Women’s Christmas

Well now that Christmas and New Year are over, I think us girls deserve a special night in the time-honoured way. Little Christmas on the 6th of January has been the traditional Women’s Christmas, the day when the long-suffering Mná na hEireann go out to relax and celebrate together. According to Brid Mahon in ‘Land of Milk and Honey’ (The Story of Traditional Irish Food), " Nollaig na mBan was the day when all the dainties that women were said to enjoy were produced for high tea: thinly cut sandwiches, scones, gingerbread, apple cakes, sponge cakes decorated with swirls of icing, plum cake, brown bread, soda bread, baker’s bread, pats of freshly made butter, bowls of cream, dishes of jams and preserves and the best-quality tea. Men had eaten their fill of meats and had often drunk to excess during the festive season, but this was the women’s feast." Nowadays, many people choose to go out to dinner, but if you decide to just meet for tea instead, here are a few dainties you might like to try.

Rum and Raisin Cake

Our favourite cake – keeps for ages to have with coffee.
6oz (170g) raisins
6 tablespoons rum
10oz (285g) butter
6oz (170g)) castor sugar
4 eggs, free-range and organic
2fl oz (50ml) milk
1½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
10oz (285g) white flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 oz (50g) walnuts, shelled
23cm (9inch) round tin with a pop up base, buttered and floured
1½ tablespoons sugar
Soak the raisins in the rum for 30 minutes. Drain and save the rum.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Separate the eggs, save the whites, add the egg yolks, one by one. Beat well between each addition, add the rum, milk and vanilla extract. Mix the flour and baking powder together and fold in to the base mixture bit by bit. Whisk the egg white in a spotlessly clean bowl until stiff
and fluffy. Fold into the cake mixture one third at a time, add the fruit and chopped nuts with the last addition of egg white. Pour into the prepared tin, sprinkled with soft brown sugar and cook in the preheated oven for 45 minutes – 1 hour or until the top is golden
and the centre set and firm. Allow the cake to cool in the tin, invert, remove from the tin, invert again and cool on a wire rack.

Butterfly Buns

Makes 24
I've never bothered to make buns by hand since Pearl McGillycuddy gave me this recipe, its most depressing because even though they only take seconds to make they are actually better than the ones I make laboriously make by hand. These buns are made by the all - in – one method in a food processor.
8 ozs (225g) butter, chopped
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar
10 ozs (285g) white flour, preferably unbleached
4 eggs, preferably free range
½ teasp. baking powder
¼ teasp. pure vanilla essence
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/regulo 7. Chop the butter into small dice, it should be reasonably soft. Put all the ingredients into the food processor and whizz for about 30 seconds. Clear the sides down with a spatula and whizz again until the consistency is nice and creamy, approx. 30 seconds. Put into greased bun trays or paper cases. Reduce
the temperature to 190C/375F/regulo 5 as soon as they begin to rise. Bake for 20 minutes approx. in total. Cool on a wire rack.
Cut the top off the buns, cut this piece in half and keep aside. Meanwhile, put a little homemade raspberry jam and a blob of cream onto the bottom part of the bun. Replace the two little pieces, arranging them like wings. Dredge with icing sugar and serve immediately. These buns may be iced with dark chocolate icing or coffee icing or they
are also delicious painted with raspberry jam or red currant jelly and dipped in coconut.

Pecan Puffs

Makes about 35
These delicious biscuits keep for ages in a tin, but they are so irresistible that they are seldom around for very long!
4oz (110g) butter
2 tablespoons castor sugar
3 teaspoon. pure vanilla essence
5 oz (140g) pecans
5oz (140g) plain white flour, sifted
icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 300F/150C/regulo 2.
Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until soft and light. Grind the nuts finely in a food processor, mix with the butter and sugar, add the flour and vanilla essence. Pinch off teaspoonsful of the mixture and roll into balls. Place well apart on greased baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes or until pale and golden. Remove from the oven and roll quickly in icing sugar. Handle the pecan puffs very carefully as they will be fragile, brittle and and extremely hot! Return to the oven and bake for 1 minute, to set the sugar. Cool on a wire rack. Store in a airtight tin. Dust each layer with icing
sugar. Separate each layer with greaseproof paper.
Walnut Cake with American Frosting
Even though it is very laboursome, we quite often crack open the walnuts for this cake, to really ensure that they are fresh and sweet. Shelled walnuts turn rancid easily so taste one to be sure they are still good.
Serves 8
7ozs (200g) plain white flour
2½ level teaspoons baking powder
A pinch of salt
3ozs (85g) butter
½ level teaspoon pure vanilla essence
8ozs (225g) castor sugar
3ozs (85g) very fresh walnuts
4 fl ozs (100ml) milk
2 eggs
2ozs (55g) butter
4ozs (110g) icing sugar
A few drops of pure Vanilla essence
American Frosting
1 egg white
8ozs (225g) granulated sugar
4 tablespoons water
5 or 6 walnut halves
3 x 7 inch (7.5 x 18cm) round sandwich tins
Brush the cake tins with melted butter, and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper, brush the paper with melted butter also and dust the base and edges with flour.
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/regulo 5.
Sieve the flour with a pinch of salt and the baking powder. Chop the walnuts roughly. Cream the butter, gradually add the castor sugar and the vanilla essence. Separate the eggs, add in the yolks and keep the whites aside until later. Add the chopped walnuts to the creamed mixture. Fold in the flour and milk alternately into the mixture. Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff. Stir a little into the cake mixture and then fold the rest in gently. Divide between the 3 tins and smooth over the tops.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes approx. or until firm to the touch. Turn out of the tins onto a wire rack. Remove the greaseproof paper and allow to get completely cold.
Meanwhile make the filling
Cream the butter and add the sieved icing sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence. When the cake is cold, sandwich the three layers together with butter cream.
Next make the frosting: This delicious icing is just a little tricky to make, so follow the instructions exactly. Quick and accurate decisions are necessary in judging when the icing is ready and then it must be used immediately. Bring a saucepan of water large enough to hold a pyrex mixing bowl to the boil. Whisk the egg white until very stiff in
a pyrex or pottery bowl. Dissolve the sugar carefully in water and boil for 1 ½ minutes approx. until the syrup reaches the ‘thread stage’, 106º-113ºC/223º-236ºF. It will look thick and syrupy when a metal spoon is dipped in, the last drops of syrup will form a thin thread. Pour this boiling syrup over the stiffly-beaten egg white, whisking all the time. Sit the bowl in the saucepan of simmering water. Continue to whisk over the water until the icing is snow white and very thick (this can take up to 10 minutes). Spread quickly over the cake with a palette knife. It sets very quickly at this stage, so speed is essential. Decorate with 5 or 6 walnut halves.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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