Easy Baking for All The Family


Just like so many other over 70’s, I’ve been ‘cocooned’ at home for the past couple of weeks and of course it absolutely must be done but I was surprised how challenging I found the transition…

Life as we knew it is certainly on hold. Everyone is grappling with the new reality and each group have their unique set of adjustments to make.

We are all having to dig deep to find our inner resilience and realize that so many others are in infinitely more difficult situations than ourselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to be in a township in Soweto or in an immigrant camp on the Turkish border where physical distancing would be impossible.

Many of the everyday things we were up to ‘high doh’ about a couple of weeks ago now seem embarrassingly unimportant. How Covid-19 has changed our priorities dramatically in a few short weeks…

I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the kindness of people sharing and caring and racking their brains to think of ways to help others whilst keeping within the restrictions. Many families are already scarred by tragedy and many more will be…..

Unemployment, bereavement, home schooling and now there’s the spectre of a deep recession looming.  Carers, health workers, bus drivers, Garda and postmen and women…risking their own health every day for others and the everyday reality for so many of trying to keep children occupied often in a confined space while older children frantically study for exams.

Well certainly, from what I hear many families are also enjoying cooking together – especially baking – that is, when they can find flour…

My little contribution can be a few simple recipe suggestions every week – and do keep your requests coming in: darina@cookingisfun.ie

There can scarcely be a house in the country that hasn’t one or two recipes for cupcakes, but in response to Mary Jane’s request for a ‘fool proof’ recipe,  here is our ‘go to’ recipe for Penny’s cupcakes which all my grandchildren love to make. They have fun outdoing each other with lots of extra embellishments, sprinkles, meringue kisses, chocolate curls, sparkly sugar….

Here’s the recipe for coffee and walnut squares, an irresistible ‘tray bake’ from my latest One Pot Wonders book. It’s been getting a terrific response and I’m ashamed to say was responsible for someone breaking their Lenten fast a few weeks ago….

If you have a food processor, just put all the ingredients into the bowl together and whizz for a few seconds. Alternatively, cream the soft butter, add the castor sugar, beat until light and fluffy, then add one egg at a time and fold the flour in gently. Irel coffee essence has disappeared for some time now but Camp coffee is a brilliant substitute and lasts for years.

Cheddar Cheese Fondue is another gem, the kids can help to grate cheese on a simple box grater, a gadget no kitchen should be without. If you have haven’t got one, ask your Gran to leave it by the gate for you and take all the recommended precautions. Cheese fondue is so quick, easy, full of good protein and other nutrients and fun to eat….. Remember, if you drop the bread into the fondue you must kiss the person on your right so choose your seat carefully!

Hope you got a chance to make that rhubarb pie from last week’s column. Our rhubarb is leaping out of the ground after that rain, so here’s another one of my favourites – Rhubarb Fool. Serve it with these shortbread biscuits which the children can make and shape with their favourite cookie cutters.

Freeze any leftover rhubarb fool in a lined loaf tin (sweeten it a little more because freezing dulls the sweetness) – Hey presto – rhubarb ice-cream – serve with a little sauce of pureed stewed rhubarb and decorate with a sprig of sweet cicely for extra posh. Meanwhile, check out the new From Ballymaloe Cookery School with Love website www.fromballymaloewithlove.com for lots of recipes, tips, thoughts and foraging suggestions and for wild and free food – updated daily. Keep your requests coming in to darina@cookingisfun.ie or 0214646785.

Stay safe – till next weekend…..

Ballymaloe Cheese Fondue

A fondue party is so retro, terrific fun.  Choose your seat carefully because if you drop the bread into the fondue you must kiss the person on our right – this could be your big chance! Myrtle Allen devised this Cheese Fondue recipe made from Irish Cheddar cheese. A huge favourite at Ballymaloe.  Even though it’s a meal in itself it can be made in minutes and is loved by adults and children alike. A fondue set is obviously an advantage but not totally essential.

Serves 2 – perfect for everything from kids tea to a romantic supper.

2 tablespoons dry white wine

2 small cloves of garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons Ballymaloe Tomato Relish or any tomato chutney

2 teaspoons freshly chopped parsley

175g grated mature Cheddar cheese

Crusty white bread

Put the white wine and the rest of the ingredients into a fondue pot or small saucepan and stir. Just before serving put over a low heat until the cheese melts and begins to bubble. Put the pot over the fondue stove and serve immediately.  Provide each guest with fresh French bread or cubes of ordinary white bread crisped up in a hot oven.  They will also need a fondue fork and an ordinary fork.

Rhubarb Fool

Serves 6 approximately

450g red rhubarb, cut into chunks

175g sugar

2 tablespoons water

225 – 300ml softly whipped cream

Put the rhubarb into a stainless saucepan with the sugar and water, stir, cover, bring to the boil and simmer until soft, 20 minutes approx.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the rhubarb dissolves into a mush. Allow to get quite cold. Fold in the softly whipped cream to taste. Serve chilled with shortbread biscuits.

Jane’s Biscuits – Shortbread Biscuits

This recipe is a ‘keeper’ – loved by children and all ages.  Stick it up on the inside of your kitchen cupboard door for easy access.

Makes 25

175g white flour or Spelt

110g butter (room temperature)

40g castor sugar

Put the flour and sugar into a bowl, rub in the butter as for shortcrust pastry. Gather the mixture together and knead lightly. Roll out to 7mm thick.  Cut into rounds with 6cm cutter or into heart shapes.  Bake in a moderate oven 180°C/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 to pale brown, 8-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the biscuits. Remove and cool on a rack.

Serve with fruit fools, compotes and ice creams.

Note: Watch these biscuits really carefully in the oven. Because of the high sugar content they burn easily. They should be a pale golden – darker will be more bitter.

However if they are too pale they will be undercooked and doughy.  Cool on a wire rack.

Penny’s Vanilla Cupcakes

This is our favourite cupcake recipe – they can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion!  Use your favourite icing and embellish them as you fancy.

Makes 9-10 cupcakes or 16-18 ‘wee’ buns

150g soft butter (at room temperature)

150g caster sugar

150g self-raising flour

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons milk


225g icing sugar

zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 cupcake tins lined with bun cases.

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Put all ingredients except milk into a food processer, whizz until smooth.  Scrape down sides of the bowl, then add milk and whizz again.

Divide mixture evenly between cases in muffin tin. 

Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile make the icing.

Put the sieved icing sugar and lemon zest into a bowl.  Add enough lemon juice to mix to a spreadable consistency. 

Ice the cupcakes with lemon icing and garnish with a crystallised flower.  Alternatively, use chocolate icing and decorate with chocolate curls.

Dark Chocolate Icing

175g icing sugar

50g unsweetened cocoa powder

75g butter

4 tablespoons water

110g castor sugar

Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a mixing bowl. Measure the butter, water and sugar into a saucepan. Set over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter is melted. Bring just to the boil, then draw off the heat and pour at once into the sifted ingredients. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy. It will thicken as it cools.

For the Chocolate Curls

Melt the 150g (5oz) of the chocolate in a pan over hot water and stir until smooth. Pour the chocolate onto a flat baking sheet, and tap the tin gently to spread.  Allow to cool. Once cool, using a cheese slice, or the blade of a chopping knife, pull the blade across the chocolate creating “curls” as you go.   Rest on parchment paper and use as required.

Sue’s Coffee and Walnut Squares

From One Pot Feeds All by Darina Allen, published by Kyle Books

This is a super versatile recipe that comes from Sue Cullinane, one of our senior tutors at Ballymaloe Cookery School. I sometimes just scatter crunchy praline over the top for a quick, but delicious fix. Toasted hazelnuts or pecans are also a delectable combination, instead of the walnuts. 

Makes 20

225g softened butter, plus extra for greasing

100g caster sugar

80g soft brown sugar

300g self-raising flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

4 organic, free-range eggs

2 tablespoons whole milk

1 tablespoon Camp coffee essence

For the coffee buttercream

100g softened butter

300g icing sugar, sifted

1 dessertspoon whole milk

2 teaspoons Camp coffee essence

20 walnut halves, toasted hazelnuts or whole pecans, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Grease a 30cm (length) x 20cm (width) x 5cm (depth) tin with a little butter and line with a sheet of parchment paper that comes up over each side.

Put all the cake ingredients into a food processor. Whizz just long enough to combine. Spread the cake mixture evenly over the lined tin and smooth the top with a palette knife. Bake for 20–25 minutes until well risen. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely in the tin.

To make the buttercream, cream the butter and beat in the icing sugar, followed by the milk and coffee extract.

As soon as the cake has cooled, use a palette knife to spread the coffee buttercream evenly over the top. Cut into squares and decorate each one with a half walnut, toasted hazelnut or whole pecan. Alternatively, pipe a rosette of coffee buttercream on top of each square and top with a toasted nut.

Julia’s Melted Nettles with Pomegranate Syrup

A ‘cocooned’ friend in the UK told me about this delicious flavour combination.

Serves 4

225g young Spring nettles

25g butter or 2-3tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1-2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Using gloves, remove the leaves from the stalks. Wash the nettles well under cold water. Plunge into boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Drain well.  When cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much moisture as possible.

To serve.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of butter or extra virgin olive oil in a pan, add the blanched nettles, season well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses, taste and correct seasoning.  Add a little more molasses if necessary. It’s difficult to say how much because different brands vary in intensity.

Note: Young nettles are mild, delicious and super nutritious, I like to blanch a few batches and then freeze for another time – loaded with iron and a brilliant blood cleanser.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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