside early this morning to cut a few dozen snowdrops from the sloping glade behind our house.  There are literally thousands upon thousands of snowdrops surrounding our home, that bringing in a few dozen feels like nothing.  

With a pair of sharp scissors and a small basket, I gathered as many delicate snowdrops as I could, and began making small arrangements.

Spring is a very good time for me to dust off and wash my beautiful collection of jadeite (jadite) glass, because it looks absolutely wonderful on the dining table, in my kitchen cabinets and on the counter.  This alluring green glass happens to be in one of my favorite shades of green.    

What you must understand is that I don't always display my green glass.  I tend to reserve it for spring, summer, and a few times during winter (especially around Christmas!).  I can also be picky about the type of jadeite I allow in my house.  It has to be American made bar none, and it has to be from either the 1940s-1960s, or from the millennium.  I have yet to add any contemporary jadeite that is currently being made in Ohio.        

(Side Note:  the color green has been my favorite ever since I can remember.  From an early age, I gravitated toward green things.  Mom says that I always had to have things in green.  Toys, clothing, pens and markers, book bags, name it! She's so right.  When I turned six years old, I remember requesting a "green party".  I wanted everything in the color green; from the birthday cake, the presents and what I was going to wear that day.  Mom, being the indulgent parent that she was and is, made sure I had what I wanted.  To this day, the color green seems perfect to my mind.)

I haven't mentioned little Henry in a while, but he is growing.  From week to week he seems just a little bit bigger, a little bit heavier, and just a tad more adorable.  He is very curious about every single thing that goes on in our home.  

Naturally, this morning's flower arranging had to be inspected by Henry.  He carefully walked around the flowers, smelling each bunch and dipping his nose from vessel to vessel.  Henry approved of the snowdrops! 

I can't wait to start using my Fire King restaurant ware from the 1950s in the coming weeks.  My heavy cups and saucers are ready to be filled with some delicious coffee for an early breakfast, the berry bowls are set to hold a fresh-from-the-oven biscuit or scone, my Fire King double egg cups are just the thing for fresh eggs from my neighbor's hen house, and the salad and dinner plates can soon hold any number of sandwiches, pasta salads or desserts that I know I'll be making.  

Are you ready for Spring and all of the green that is coming with it?