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Posts from the ‘Cake’ Category

Maple Walnut Scones

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People often ask me if I miss living in Canada. I’ve been living in Ireland now for almost five years. I have three great kids, a house we’re fixing up, a big garden (and more gardens planned), a small business and lots of friends and family milling around.

So yeah, it’s safe to say I’m usually too busy to be feeling homesick for Canada. That said, I recently got my kids their Canadian citizenship and, this year being Canada’s 150th birthday (if you’re First Nations, though, I should add that Canada is thousands of years older), I started feeling a bit nostalgic with all the celebrations and activities posted all over my social media streams.

Canada Day is July 1st, so it’s already happened. I didn’t do anything on the day to celebrate. Sometimes I host barbecues, bake a cake and have my friends over for Canada Day, but this year – having just had a baby – I wasn’t really feeling it. Too much, too soon.

But I can’t say Canada hasn’t been on my mind lately. So while I don’t miss living in Canada, there are a few things about Canada (or just Cape Breton, really) I miss in general:

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  1. Lobster season: May to July in Cape Breton. Lobsters everywhere you look. Lobster boil dinners at every small community hall. Lobsters being sold right from the boat. I love lobster, and I really miss eating it when it’s at its best. That also goes for mussels, scallops, haddock, salmon, chowder… and the list goes on. I know Ireland is surrounded by ocean, but there isn’t great seafood in landlocked Tipperary!
  2. The beach: Cape Breton has so many gorgeous beaches. By July the water is warm enough to swim, the sand is golden and fine-textured and the beaches are relatively isolated. I love Irish beaches, but find the water is usually a bit too cold and most beaches a bit too crowded.
  3. The restaurants: I love lobster and seafood. I love the places that prepare these foods as well. The Rusty Anchor in Pleasant Bay (where I once had some decadent lobster poutine with a cold beer; one of my most favourite meals), The Dancing Goat in Margaree, The Herring Choker in Nyanza, Charlene’s Bayside in Whycocomagh, The Bite House in Big Baddeck – all of these places make amazing Cape Breton food and deserve all of the accolades. I miss these places.
  4. My friends and family: Obvs. I love and miss my *very large* extended family. Aunties, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephew, brothers – I miss them all.
  5. The weather: in summer, it’s warm enough to swim in the river and in the ocean almost every day. On the East Coast, though, it’s not as hot as it would be elsewhere in Canada. We have the ocean to keep the temperature moderate (like, 35°C and under). A great deal warmer and sunnier than an Irish summer, but still comfortable (I don’t miss black flies and mosquitos, though).10631983_387625851388458_1137852623_n
  6. Wild Blueberries and good Maple Syrup: I miss these things very much. The fruit in Ireland is lovely, but the blueberries here don’t compare to the blueberries in Cape Breton.
  7. Canadian beer and wine: in Nova Scotia there is a wine appellation called Tidal Bay. It’s located close to where I went to university. The wine is gorgeous. Once, a sparkling wine called (Benjamin Bridge) Nova 7 beat out actual, expensive champagne at a tasting I attented in Toronto. It’s that good. The beer in Ireland is great, so I don’t miss Canadian beer that much; just certain kinds.
  8. Homestyle baking: I know I do a lot of Cape Breton-style baking here in Ireland, but I miss other people’s baking. Namely from the cafes I mentioned previously, my aunties and older people from around my community.

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Speaking of homestyle baking, I especially love East Coast scones. Large, triangular, sweet with a crunchy sugar or glazed topping, scones in Cape Breton are indulgent – often made for sharing – and perfect with a cup of strong tea.

I whipped up these maple walnut scones with another nostalgic food in mind – ice cream! I love the ice cream at home. It’s not soft serve like a 99 here in Ireland, it’s hard and comes in a million and a half flavours; one of my favourites being maple walnut.

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No need for butter and jam on these scones. The glaze is thick enough to ensure the right amount of sweetness in each bite, and the walnuts are toasted in the oven and then soaked in maple syrup. Perhaps most importantly, the flavour is nostalgic enough to get me through to my next visit home.

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Maple Walnut Scones

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups/375g Plain Flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp sea salt

1/4 cup/60g light brown sugar

1/2 cup/125g cold butter, cubed

1 large egg

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup/250ml cold buttermilk

For the glaze:

2 cups/500g Icing Sugar

1 tsp vanilla or maple extract

3 Tbsp good quality maple syrup

Splash of heavy cream

Toasted walnuts, soaked in maple syrup

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F). Line one or two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar and cold, cubed butter.
  • Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut/rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the centre of the butter/dry ingredient mixture.
  • In a large measuring cup, measure out the buttermilk, then add the egg and vanilla. Mix to combine.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Using a wooden spoon or just using your hands (your best pastry tool!) mix the wet into the dry until just combined (mixture should be on the wet side – if it’s dry and crumbly add more buttermilk!).
  • On a lightly floured surface, turn the dough out and knead lightly for one minute. Form into a ball and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Using more flour for dusting and a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a thick rectangle (you want to get 8-10 scones out of this dough at most). At least 1.5 inches thick.
  • Cut the rectangle into 8-10 smaller rectangles or triangles. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops with milk and sprinkle a bit of sugar over each scone.
  • Bake the scones for 20-ish minutes. Let cool slightly on a rack.
  • Make the glaze: in a mixing bowl, combine the icing sugar, maple syrup, maple extract (or vanilla) and about a tablespoon of heavy cream. You want the glaze to be thick, but still be able to drizzle it over the scones. If the glaze is too thick for your liking, loosen it up with a bit more cream.
  • Dunk the tops of each scone in the glaze, or spoon the glaze over each scone allowing the excess to drip down the sides. Top with toasted maple walnuts. Allow glaze to set slightly before eating (if you can wait that long).
  • The scones will keep no longer than two days, so make sure you eat them right away!

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Quick and Easy Cinnamon Rolls

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I had a whole post written yesterday about life with our new, sweet baby girl.

I gave birth just over three weeks ago, and now it feels like Áine is truly part of the family – I actually already forget what life was like when it was just the four of us (this is mostly due to sleep deprivation).

I had a whole post written about how sweet she is, how happy we are and how we’re in love with our new little person.

And that’s all true – don’t get me wrong. But it’s just a small part of the story.

Truthfully? I didn’t realize it would be this hard. Three kids under four.

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I can’t sleep. Áine is either colicky, extra-sensitive or has reflux. Or something. But she doesn’t sleep at night unless she’s in my arms. Eventually, every morning at around 5:30, she drifts off and I can finally put her down for two or three hours. This is fine when my husband is home and let’s me sleep in, but otherwise? The other two kids have been taking full advantage of the longer summer days and have been waking at around 6am (or earlier, in Ciara’s case!).

During the day she spends most of the time in my wrap sling, which is fine, but I feel bad for my other two kids – the new baby is taking up so, so much of my time.

Yes, we are unbelievably happy, and having done this twice before I know how quickly this first year goes by. I am trying to cherish the never-ending snuggles, hours-long feeds and cute little snuffly newborn noises. It’s hard but we are happy and I know we’re also so very lucky to have three healthy, wonderful girls.

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So what do you do when you’re an exhausted mama of three and you can’t get a moment for yourself (to sleep, or shower, or do the things you enjoy)? You take it easy on yourself. You lower your expectations. You let your house get disgusting. You let the weeds grow in your garden (and come to terms with the fact that, no – those leeks are not going to get planted this year). You put off going for gentle runs or joining that yoga class and instead sit on the couch with a cup of tea, your baby and a good, comfortable nursing pillow.

You let your other two wreck the house with the three year old’s “science experiments” (my carpet is ruined with homemade slime and play dough) and the 17 month old’s penchant for destroying everything in her path.

You let your three year old watch weird toy shows on Youtube and your 17 month old watch Peppa Pig on Netflix. For an hour. Maybe two. Just so you can nurse and snuggle in peace with the babs.

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You let the new baby cry more than you ever let your other two cry. Because sometimes the other two need nappy changes, naps and can’t stay in their pj’s all day (I am actually writing this post in my pj’s… it’s 2pm…).

You live on toast, cookies, coffee and water because it’s all you have time to eat. You make some kind of dinner every night because your family needs to eat, too. But the baby likes to nurse at dinnertime and breastfeeding hormones give you zero appetite, anyway.

Most importantly, you come to terms with the fact that you can’t make the donuts, bread, cakes and cookies you’re used to making. You realize that this newborn phase will be over soon. You give yourself over to the fact that you just won’t be leaving the house for the next eight-ish weeks.

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Lastly, you make these cinnamon buns during nap time because they’re quick and delicious. Crumbly and sweet, with the perfect filling:dough ratio. The cinnamon and brown sugar caramelize in the oven to perfection, seeping slightly into the dough. So much deliciousness with so little effort.

And your zombie-like, unshowered, postpartum self thanks you.

I’ll post again soon when I’m in a better mood (ie: after I finish the batch).

Quick & Easy Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients:

Filling:

1 cup/250g light brown sugar

1 Tbsp cinnamon

3 Tbsp soft butter for mixing

3 Tbsp soft butter for spreading on dough

Dough:

2 1/2 cups/320g plain flour

3 Tbsp white sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 1/4 cup/300ml buttermilk

2 Tbsp melted butter

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C, no fan). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside (if you want pull-apart cinnamon buns like in the photos, line a small casserole dish with parchment and set aside).
  • Mix the filling ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together. In a measuring cup, measure out the buttermilk and then mix in the melted butter.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry all at once and mix until everything comes together (but don’t overmix – you don’t want to develop the gluten in the flour).
  • Roll the dough into a rectangular shape on a well-floured surface. Spread the 3 Tbsp of reserved, softened butter all over the surface, then sprinkle the cinnamon/sugar mixture over top, leaving some space around the edges.
  • Carefully roll the dough into a long line and divide into 8 (really large) pieces or 12 (smaller).
  • Place the cinnamon buns on the baking sheet or casserole dish and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 350°F (or 180°C) and bake for another ten minutes.
  • Serve warm with orange flavoured chantilly cream (or nothing at all!). These will keep in an airtight container for 3-4 days and can be frozen indefinitely (meaning I’ve never kept them in the freezer longer than two weeks, but I bet they can be kept frozen for much longer).

Enjoy!

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Nova Scotian Rum Pie

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I’ve worked under and with a lot of great chefs over the years. I’ve had mentors who were patient and generous with their knowledge and experience.

In Toronto I only ever worked for one restaurant company. I never felt the need to go elsewhere – I was treated well, paid relatively well (what cook is ever paid really well?), and enjoyed insurance and benefits most cooks never get. The best part, though, was the variety of my work and the amazing people I got to hang out with and learn from every day.

I wrote the above paragraph because it needed to be said. A cook is only ever as good as their mentor; I was really lucky to have several great chefs to learn from.

So why do I keep going back to my Grandma as my main culinary inspiration? It seems as I get older and have my own kids, I gain more and more respect for that sweet woman and what she accomplished in her life.

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On the outside it doesn’t look like she did much. She married my Grandfather at a young age, had seven kids and kept house. But I know the difference. Now that I have kids (and try to keep house) I understand the difficulties she probably encountered…

Except:

  • I don’t have seven kids. I have two.
  • I’ve never HAD to kill a chicken or grow my food. Those things are optional for me.
  • I’m financially better off than she was.
  • I don’t have a crippling autoimmune disease like she did.

I mean, I’m barely keeping it together as it is. The more I think about my Grandma, the more humbled I feel.

Especially considering the amount of time and money I put into becoming a chef. She was an amazing cook and baker. There may not have been much food in the house, but my Grandma kept all her kids fed and happy. She could take a bit of flour and sugar and turn it into something satisfyingly good.

I was watching The Chef’s Table last night on Netflix and was so inspired by the Korean Buddhist monk Jeong Kwan. Her food looks mouth-wateringly delicious, but, as it was stated in the documentary, as a cook she is completely without ego (which is so rare in our food network/social media-driven society). She lives her life simply, grows what she eats and shares what she has. Her food just happens to look like it was cooked and plated in a Michelin Star restaurant.

It reminded me of the way my Grandma would cook (though my Protestant Grandma would probably raise her eyebrows at being compared to a Buddhist; gotta stay honest). She never tried to do anything fancy, but her food always hit the spot, and she put love into everything she made.

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Before I moved to Ireland, my Aunt gifted me a cookbook of old pioneer recipes my Grandma had given to her years before. I look through it often, but not just because of the recipes – the history of my island is written in between the pages. It starts from the oldest Scottish pioneer recipes (think Dandelion Wine and Athol Brose), has a portion of recipes from New Zealand, where a lot of our descendants also ended up and ends with the kind of soul-satisfying desserts, soups and casseroles I grew up eating.

This pie kept jumping out at me. Maybe, at almost 30 weeks pregnant, I’m just really missing booze; who knows? This rum-tinged custard creation satisfies so many cravings on so many levels, and (thankfully) the booze is for flavour and not cognitive impact, so it’s safe for anyone to pig out on.

The recipe may sound daunting if you’re not used to working with gelatin, but stick with it – it’s actually really easy. The amount of gelatin in this recipe will give the rum custard a wobble, but it won’t be 100% set like Jello. More like a slightly alcoholic, ice-cream flavoured panna cotta (and who could resist that?).

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Nova Scotian Rum Pie

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

1 package digestive biscuits (about 500g), crushed (in Canada, we use graham cracker crumbs)

125g/1/2 cup melted butter

For the Filling:

1 Tbsp un-flavoured powdered gelatin

125ml/1/2 cup cold water

375ml/1 1/2 cups whole milk

2 tsp vanilla extract, divided

170g/3/4 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of sea salt

2 eggs, separated (room temperature is best)

4 Tbsp spiced rum

For the Topping:

250ml/1 cup heavy whipping cream

3 Tbsp icing (confectioner’s) sugar

Shaved milk chocolate (OR here in Ireland I used crushed Flake bars), to garnish

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 180∘C (350∘F). Combine the crushed biscuits and melted butter. Firmly press the mixture onto the bottom and up the sides of a springform pan (or any high-sided pan with a removable bottom).
  • Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, until browned. Set aside to cool.
  • In a bowl, add the cold water and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Do not stir. Set aside and allow the gelatin to bloom.
  • Using a hand/stand mixer, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, salt and 1 tsp of vanilla until well combined (pale yellow, sugar dissolved). Add the milk and continue mixing until everything is well-combined.
  • Pour the milk/egg mixture into a saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. When the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, pour it through a sieve directly onto the dissolved, bloomed gelatin/water mixture. Whisk to combine.
  • Allow this mixture to cool in the fridge until it begins to set, about an hour (possibly longer). Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the rum to the custard/gelatin mix and then gently fold in the egg whites.
  • Pour this mixture onto the biscuit base and refrigerate overnight or until set. Whip the cream with the remaining tsp of vanilla and the icing sugar. Top the set custard with the cream and shaved chocolate.
  • Serves 8-10 rum-loving people (like Nova Scotians! We love our rum). Store in the fridge and eat within two days.

Visiting Thurles: The Green Sheep Cafe

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*Disclaimer: This is the first part of a series I will be writing about different places I love in North Tipperary. I was not asked to write any of these articles and have not received any incentives to do so. This particular post, however, concerns a business I am actively involved in.

First let’s get some serious business out of the way:

Cooking With Craic has been shortlisted for a Littlewoods Ireland Blog Award under the Best Food Experience (Food Review) category! To become a finalist, I need to get as many public votes as possible aside from being judged by my blogging peers. If you enjoy reading this blog I would so appreciate you clicking on the button below and giving me an ol’ vote (you may be required to sign in with your Facebook account to prove you’re not a robot!).

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There. I dislike asking for votes, but I love all the wonderful support from the readers of this blog. Thanks for that!

So back to The Green Sheep. Where do I even begin?

If you’ve ever lived in a foreign country you might have had a brilliant or not-so-brilliant experience. In my opinion, whether or not you have a brilliant experience is dependent on a few things:

  1. Making friends. Real ones. You know, the kind you can complain to and laugh hysterically with.
  2. Having purpose. A job you love, a serious hobby, a volunteer gig – any of these things make you feel like you belong to the community.
  3. Having a place to hang out. The times when you have nothing to do and don’t feel like being alone in your house, you need a place to go. A place where you feel comfortable.
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Mrs C. and me, Christmas 2007, Now Bar

I had these three things when I lived in Korea – a great job, a group of amazing friends (not to mention the Irishman I would someday marry) and Now Bar – the foreigner bar where we’d all congregate in the evenings and on weekends. The bar’s owner – a fun-loving woman we called Mrs. C – was like our Korean mom.

I have these three things in Ireland, too, which is great since I don’t plan on living anywhere else for the rest of my life. Funnily enough, all three of things things include The Green Sheep.

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I initially met The Green Sheep’s owner, Lucy Lambe, via Twitter. She kept telling me to visit her in her new cafe, so, eventually, I did. I loved the vibe and the coffee (she uses single origin Baobab coffee – these guys know how to roast beans). I loved Lucy, too. She is absolutely stark raving mad (in the best way). I quickly came to realize how passionate she and her husband, Patrick, are about supporting our local food producers and how much they enjoy showcasing all the great food products made in our area.

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So the cafe quickly became my hang-out. I would buy a coffee and watch the people walking down Friar Street. I soon came to know the other regulars and became good friends with Lucy and her family. Lucy would help me find local products to feature in my weekly Tipperary Star food column and I would bake and bring things in for her and her customers to sample. Her kids became my go-to babysitters.

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The food served here is whimsical, fresh and as a la minute as you can get (sometimes you don’t even know what you’re going to get – but it’s always good). In the winter you can get warming soups and stews; during the summer the salads are full of edible flowers and herbs from Comfrey Cottage.

They sell cakes, donuts (more on that later!), specialty meats and cheeses (think Toonsbridge, raw Derg Cheddar, Gubbeen and Cooleeney), local Thurles Tarts and jams, chutneys, juices and sauces – all made locally.

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They make fresh sandwiches and salads. Lucy’s Wild Irish Shrub Vinaigrette is becoming famous. But most of all, they serve up a vibrant atmosphere, full of good conversation and fun. Customers here quickly become friends. Its proximity to the Thurles train station has brought many a stranded visitor en route to elsewhere. They come in to wait for the next train and leave laughing and waving – instant friends. I’ve witnessed this on more than one occasion.

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The Green Sheep is open Monday-Saturday from 8-6. They sometimes open on Sundays if there’s a match at Semple Stadium. The next time you’re in Thurles, stop in for a coffee and lunch – you will leave happy!

Upside-Down Strawberry Rhubarb Cake

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I’m back home. In Ireland, I mean. It’s funny, I call Cape Breton “home” and Ireland “home”, but when I talk about Cape Breton being home it’s meant to be past tense. As in, it used to be home and will always and forever more be referred to as home. But, as wonderful as Cape Breton was, and Vancouver, and Victoria, it is so, so good to be back in Tipperary.

In my own house.

With my little family.

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Babies at pasture here in Tipperary

And it’s summer. My garden is growing. There are baby animals everywhere (and thanks to my cat, baby animal corpses everywhere, but we won’t go there right now) and, even though it’s often grey and rainy, it’s sometimes warm and sunny. Already much better than last summer, which was mostly cold, windy and rainy.

I’ve been home a little less than a month and I’m already super busy. Making plans, going to playdates, taking little day trips here and there, visiting, baking. The bit I’m most excited about is the plan-making, but I’m not ready to say anything more about it at the moment – just stay tuned!

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Home in Cape Breton

Also, once again, this little blog has been long-listed for two Littlewood’s Ireland Blog Awards, which is really, really lovely! I’m also up for a Huawei Snapy Instagram Award! If you feel so inclined, you can check out my entry (and possibly give it a vote) here.

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So yes; I’m super busy. But don’t worry, I always have my two darling children to keep my ego in check. Whether it’s by peeing on the floor (daily) or simply staying up all night long, my kids continually remind me who’s truly in charge of my life (or I guess you could say: what’s truly important in life). I wouldn’t have it any other way, really.

When I came home, my garden was so overgrown with weeds it looked more like a jungle. It took four solid evenings of weed-pulling and seed planting, but my hard work is paying off. Napa Cabbage (for autumn kimchi making!), sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, squash, pumpkin, courgette – you name it, it’s been planted and is currently sprouting. I was late getting a few things planted, but the growing season is longer here than it is in Canada so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a good harvest.

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Two things that were ready when I got home were our strawberries and rhubarb. I’ve never grown strawberries before, but this year Maeve asked if she could plant them. Our old farmhouse is surrounded by very old, black cauldrons (I think they were used for laundry or something back in the day) so we found the biggest one and planted the strawberries there. We left tiny seedlings and came home to a huge, vine-laden bunch of plants just dripping with beautiful berries.

This is a great summer cake to make with whatever fresh fruit or berries you have on hand. I made it with our gorgeous strawberries (of course) and fresh rhubarb, but it would be great with blueberries (with some maple syrup and lemon), peaches, plums or cherries. The cake base is a super-moist hot milk cake recipe that I use all the time – it never, ever fails me.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:

1 cup/250g granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup/250g AP/plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup/125ml scalded milk

3 Tbsp butter (melted into the hot milk)

For the topping:

1 punnet strawberries – hulled and cut in half

3-4 stalks rhubarb, chopped

1/2 cup/125g brown sugar

1/4 cup/60g butter

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350∘F (190∘C, no fan). Grease a round springform pan and place the pan on a lined cookie sheet (in case it leaks) set aside.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the butter and brown sugar for the topping. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.Pour the mixture into the bottom of the pan and arrange the strawberries and rhubarb over the top. Set the pan aside again and make the cake batter.
  • To make the cake: whisk the eggs, vanilla and sugar until pale yellow in colour and nearly doubled in volume (this is known as the ribbon stage – the mixture should drip off the whisk in ribbons).
  • Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the mixture and stir until just combined. Add the hot milk all at once and, again, stir until just combined and there aren’t any lumps in the batter.
  • Gently pour the cake batter over the strawberries and rhubarb in the springform pan.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes (if you have an extra-hot oven start checking your cake at 25 minutes). A skewer inserted in the centre of the cake should come out clean.
  • When the cake is ready, allow to set in the pan for 15-20 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and gently remove from the pan. Flip the cake onto a plate and gently lift the bottom of the springform pan. Voila! You should have a perfect upside-down cake.

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Grammie’s Baked Chocolate Pudding

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I’ve been in Canada for a little over a week now. The jetlag is gone, the sun is shining (though the temperature is nothing like the balmy weather the Irish are enjoying) and I’m busy catching up with family and friends I haven’t seen since 2014. If my husband were here with me, things would be perfect. He’s not, though, so things are just very good.

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We’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors since the sun’s been shining. There’s a large pond behind my parents’ house and Maeve likes going down there to see if there are any frogs (though she doesn’t like to get too close to the water for fear of falling in). We’ve been looking under big rocks and logs for bugs, wiggly worms and the many cute little salamanders who call the backyard their home.

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Last weekend was Canadian Mother’s Day (we celebrate in March in Ireland) and as we spent the day spoiling all the moms and mom-types in our lives, I couldn’t help think about my sweet Grandma, who lived with me and my family until she passed away over 15 years ago.

Aside from my mother, who taught me that you can work full time, be a great mom, have a social life and be involved in your community, my Grandma was the most important woman in my life. She suffered from MS and was confined to a wheelchair, but that didn’t hold her back. She was a sweet, strong, soft-spoken woman.

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She was also a great baker.

This Baked Chocolate Pudding is one of my favourite “Grammie” desserts. Served hot with fresh cream or ice cream, it’s pure bliss. Velvety chocolate sauce with soft, rich cakey bits – what’s not to like? If you’re having people over for dinner, you can put it in the oven just before you’re ready to sit down to eat. It will be molten hot – the perfect vessel for something cold and creamy dolloped over top.

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*My plan was to lose as much baby weight as possible while home for the next 1.5 months. I realize now this probably isn’t going to happen. Stay tuned for more delicious Cape Breton adventures!

Grammie’s Baked Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients:

For the cake:

1 cup/250g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup/60g good quality cocoa

1/2 cup/125g granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup/125ml buttermilk

1/4 cup/60ml strong coffee

2 Tbsp/30g melted butter

For the sauce:

3/4 cup/200g light brown sugar

1/4 cup/60g good quality cocoa

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 cup/250ml boiling water

1 cup hot strong coffee

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350∘F (180∘C).
  • Sift all of the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Stir the hot coffee and melted butter together. Add the buttermilk/vanilla to the dry ingredients, then the coffee/butter mixture. Mix the batter until everything is *just* combined (don’t overmix). Pour the batter into an ungreased pie dish or small casserole dish and spread evenly on the pan.
  • Mix the hot coffee, boiling water and vanilla and set aside. Mix the cocoa and brown sugar and sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter. Pour the hot water/coffee mixture evenly over top.
  • Place the pie/casserole dish on a sheet pan (in case it overflows) and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.
  • Allow to cool 10-15 minutes, then serve hot with ice cream or whipped cream.

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Perfect Italian Buttercream

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Well, the weeks and months seem to be flying by. Suddenly my sleepy little newborn is wide awake and PLAYING WITH TOYS and FOCUSING ON PEOPLE and GIGGLING and generally being adorable. These are all amazing developments, even if they mean less me-time and more baby/toddler-time. The blog suffers, as do my other interests, general health and well being and, sometimes, my sanity. But it’s all good. The Spring has more or less arrived and the sunny weather does great things for the spirit.

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In a little over a MONTH I’ll be flying to Canada with my girls. Ciara really needs a passport. My mom is here in Ireland, which is amazing, and she’ll be flying home with us, as will a friend’s daughter, who will travel around with us in Canada and be a great help with the smallies. I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to see all my extended family members and friends at home in Cape Breton, and at the end of our “Canada time” we’ll fly out to Victoria, BC to spend time with my brothers and their kids.

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In the meantime, days are spent on playdates and coffee breaks. The Easter bunny came over the weekend, leaving way too much chocolate for a two year old. Luckily Maeve has her mom, dad, grandad and nana to help do away with the spoils. We spent our Easter having lots of family time. This included a feast of epic proportions on Easter Sunday with a huge roasted gammon joint, garlicky dauphinoise potatoes, spring veggies, smoked trout from the fabulous Goatsbridge Farm in Thomastown, Kilkenny, lots of wine and THIS. This dark chocolate layer cake with vanilla Italian buttercream and chocolate mini-eggs.

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The whole meal was great, but the cake was extra-delicious. Even though we were massively full, everyone managed to save room for a slice. The cake was moist and rich and the buttercream was light, airy and blissful – which is surprising, considering an entire pound of butter went into it. Yes, this isn’t a diet-friendly recipe (are any of my recipes diet-friendly? I need to take a long hard look at my life) but it is the perfect indulgent holiday dessert.

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You don’t need to make it “Easter” or even “holiday”. Top it with chocolate-dipped strawberries, edible flowers, candied orange slices or nothing at all. I like how it looks with the naked-mask of frosting. It would make a really impressive birthday cake for someone.

I used a few tools to make this cake.

  • 4 small sandwich tins
  • a cake turntable
  • a stand mixer
  • a large pallet knife
  • a sharp serrated knife

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If you don’t have any of these things, don’t panic. This buttercream masks the cake perfectly and is very forgiving if, like me, you have a bit of a wobbly hand. I will say that the pallet knife, at least, is important if you like sharp, defined corners on your cake. The turntable helps because you can keep the knife as steady as possible with one hand while turning the cake with the other. But even if you slap this buttercream on with a spoon, or just schmear it in between the layers and leave the sides alone, it will still look great and taste amazing.

This cake was made with my usual Never Fail Chocolate Cake recipe with dark, good quality cocoa powder and hot coffee instead of boiling water. I made the cake in the four sandwich tins, let them cool, wrapped them in plastic and let them sit overnight. That way they were cool enough and retained all their moisture when the time came to ice them.

So here it is! The recipe for the perfect Italian Buttercream (no icing sugar in sight).

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Perfect Italian Buttercream

Ingredients:

5 egg whites, room temperature

1 tsp cream of tartar

1.5 cups/375g white sugar

1/3 cup/90ml water

1 tsp good quality vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

2 cups/454g/1 big block good quality butter (like Tipperary Co-op)

Directions:

  • Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer). Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  • While the egg whites are being whisked, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and boil into a thick syrup (soft ball stage). You don’t want the sugar to caramelize. I don’t keep track of the temperature (who has time for that, really) but it’s at the point where the syrup is quite thick and about to begin to caramelize.
  • Turn the stand mixer down to low and slowly pour the hot syrup into the whisked egg whites. Do this slowly enough that the syrup doesn’t splash too much on the sides of the bowl. Touch the side of the bowl. It will be quite warm from the syrup and the egg whites will have gone down in volume.
  • Continue to whisk on med-high until the mixture cools to nearly room temperature – about 3-5 minutes.
  • Take the pound of butter and cut it into small cubes. Once the egg white mixture has cooled, continue mixing while adding cubes of butter, 2 or 3 at a time. Allow the bits of butter to be combined into the mixture before adding more butter. Slowly add the entire pound of butter while constantly whisking. Once all the butter is added, don’t freak out if the mixture looks curdled. Keep whisking for several more minutes until everything is well incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat into the frosting.
  • The finished buttercream should be aerated, totally smooth, slightly thick and off-white in colour. Use it immediately to mask your cake, or pipe onto cupcakes.

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