Laois Taste


Love the way counties all over the country have well and truly got their mojo back after the setback of the pandemic but it has to be said that much wonderful creativity bubbled up during those couple of years of confinement.
 This really came home to me on a recent visit to Stradbally to celebrate the many awards that members of Laois Taste won during 2023 including the EU organic award presented to Kevin Scully of The Merry Mill near Vicarstown for the exceptional quality and nutrient density of his organic gluten-free oats.
It was such a convivial event held in the courtyard of the Ballykilcavan Brewery, virtually all of the 26 artisan and specialist food and drink producers from all over the county turned up and proudly displayed their products. The passion in the room was palpable, I have to say I was properly impressed by the quality and have since sent in an order for several items to stock in our little Farm Shop in Shanagarry.
Laois County Council, Laois Chamber of Commerce, Laois Partnership Co, Laois Enterprise Board, Laois Tourism and Laois Co Manager were out in force to show their unqualified support for this vibrant sector. On my way to the event, I called in to the Muller O’ Connell artisan bakery in Abbeyleix for a cup of coffee and was mightily impressed by the display of both food and drink products from around the county, but I now know that if I had wandered into Supervalu down the road I would have been equally impressed. They are just one of several businesses in the county who are highlighting and selling these local Laois products proudly.
Long gone are the days of my childhood when local food was a derogatory term, one would expect to pay less for something if it was local. Fast forward to now when local is one of the sexiest words in food and there’s a deep, craving for food with a story and genuine provenance.
One of the pioneers, the legendary, Helen Gee was there in fine fettle, she regaled us all with the story of how she started off with a saucepan and wooden spoon in her own kitchen and how winning first prize for her raspberry jam at the Abbeyleix Food Fair in 1997 gave her the confidence to establish Gee’s Jams, now a hugely successful business selling a wide variety of jams and preserves all over the country. Little pots of her jams grace first class trays on Aer Lingus flights worldwide and three of her children have returned to Abbeyleix from other careers to help to sustain and grow the business even further.
Kevin Scully also shared the hilarious story of his transition from the building trade to farming, and his initial efforts to harvest, mill and dry his oats with the help of a sieve and hair dryer. Virtually all of the artisans and producers would’ve had stories of how they improvised as they started.
Adding value to the raw materials and initial produce is the key to survival for many in rural areas and it is hugely encouraging to see the creativity and spirit of cooperation within the sector and the second generation, returning to the business in several cases.
As the numbers grow, it encourages others within the county to wrack their brains for ways to add value to the produce and come up with new ideas, rather than ‘me too’ products, the world is your oyster in the sector at the moment.
But there is no success without plenty of hard work and it’s wonderful to see the joy that the Blas na hÉreann, The Great Taste Awards and others bring to those who are trying so hard to establish a brand and break into a brave new world.
I also ordered some of the ION organic oils, cold pressed in Portarlington. I was particularly looking for sunflower oil, but they have hazelnut, walnut and poppy seed oils too. I loved the sugared cranberries and caramel shortbread nuts from Tatiana Bite of Zephyr Yard.
For a full list of Laois Taste products, check out www.laoistaste.i

Mummy’s Light Christmas Cake

This light fruit cake is a huge favourite with many who don’t enjoy a rich Christmas cake.  Mummy used royal icing and made a snow scene with Santa and his sleigh. Thanks for the memories…

Makes 35 pieces

50g whole almonds

200g sultanas

200g raisins

100g homemade chopped candied peel

50g currants

50g real glacé cherries, cut in quarters

50g ground almonds

225g butter, softened

225g caster sugar

4 large or 5 small eggs, preferably free-range and organic

grated rind of 1 orange

275g flour

a pinch of salt

⅛ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp milk

Almond Paste

175g caster sugar

175g ground almonds

1 small egg, preferably free-range and organic

2 tsp whiskey

1 drop of almond extract

1 egg white, beaten, or apricot jam

icing sugar, for dusting the worktop

Fondant Icing

vodka, for brushing over the almond paste

600g ready-to-roll fondant icing


Santas, candied angelica or holly leaves (optional)

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

Line a 20.5cm x 30.5cm cake tin that is 5cm deep lined with parchment paper.  Mum cooked this cake in an oval enamel tin with a lid.

Blanch the whole almonds in boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop.  Mix together all the fruit, candied peel and the ground and chopped almonds.  Cream the butter until it’s really soft, then add in the caster sugar and beat until light and creamy.  Whisk the eggs and add them in bit by bit, beating well between each addition.  Add the grated orange rind.  Sieve the flour and salt together, then stir in the flour and all of the fruit.  Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the milk and stir it thoroughly through the mixture.  Spoon into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 50 – 60 minutes.  Allow to get cold, turn out of the tin and wrap in greaseproof paper until ready to ice.

To make the Almond Paste.

Sieve the castor sugar and mix it with the ground almonds.  Beat the egg and add the whiskey and almond extract.   Add to the dry ingredients and mix to a stiff paste (you may not need all the egg.) 

To ice the Cake

Brush the top of the cake with beaten egg white or apricot jam.

Sprinkle the worktop with icing sugar.  Roll the almond paste into a rectangle slightly larger than the cake.  Roll the almond paste over the rolling pin, then unroll it over the cake.  Press carefully onto the cake.  Allow to dry for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.

When ready to apply the fondant icing, brush the almond paste with vodka or other non-coloured spirit.

Next, apply the fondant icing.  Roll it out slightly larger than the cake.  Roll it over the rolling pin and then unroll it over the cake.   Press lightly.

Decorate if you wish with Santas, candied angelica or holly, but it looks great just as it is.

Cut the cake into 35 pieces (5 across x 7 on the length) or to whatever size you prefer.

Chocolate Yule Log

This melt in the mouth Chocolate Yule Log is usually much more delicious than the original chocolate sponge Swiss roll but I prefer this sinfully rich version.  There’s no need for any icing, it’s rich enough as it is! Even though it seems very fragile, it can be made 1-2 days ahead, keep covered with a slightly damp cloth and roll up and decorate close to time of serving.

Serves 10 approx.

5 eggs, preferably free-range

175g best-quality dark chocolate (we use Callebaut 52%)

175g caster sugar

3 tbsp water


300ml double cream

1-2 tbsp rum

sieved icing sugar


Santas, holly leaves etc.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Line a shallow 30.5cm x 20.5cm Swiss roll tin with oiled parchment paper.

Separate the eggs.  Put the yolks into a bowl, gradually add the caster sugar and whisk until the mixture is thick and pale lemon coloured.  Melt the chocolate with the water in a saucepan set over a very gentle heat, then set aside while you whisk the egg whites to a firm snow.  Add the melted chocolate to the egg yolk mixture.  Stir a little of the egg white into the mixture, then cut and fold the remainder of the egg whites into the mixture and turn it into the prepared tin.  Cook in a preheated oven for 15-18 minutes, until firm to the touch around the edge but still slightly soft in the centre. 

Wring out a tea-towel in cold water.  Take out the roulade out of the oven and let it cool slightly, then cover with the cloth.  (This is to prevent any sugary crust from forming.)  Leave it in a cool place.  Provided the cloth is kept damp, it will keep for 2 days like this.

To Serve

Whip the cream and flavour with the rum.  Put a sheet of parchment paper onto a table and dust it well with sieved icing sugar.  Remove the damp cloth from the roulade and turn the tin upside down onto the prepared paper.  Remove the tin and carefully peel the parchment paper off the roulade.  Spread with the rum-flavoured cream and roll it up like a Swiss roll.  Cut about one-third off the roll at an angle.  Lift the roll onto a serving plate, arrange the smaller piece so it looks like a branch and dust well with icing sugar.  Decorate with Christmas cake decorations, such as holly leaves, Santas or robins, sprinkle again with a little extra icing sugar and serve.

Frosted Christmas Tangerines

Can you imagine how welcome frosted tangerines are after a rich meal?

This clean, tingly fresh-tasting ice tastes like superior iced lolly. It can also be filled into ice-pop moulds, which halves the work! Clementines, mandarins or satsumas are also great in this recipe. Citrus fruit are at their best and most varied in the winter, when they are in season.

Serves 10-12, depending on whether people eat 1 or 2

20-24 tangerines

juice of ½ lemon

icing sugar (optional)


225g sugar

150ml water

juice of ¼ lemon


fresh bay leaves or holly

First make the syrup. Put the sugar, water and lemon juice into a saucepan over a low heat, stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, and boil for 2-3 minutes, Cool.

Grate the zest finely from 10 of the tangerines, cut in half and squeeze the juice. Cut the remaining tangerines so that they each have a lid. Scoop the sections out of the ‘shell’ with a small spoon and then press them through a nylon sieve, (alternatively, you could liquidise the pulp and then strain). You should end up with 700ml juice approx. Add the finely grated zest, the freshly squeezed lemon juice and the syrup to taste. Taste and add icing sugar or extra lemon juice if more sweetness or sharpness is required.  It should taste sweeter than you would like it to be because it will lose some of its sweetness when it freezes.

Freeze until firm in one of the suggested ways.

Make the sorbet in one of the following ways.

1. Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetière and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed.

2. Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezer.  After 4-5 hours, when the sorbet is semi-frozen, remove from the freezer and whisk until smooth, then return to the freezer. Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in 1 stiffly beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.

3. If you have a food processor, simply freeze the sorbet completely in a stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add 1 lightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl and freeze again until needed.

Meanwhile, chill the tangerine shells in the fridge or freezer and fill the chilled shells with scoops of the frozen sorbet. We sit them in muffin trays so they don’t wobble around.  Replace the lids and store in the freezer. Cover with cling film if not serving on the same day.

To Serve

Serve on a white plate decorated with fresh bay leaves or holly.


Sorbetières or ice-cream makers can be very expensive, but we find that the kind that can be put in the freezer the night before work surprisingly well.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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