ArchiveOctober 2020

Time to start the Christmas prep

It’s extraordinary in these uncertain times to think that it’s only eight weeks to Christmas. Already some of us are storming the shops to find presents for our loved ones or to secure a longed for toy for our little dotes.

Who knows what level of restrictions will be in place by then, impossible to predict. We can just plan for the worst and hope for the best. Meanwhile, let’s get cooking, we’ve already started to make plum puddings, and have early orders on the board. We’re fortunate to have two really good recipes – one is my Mother’s passed down through several generations and the other is my late Mother-in-law’s Myrtle Allen’s, both are fruity and delicious and benefit from being made ahead and left to mature. Both are super easy to make, just mix and boil. Mincemeat is even easier .. put all the ingredients into a bowl, add a good slosh of whiskey, then fill it into sterilised jars. Cover and label for presents and Christmas hampers.

Lots of other edible presents can be made during the next few weeks, little jars of Kumquat Marmalade, Cranberry Sauce, Green Tomato Jam.

The best juiciest plum puddings are made with beef suet so go along to your local butcher, ask for the suet from around the beef kidney. It’s easy to prepare and can be frozen in batches for plum puddings and mincemeat.

Buy the best quality dried fruit and how about making a batch of homemade candied peel. It will hugely enhance the flavour of your Christmas Cake and Puddings and can also made into sweetmeats.

Our seasonal tomato crop is coming to an end but we still have lots of green tomatoes so we’ve been making a delicious green tomato jam and green tomato chutney to add to Christmas hampers.

Try this beetroot and ginger relish too. The remainder of the beets can be left in the ground but they just become woodier as the weeks pass, so best to whip them up, cook and pickle or freeze for Winter meals.

So these are a few suggestions…..

Christmas Cake

This makes a moist cake which keeps very well.  It can either be made months ahead or if you are frenetically busy it will still delish even if made just a few days before Christmas – believe me I know!   This cake, now a classic, was originally published in 1989 in A Simply Delicious Christmas, it’s still my favourite rich Christmas Cake.  Source the best ingredients you can, including moist plump dried fruit.

225g (8oz) butter

225g (8oz) pale, soft-brown sugar or golden castor sugar

6 eggs, preferably free-range and organic

285g  (9oz) flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice

65 ml (2 1/2 fl ozs) Irish whiskey

350g (12oz) best-quality sultanas

350g (12oz) best- quality currants

350g (12oz) best-quality raisins

110g (4oz) real glacé cherries

110g (4oz) homemade candied peel (see recipe)

50g (2oz) ground almonds

50g (2oz) whole almonds

rind of 1 organic unwaxed lemon

rind of 1 organic unwaxed orange

1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated

Line the base and sides of a 23cm (9 inch) round, or 20.5cm (8 inch) square tin with a double thickness of silicone paper.  Tie a double layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin.  Have a sheet of brown or silicone paper to lay on top of the tin during cooking.

Wash the cherries and dry them gently.  Cut in two or four as desired.  Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely.  Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind.  Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/315°F/Gas Mark 2 1/2.

Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle.  Mix the spice with the flour and stir in gently.  Add the grated cooking apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).  You can of course use a food mixer if one is available but the same principle applies.

Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin.  Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked.

Lay a double sheet of brown paper on top of the cake to protect the surface from the direct heat.  Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 after 1 hour.  Bake until cooked; test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean after a further 2 1/2 hours approximately in total. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.

Next day remove from the tin.  Do not remove the lining paper but wrap in several layers of greaseproof paper and brown paper until required.  Store in a cool dry place, the longer the cake is stored the more mature it becomes.

Close to Christmas, ice and decorate as desired.

Ballymaloe Famous Homemade Mincemeat

Here are two delicious options, the first is the classic Ballymaloe Mincemeat recipe passed down in Myrtle Allen’s family for several generations.  Of course it contains suet so it’s moist and juicy and best eaten hot in pies and tarts.

The second, Emer Fitzgerald’s Mincemeat is vegetarian, it doesn’t include suet or butter and is also gluten-free.

Makes 3.2 kilos approx.    

Makes 8-9 pots.

2 cooking apples, eg. Bramley Seedling

2 organic lemons

450g (1lb) finely minced beef suet

pinch of salt

110g (4oz) candied citrus peel (preferably homemade)

2 tablespoons Seville orange marmalade

225g (8oz) currants

450g (1lb) sultanas

790g (1lb 12oz) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown)

62ml (2 1/2fl oz) Irish whiskey

Core and bake the whole apples in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 30 minutes approx. Allow to cool.  When they are soft, remove the skin and pips and mash the flesh into pulp.  Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless steel grater and squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp.  Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly.  Put into sterilized jars, cover and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using.  This mincemeat will keep for a year in a cool, airy place.

Emer Fitzgerald’s Mincemeat (Vegetarian)

This delicious mincemeat is suet free and suitable for vegetarians.

Makes 6 pots

700g (1½lb) cooking apples, peeled and chopped

1 orange, rind and juice

1 lemon, rind and juice

330ml (11fl.oz)  cider or apple juice

500g (18 oz) Barbados sugar

500g (18 oz) sultanas

250g (9oz) currants

125g (4½ oz) mixed candied peel

100ml (3½ fl.oz) Irish whiskey

1 teaspoon mixed spice

Place the apples, orange and lemon juice and rind and cider in a large saucepan.  Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the apple has cooked.  Stir in the sugar, mixed spice, mincemeat, sultanas, currants and candied peel.    Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then simmer for a further 15 minutes.   Remove from the heat, allow to cool.  Stir in the whiskey and pot into sterilized jars.

Elizabeth O’Connell’s Plum Pudding

It has always been the tradition in our house to eat the first plum pudding on the evening it is made.   As children we could hardly contain ourselves with excitement – somehow that plum pudding seemed all the more delicious because it was our first taste of Christmas.   The plum pudding was usually made about mid-November and everyone in the family had to stir so we could make a wish – I now know that it helped to mix it properly.  This is quite simply the best plum pudding I’ve ever tasted and everyone who tastes it seems to agree wholeheartedly.

It’s fun to put silver plum pudding charms in the pudding destined to be eaten on Christmas Day.

This recipe makes 2 large or 3 medium puddings. 

The large size will serve 10-12 people, the medium 6-8.

350g (12oz) raisins

350g (12 ozs) sultanas

350g (12 ozs) currants

350g (12 ozs) brown sugar

350g (12 ozs) good quality white breadcrumbs (non GM)

350g (12 ozs) finely-chopped suet

110g (4 ozs) candied peel (preferably home-made)

2 Bramley cooking apples, coarsely grated

rind of 1 unwaxed lemon

3 whole cloves pounded (not ground cloves)

a pinch of salt

6 organic eggs

62ml (2 1/2 fl ozs) dark Jamaica Rum (not Bacardi)

110g (4oz) chopped peeled almonds (finer than nibbed)

Mix all the ingredients together very thoroughly and leave overnight; don’t forget, everyone in the family must stir and make a wish!  Next day stir again for good measure.  Fill into pudding bowls; cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper which has been pleated in the centre, and tie it tightly under the rim with cotton twine,  making a twine handle also for ease of lifting.

Steam in a covered saucepan of boiling water for 6 hours.  The water should come half way up the side of the bowl.  Check every hour or so and top up with boiling water if necessary.  After 6 hours, remove the pudding.   Allow to get cold and re-cover with fresh greaseproof paper.  Store in a cool dry place until required.

On Christmas Day or whenever you wish to serve the plum pudding, you will need to steam for a further 2 hours.  Turn the plum pudding out of the bowl onto a very hot serving plate, pour over some whiskey or brandy and ignite.  Serve immediately on very hot plates with  Brandy Butter.

Myrtle Allen’s Plum Pudding

Serves 8-10

Making the Christmas Puddings (from The Ballymaloe Cook Book by Myrtle Allen)

The tradition that every member of the household could have a wish which was likely (note, never a firm promise) to come true, was, of course, a ruse to get all the children to help with heavy work of stirring the pudding.  I only discovered this after I was married and had to do job myself.  This recipe, multiplied many times, was made all at once.  In a machineless age, mixing all those expensive ingredients properly was a formidable task.  Our puddings were mixed in an enormous china crock which held the bread for the house hold for the rest of the year.  My mother, nanny and the cook took it in turns to stir, falling back with much panting and laughing after a few minutes’ work.  I don’t think I was really much help to them. 

Christmas puddings should be given at least 6 weeks to mature.  They will keep for a year.  They become richer and firmer with age, but one loses the lightness of the fruit flavour.  We always eat our last plum pudding at Easter.

If possible, prepare your own fresh beef suet – it is better than the pre-packed product. 

6ozs (175g) shredded beef suet

6 ozs (175g) sugar

7ozs (200g) soft breadcrumbs

8ozs (225g) currants

8 ozs (225g) raisins

4 ozs (110g) candied peel

1-2 teaspoons mixed spice

a pinch of salt

2 tablespoons flour

2 fl ozs (50ml) flesh of a baked apple

3 eggs

2 fl ozs (50ml) Irish whiskey

1 x 3 pints (1.75 L) capacity pudding bowl

Mix the ingredients thoroughly.  Whisk the eggs and add them, with the apple and whiskey.  Stir very well indeed.  Fill into the greased pudding bowl.  Cover with a round of greaseproof paper or a butter-wrapped pressed down on top of the pudding.  Put a large round of greaseproof or brown paper over the top of the bowl, tying it firmly under the rim. 

Place in a saucepan one-third full of boiling water and simmer for 10 hours, we now do six.  Do not allow the water to boil over the top and do not let it boil dry either.  Store in a cool place until needed.

Boil for 1 1/2 – 2 hours before serving.  Left-over pudding may be fried in butter.

Serve with Whiskey Cream or Brandy butter.

Homemade Candied Peel

Fruit should be organic if possible, otherwise scrub the peel well.

5 organic unwaxed oranges

5 organic unwaxed lemons

5 organic unwaxed grapefruit   (or all of one fruit)


1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2lbs (1.1kg) sugar

Cut the fruit in half and squeeze out the juice. Reserve the juice for another use, perhaps homemade lemonade. Put the peel into a large bowl (not aluminium), add salt and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for 24 hours. Next day throw away the soaking water, put the peel in a saucepan and cover with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil cover and simmer very gently until the peel is soft, 3 hours approx. Remove the peel and discard the water. Scrape out any remaining flesh and membranes from inside the cut fruit, leaving the white pith and rind intact. (You could do the next step next day if that was more convenient).

Slice the peel into nice long strips.  Alternatively cut each half in half.

Dissolve the sugar in 1 1/4 pints (750ml/generous 3 cups) water, bring it to the boil, add the peel and simmer gently until it looks translucent, 30 – 60 minutes and the syrup forms a thread when the last drop falls off a metal spoon. Remove the peel with a slotted spoon, fill the candied peel into sterilised glass jars and pour the syrup over, cover and store in a cold place or in a fridge. It should keep for 6-8 weeks or longer under refrigeration.

Alternatively spread on a baking tray or trays and allow to sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour to cool. Toss in castor sugar and store in covered glass jars until needed.

Janie’s Green Tomato Jam

A recipe given to me by Janie Suthering.  We always have masses of green tomatoes when it becomes colder in the Autumn and the tomatoes ripen more slowly. Delicious with cold meats and pâté.  We use the green fruit for chutneys for predictable things like fried green tomatoes and chutneys.

Makes 2 small jars

500g (18oz) green tomatoes

450ml (16fl oz) water

300g (10oz) granulated sugar

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Wash and slice the tomatoes (no need to peel), and place in a large pan with the water. Bring to the boil then simmer covered for 50-60 minutes until tender. Add remaining ingredients and dissolve sugar over gentle heat, stirring occasionally.

Boil rapidly for 10 –12 minutes or until setting point is reached.

Beetroot and Ginger Relish

A delicious combination, this relish complements goat’s cheese, pâte de campagne and lots of other meats.

Makes 4 jars (yields 500ml (18fl oz) approximately

Serves 8 – 20 depending on how it’s served

225g (8oz) onion, chopped

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

3 tablespoons sugar

450g (1lb) raw beetroot, peeled and grated

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

25ml (1fl oz) sherry vinegar

120ml (4 1/2fl oz) red wine

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sweat the onions slowly in the butter for 5-6 minutes until very soft.  Add the remaining ingredients and cook gently for 30 minutes.  Serve cold.

This relish is best eaten within 6 months.

Halloween Cooking Session for all the family…

Trick or Treat is one of the most exciting and fun celebrations of the entire year, I love how kids all over the all over the country spend hours in happy anticipation, plotting and planning their costumes, disguises, scary tricks and wizardry…Can’t bear how their enthusiasm will need to be dampened this year…Poor little dotes….Robbed of their innocent fun because of Covid 19 restrictions. I keep wondering what the kids make of all this, amazingly some seem to just take it in their stride, perhaps they think this is all normal. Others are super anxious depending on how much they overhear from adults, radio, TV…..hard to avoid it…

Well how about a Monster Halloween Cooking Session with spooky music and lots of ghost stories and games. We definitely have to have a barmbrack – soak the fruit in strong Barry’s tea a day or two before and don’t forget to hide the Halloween charms in the fruity batter. If you find a ring in your slice – you’ll be married within the year. The Stick – a bad sign, your partner will beat you. A Rag – bad news too, your destiny is for a life of poverty. A Coin – is a promise of riches. These can also be hidden in a big bowl of colcannon, a traditional Irish Halloween dish – a little needs to be left on the window sill to appease the fairies and chase away the spirits or you could also be in deep trouble.

As children we had a variety Halloween games. Apple bobbing was a favourite, many involved divination and being blindfolded, and then there was the Three Saucers, arranged in a line, one contained water, one clay and the third held a ring. I seem to remember being spun around three times while blindfolded, then reaching out with my hands to touch a saucer. Water meant you were about to embark on an overseas journey, clay meant you would soon go to your grave and yet again the ring indicated matrimony was nigh….but now for fun in the kitchen.

‘Dragons eggs’ are easy and fun to do. Hard boil eggs for 10 minutes, peel them and drop into beetroot pickle juice, they turn a scary purply colour. Any number of spooky, scary shapes and concoctions can be made with children of all ages from a meringue mixture, that we call Púca. How about making these willowy ghosts….Devil’s brains made of popcorn will also be a hit, as will this Cobweb Cake. Buy a giant pumpkin, preferably with a stumpy stem, the kids will have  hours of fun scooping out the seeds and flesh, seeds can be roasted and tossed in extra virgin olive oil and maybe a sprinkling of chilli flakes to nibble as a snack. The flesh can then be used to make a delicious pumpkin soup to serve in the pumpkin shell.

Maybe light a few bonfires in the garden and organise a spooky feast, have a safe and happy Halloween….

Wizard’s Soup in a Pumpkin Shell

Serves 6

1 cup onion, chopped

1 cup potato, chopped

3 cups of pumpkin, chopped

2 tsp thyme leaves, optional

5 cups of chicken or veg stock, or stock and milk mixed

Flaky sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

A pinch of chilli flakes if you fancy

Roasted pumpkin seeds (see recipe)

Served in a hollowed out pumpkin

One can use water, chicken or vegetable stock and season simply with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Complementary fresh herbs or spices may also be added.

Choose a large pumpkin. Carefully remove the lid, preferably with the stump attached. First scoop out all the seeds and filaments. Separate the seeds and toast as below. Scoop out the flesh being careful not to damage the shell. Chop the flesh and use to make the pumpkin soup.

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes, onions and pumpkin and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the boiling stock. Boil until soft and liquidise. Do not overcook or the pumpkin will lose its flavour. Adjust seasoning. Pour the boiling soup in to the pumpkin shell. Cover with the lid and serve hot with some toasted pumpkin seeds on top.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Roast pumpkin seeds with salt or sugar and add them to breakfast cereals, breads or simply nibble to your heart’s content. Alternatively, dry the seed and save for next year’s crop.

Pumpkin seeds

Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 120ºC/250ºF/gas mark 1⁄2.

Remove the seeds from the flesh and rinse under cold water. Lay a single layer on a baking tray and sprinkle with a generous amount of sea salt.

Dry roast in the oven for 30–40 minutes, by which time the seeds should be nice and crunchy.

Halloween Colcannon

Colcannon is another traditional mashed potato dish like Champ, but with kale or cabbage instead of spring onions. It was traditionally eaten at Halloween and shared with the fairies to keep evil spirits away. For another variation try mashed parsnips, a delightful addition.

Serves about 4-6

450g (1lb) Savoy, spring cabbage or kale (kale is the most traditional)

1.3kg (3lb) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks

about 225ml (8fl oz) milk

salt and freshly ground pepper

50g (2oz) butter

Scrub the potatoes, put them in a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are half-cooked after about 15 minutes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan and put onto a gentle heat, leaving the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.

Meanwhile, if using cabbage, remove the dark outer leaves, wash the remainder, cut it into quarters, remove the core and cut finely across the grain. Boil in a little boiling water or bacon cooking water until soft. Drain and season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a little butter.

When the potatoes are just cooked, put the milk and the finely chopped shallots into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Pull the peel off the potatoes and discard. Mash the potatoes quickly, while they are still warm, and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy purée. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Then stir in the cooked cabbage and taste for seasoning. For perfection, serve immediately in a hot dish with a lump of butter melting in the centre.

Colcannon may be prepared ahead up to this point and reheated later in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4, for 20–25 minutes. Cover while reheating so it doesn’t get too crusty on top.

Dragon’s Eggs

Makes 8

Pickled Beetroot Juice (see recipe)

8 eggs, hard boiled

Homemade Mayo


First cook the eggs. Bring a deep saucepan of water to the boil, lower the eggs carefully into the boiling water, ten minutes from the time the water returns to the boil will be adequate. Drop into a bowl of cold water and run under tap with completely cold water. Peel, fill into sterilized Kilner or preserving jars and cover with beetroot pickle juice (see below). Allow to macerate for 2-3 days before using.

Serve with mayonnaise on a bed of watercress.

Note: the beetroot pickle dyes the egg white a scary purple colour

Halloween Pickled Beetroot

Serves 5-6

1lb (450g) cooked beetroot (see below)

8oz (225g/1 cup) sugar

16fl oz (475ml/2 cups) water

1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)

8fl oz (225ml/1 cup) white wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in water, bringing it to the boil. Add the sliced onion and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the vinegar, pour over the peeled, sliced (diced or cut into wedges) beet and leave to cool.

Note: The onion can be omitted if desired.

Leave 2 inches (5cm) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don’t damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 1-2 hours depending on size. Beetroot are usually cooked if the skin rubs off easily and if they dent when pressed with a finger.  If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.

Dracula’s Cheesy Brains

Flavour popcorn with grated Parmesan or Cheddar, mustard and cayenne pepper, then shape into ‘brains’ and serve at Halloween as part of a spooky spread.

Enough for 12 ish

1 ½ tablespoons (2 American tablespoons) vegetable oil, plus extra for shaping.

125g (4 1/2 oz) popcorn

400g (14oz) finely grated Parmesan and Cheddar cheese

Few pinches cayenne pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan (or do in two batches). Tip in the popcorn, cover and shake the pan to coat the kernels. Cook over a medium heat until the corn stops to pop, about 4 – 5 minutes, shaking the pan every so often. Take off heat and sprinkle with a little salt.

Mix finely grated  Parmesan, Cheddar cheese and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Toss over the popcorn and mix well until completely coated.

These can be made a few hours before serving.

Spooky Meringue  Púcas

A Púca means ghost or spirit in Gaelic – primarily a creature of Celtic folklore, so easy and fun to make.

Serves 4-6

2 egg whites

110g (4oz/1/2 cup) castor sugar

You will need a piping bag with a plain ‘éclair nozzle’.

Beat whites until stiff but not yet dry.  Fold in half the sugar.  Beat again until the mixture will stand in a firm dry peak.  Fold the remaining sugar in carefully.  Fill into the piping bag.  Cover a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.  Pipe a small blob of the meringue onto the paper pulling the piping bag upwards quickly to create a willowy point.     

Bake in a very low oven, 100ºC/200ºF/Gas Mark 1/4 for 4 hours approx.  Allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, melt some chocolate and fill into a paper piping bag.  Decorate the meringues by piping little dots for eyes and a little oval for a scary mouth. Arrange on an appropriate plate, maybe on a bed of edible soil (see recipe below) with wood sorrel dotted here and there.

Serve with a bowl of softly whipped cream. 

Chocolate Soil… sounds scary but it tastes delicious

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

2 tablespoons water

75g (3oz) dark chocolate chopped or grated into small chunks

In a saucepan on a medium to high heat place the sugar and water, give it a stir but try not get any water crystals on the side. The sugar will melt and start to boil and bubble. You want the mixture to reach to 135C. If you don’t have a thermometer the mixture will start to turn a golden brown.

At this stage you want to work fast and pour the chocolate mix into the pot while whisking. It will dry out and turn to soil almost immediately. Magic. Cool on a nonstick baking tray. It keeps for ages.

Scary Strawberry Ghosts

Another simple recipe to make with the kids for their Halloween feast.

Makes 20

20 Large strawberries

100g best quality white chocolate

100g dark chocolate

Lay a sheet of parchment paper on a tray. Put the white chocolate into a small pyrex bowl over a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and turn off the heat immediately (the water should not touch the base of the bowl). Allow to site until the chocolate melts.

Catch each strawberry by the calyx and dip in the melted chocolate until the fruit is almost fully submerged. Allow to develop a drip at the base, then lay each on its side on the parchment paper.

Meanwhile melt some dark chocolate also. Fill into a parchment piping bag, decorate each strawberry with eyes and a smile or a frown – can be a happy, sad or scary face, all part of the fun….

Good to know: a toothpick dipped in the dark chocolate also works well to create the expressions. Enjoy!

Spider Web Cake

Lovely and delicious as it is, but even spookier if you top it with pucas and spiders…!

Serves 8

175g (6oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, preferably free range

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

Chocolate Icing

175g (6oz) icing sugar

50g (2oz) unsweetened cocoa powder

75g (3oz) butter

75ml (3fl oz) water

75g (3oz) caster sugar

Lemon Glacé Icing

110g (4oz) icing sugar

1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin buttered and floured.  Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

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

Put the soft butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin – make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.

Next make the chocolate icing.  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 lemon glace icing. Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.

Pour the chocolate icing over the cake and allow to drip down over the side. Meanwhile, fill a paper piping bag with a fluid glace icing, fold over the top, snip off the point to make a writing pipe.

Quickly, pipe a continuous circle from the centre to the outside. Then use a cocktail stick to draw the icing inwards and outwards to create a spider’s web.

Decorate with spiders and púcas if available and serve on a Halloween plate or cake stand.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest book is full of Flavour…

Yotam Ottolenghi is a paradigm shifting force on the global food scene. His new book FLAVOUR is quite the revelation and I certainly don’t use that word lightly. Even though Yotam is not a vegetarian, he has been celebrating and singing the praises of vegetables for decades and is on a mission to present them in new and exciting ways.  He and his team have been testing, tasting and sharing the many recipes they have devised to ramp up and create new flavours that totally banish our concept of traditional vegetables.

Although his six restaurants all across London are not vegetarian, vegetables feature abundantly on the menus. He’s written and co-authored seven cookbooks thus far

Among them, PLENTY which was published in 2010, PLENTY MORE in 2014,  FLAVOUR is the most recent book in the series, Yotam teamed up with Ixta Belfarge who is equally obsessed with vegetables. Her journey to the world of food via Mexico City, Brazil, France, Tuscany and Australia was complex and varied, she even had a market stall in London for a spell and eventually got a job at Nopi, one of Yotam’s restaurants.

Her eclectic cooking is deeply engrained in the cultures she absorbed during her travel over the years.

The third contributor to this inspirational book was Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni, Tara Wigley. She cooks and writes like an angel and also collaborated with Yotam’s business partner Sami Tamini on his recent book Falastin (see Examiner article 26th September 2020)

So why am I waxing lyrical about FLAVOUR – Well, for a start I’ve been cooking all of my adult life and a good part of my childhood, I live on an organic farm, I too love vegetables and I am fortunate to have access to beautiful freshly harvested produce throughout the year. Since 1983, I have taught thousands of students here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School since and thus far written nineteen cookbooks. Yet, Yotam and Ixta have introduced me to a myriad of new ways to add hitherto undreamt of flavours to our favourite vegetables. Cauliflower, celeriac, even carrots and cabbage will never be the same again.

How do they do it? – well you’ll need to buy the book to discover all the secrets but a few hints, Yotam and Ixta introduce us to a series of twenty essential ingredients to add extra oomph – I’ve got to add Guachong chilli paste to my larder! Furthermore to add extra magic they hone in on four processes, charring, browning, infusing and ageing and there’s more…

Pop into your local bookshop – FLAVOUR is published by Ebury Press. Treat yourself and maybe pick up an extra copy for a friend who loves to cook. Once again, here are a couple of recipes to illustrate how common vegetables and pulses can be utterly transformed.

Ottolenghi’s Cauliflower Roasted in Chilli Butter

Serves four

2 large whole cauliflowers, with leaves (1.9kg)

2 onions, peeled and cut into eighths

8 red chillies, whole with a vertical slit cut into them

1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve


Chilli butter

120g unsalted butter, melted (or 120ml olive oil, if you want to keep it vegan)

110ml olive oil

1 ¼ tbsp. red bell pepper flakes

2 ½ tsp tomato paste

1 ¼ Urfa chilli flakes

90g rose harissa (adjust according to the brand you are using)

¾ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or 1/3 tsp regular chilli flakes)

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 ½ tsp caster sugar

Trim the leaves at the top of each cauliflower, so that about 5cm of the actual cauliflower is exposed. Cut both cauliflowers into quarters lengthways, making sure the leaves remain attached at the base.

Fill a very large pan (large enough to fit all the cauliflower quarters) with well-salted water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, blanch the cauliflower quarters for 2 minutes, weighing them down with a lid a little smaller than the pan to ensure they stay submerged. Transfer to a colander to drain well. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius fan.

Mix all the ingredients for the chilli butter together in a small bowl with 1 teaspoon of salt. Place the cauliflower quarters, onions and chillies on a very large, parchment-lined baking tray and pour over the chilli butter. Carefully mix to make sure everything is very well coated (gloved hands are best for this). Arrange the cauliflower quarters so they are spaced apart as much as possible; one of the cut sides of each quarter should face down, so the leaves are exposed. Roast for 30 minutes, baste well, then turn the heat down to 170 degrees Celsius fan and continue to roast for another 35-40 minutes, basting twice, until the cauliflower is very well browned and the leaves are crispy.

Transfer everything to a platter, spooning over the remaining chilli butter and browned aromatics from the baking tray. Serve at once, with the lemon wedges alongside.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Curried Carrot Mash with Brown Butter

Serves four as a side dish or six as a dip

1-2 red chillies, finely sliced into rounds (deseeded for less heat)

1 ½ tbsp white wine vinegar

½ tsp caster sugar

800g carrots (that’s roughly 8), peeled and roughly chopped into 2cm pieces

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp medium curry powder

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

30g unsalted butter (or 2 tbsp olive oil)

5g fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

½ tsp nigella seeds

½ fennel seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

½ tbsp lime juice

1 spring onion, trimmed and julienned (10g)

5g mint leaves, finely shredded


Put the chillies, vinegar and sugar into a small bowl with ¼ tsp of salt, massage together and set aside to pickle for at least 30 minutes.

Put the carrots into a steaming basket or colander, place on a high heat, cover with a lid and steam for about 25 minutes, or until you can cut through them easily with a knife. Put the carrots into the bowl of a food processor with the oil, curry powder, cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of salt, and blitz for about a minute until you get a semi-smooth mash (it should still have some texture and not be completely smooth).

While the carrots are steaming, put the butter, ginger and nigella, fennel and cumin seeds, with a generous pinch of salt, into a small saucepan on a medium heat. Gently cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the butter begins to foam and turn light brown and the seeds become fragrant. Set aside until ready to serve. You may need to gently melt the butter again when you’re plating, if it has set.

Spoon the mash on to a large platter, creating dips with the back of the spoon. Drizzle over the butter with the ginger and seeds, followed by the lime juice. Drain the pickled chillies well and scatter them over the mash. Finish with the spring onions and mint and serve warm.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Curry-Crusted Swede Steaks

2-3 swedes (1.8kg), peeled and cut widthways into 8 (total) 3cm-thick steaks

120g crème fraiche (or coconut yoghurt)


Fenugreek Marinade

1 ½ tbsp fenugreek seeds

6 small garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped (25g)

1 ½ tsp cayenne pepper

1 ½ tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp caster sugar

2 tbsp lime juice

75ml olive oil


3-4 ruby grapefruits (750g unpeeled weight)

1-2 banana shallots, finely sliced on a mandolin, if you have one, or by hand (70g)

2 red chillies, finely sliced into rounds

20g picked mint leaves

10g picked coriander leaves

2 tsp olive oil

2 limes : juice to get 1 tbsp, then cut into wedges to serves

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius fan.

For the marinade, put all the ingredients into a spice grinder or the small bowl of a processor with ¾ teaspoon of salt and blitz to a paste, scraping the sides as you go if necessary. Put 2 teaspoons of the marinade into a small serving bowl and set aside.

Put the remaining marinade into a large bowl with the swede steaks and mix well to coat all sides (this is easiest with gloved hands). Place the steaks, spaced apart, on a large, parchment-lined baking tray. Cover tightly with foil and roast for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Remove the foil, turn the oven to the grill setting, and grill for 3-4 minutes, until the swede is cooked through and the marinade has turned into a golden-brown crust.

When the swede is nearly cooked, prepare the salad. Cut the grapefruits into thin wedges by removing the skin and the white pith, then release the segments by cutting in between the white membrane, discarding any pips. Put the wedges into a large bowl, avoiding the juice (which can be kept for another use).

When you’re ready to serve, add all the remaining salad ingredients to the bowl with a generous pinch of salt and gently mix together.

Arrange the steaks and any marinade left on the tray on a large platter with the salad (or plate individually). Swirl the crème fraiche into the remaining marinade and serve alongside the steaks, with the lime wedges squeezed on top.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Whole Roasted Celeriac

1 large celeriac, hairy roots discarded (no need to peel) and scrubbed clean (900g)

60ml olive oil

Flaked sea salt

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius fan.

Pierce the celeriac with a fork all over about 40 times and place on a parchment-lined baking tray. Mix the oil and 1 ½ teaspoons of flaked salt, then rub the celeriac generously with the oil mixture. Roast for a minimum of 2 ¼ hours, or up to 2 ¾ hours, depending on the size of you celeriac, basting every 20 minutes or so, until the celeriac is deeply browned, soft all the way through and oozes a celeriac caramel.

Leave to rest for 15 minutes, then cut into either wedges or steaks brushing each cut side with the oil and caramel left on the tray (you may need to add a little more oil if there isn’t enough to coat the cut sides).

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Celeriac Steaks with Café de Paris Sauce

Serves four as a main

2 whole roasted celeriac (double the master recipe), each cut widthways into 2 1/2 cm thick steaks

Flaked sea salt and black pepper

Café de Paris Sauce

110g unsalted butter, cut into 2cm cubes

1 small banana shallot, finely chopped (25g)

1 garlic clove, crushed

3 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained and finely chopped (optional, but adjust seasoning if not using)

½ tsp medium curry powder

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp mustard seeds

1tbsp baby capers

2 tbsp chives, finely chopped

2 tbsp tarragon leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

2 tsp thyme leaves

110ml single or whipping cream

2 tsp lemon juice

Put the first seven ingredients for the sauce and ¼ teaspoon of flaked salt into a small saucepan on a medium heat. Cook for about 6 minutes, swirling the pan until the shallots have softened and the butter has melted and become golden and caramelized. Add the capers, herbs and a very generous grind of pepper and continue to cook for 1 minute, then remove from the heat.

Turn the oven to its highest grill setting. Arrange the celeriac steaks, spaced apart, on a large parchment-lined baking tray big enough to fit the slices in a single layer. The steaks should have been brushed with their cooking oil and celeriac caramel by this point, but if not, brush with some olive oil and a little maple syrup or honey. Make sure there is not overhanging parchment that could burn. Grill the steaks on the top shelf of the oven, until they are golden-brown on top, 6-8 minutes. Turn the oven off, keeping the tray warm in the oven until you’re ready to serve.

Return the sauce to a medium heat and gently cook for a minute, then add the cream and lemon juice. Swirl for another 2 minutes or until warm, but don’t over mix it too much – you want the sauce to be split, not emulsified.

Pour the sauce on to a large platter with a lip and arrange the celeriac steaks on top (or plate individually with some sauce poured on top and the rest served alongside). Sprinkle the steaks with a little flaked salt and black pepper, and serve.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

Ottolenghi’s Hispi Cabbage with Nam Prik

Page 44

Serves six as a side

2 pointed cabbages (aka hispi or sweetheart cabbage), quartered, lengthways (1.6kg)

3 tbsp sunflower oil

5g coriander, finely chopped

1 lime, cut into wedges to serve

Flaked sea salt

Nam Prik

20g fresh galangal (or ginger, as a substitute), peeled and roughly chopped

1 small garlic clove, peeled

1 tbsp fish sauce (or light soy sauce)

1 ½ tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (or ¾ tsp regular chilli flakes)

1 tbsp shop-bought tamarind paste, or double if you’re extracting it yourself from pulp

1 ¼ tsp soft light brown sugar

50g cherry tomatoes

1 ½ tbsp lime juice

1 tsp sunflower oil

To make the nam prik, put the galangal and garlic into the small bowl of a food processor and blitz well. Add all the remaining ingredients and pulse until combined and finely chopped but not completely smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside until ready to serve.

Toss the cabbage with the oil and 1 teaspoon of flaked salt. Place on a very hot barbeque or griddle pan and grill for 4-5 minutes on each side (i.e. 12-15 minutes in total), until the cabbage softens on the outside, while still retaining a crunch, and you get clear grill marks. Transfer to a platter. Add the coriander to the nam prik and spoon the mixture evenly over the cabbage pieces. Serve either warm or at room temperature, with the lime wedges alongside.

(From Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, published by Ebury Press)

How about some cake….

How about a delicious homemade cake to cheer us all up? I’ve just realised that it’s been several years since I actually wrote a column on cakes, so it’s high time to share some of my favourite sweet treats and new finds.

Who doesn’t love a slice of delicious cake and a cup of tea, even while we need to observe strict social distancing. Recently, I met a lady who confided that she had never made a cake in her entire life…..she had absolutely no idea where to start, it was a complete mystery to her.

She was over the moon with delight when she baked her very first cake while she as with us here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for a class. We showed her just how easy it was to make a super delicious cake when you follow a good recipe. You can’t imagine how thrilled she was, lots of photos, beaming smiles and such a sense of achievement.

A few little tips to get started:

  1. A couple of spatulas and a wooden spoon.
  2. A wire rack to cool the cake when it comes out of the tin.
  3. A palette knife is useful for icing but not essential.
  4. Buy an accurate scales, baking is an exact science, so weigh all the ingredients meticulously
  5. The finest ingredients make the best cakes, use butter, fresh free range eggs and pure vanilla extract rather than essence which was never ‘next or near’ a vanilla pod in it’s life!

For memorable cakes use chocolate or unsweetened cocoa.

Being pernicity about the quality of the ingredients will really pay dividends and result in something really gorgeous. After all, if you go to the effort of making a cake, it might as well be super delicious!

  • Choose a really good recipe from a trusted source, sounds odd but sadly not all recipes are as carefully tested as they ought to be. Then inexperienced bakers blame themselves rather than the recipe and come to the conclusion that they can’t cook.
  • Equip yourself with some basic equipment and utensils:

A few good tins, a loaf tin 1lb (8x4x3 inches) or 2lb (6x4x3 inches), 2 x 7”or 8” round tins with pop up bases and maybe 19cm round for larger cakes.

  • A food mixer is an advantage but certainly not essential but it does make the job much easier.
  • Equally a food processor is worth the investment and means a cake can be made in mere minutes.
  • A piping bag and a couple of nozzles if you want to get creative.

These few items will get you started – you can add to your baking kit as you go along.

Here are a few tried and tested recipes for some of my favourite cakes and one new addition to our repertoire.

A Classic Coffee Cake with Carmalised Walnuts

This is a splendid recipe for an old-fashioned coffee cake – the sort Mummy made…We still make it regularly and everyone loves it. I’m a real purist about using extract rather than essence in the case of vanilla, but in this cake, I prefer to use coffee essence (which is actually mostly chicory) to real coffee. I’ve used a square tin here but one could use 2 round tins.

Serves 10–12

225g (8oz) soft butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

4 organic or at least free range eggs

225g (8oz) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon baking powder

scant 2 tablespoons Camp coffee essence

Coffee Butter Cream for filling

150g (6oz) butter

330g (12oz) icing sugar, sieved

5-6 teaspoons Camp coffee essence

Coffee Glace Icing

450g (1lb) icing sugar

scant 2 tablespoons Camp coffee essence

about 4 tablespoons boiling water

To Decorate

Caramelised Walnuts (see below) or toasted hazelnuts or chocolate covered coffee beans.

2 x 20cm (8in) round sandwich tins.

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

Line the base and sides of the tin with greaseproof or silicone paper. Brush the bottom and sides with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.

Beat the soft butter with a wooden spoon, add the caster sugar and beat until pale in colour and light in texture. Whisk the eggs. Add to the mixture, bit by bit, beating well between each addition.

Sieve the flour with the baking powder and stir gently into the cake mixture. Finally, add in the coffee essence and mix thoroughly.

Spoon the mixture evenly into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. When the cake is cooked, the centre will be firm and springy and the edges will have shrunk from the sides of the tin. Leave to rest in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the greaseproof paper from the base, then flip over so the top of the cake doesn’t get marked by the wire rack. Leave the cake to cool on the wire rack.

To make the coffee butter cream, whisk the butter with the sieved icing sugar and add the coffee essence. Continue to whisk until light and fluffy.

When cold, cut the cake in half lengthwise, then cut each half horizontally creating rectangular layers, 4 in total. Sandwich each sponge layer together with ½ of the coffee butter cream, forming a loaf shaped cake. Place half of the remaining  buttercream into a piping bag, fitted with a medium star shaped nozzle. Spread the sides and top of the cake thinly with the last of the butter cream and place into the fridge for 10-15 minutes to chill. This technique is called crumb coating.

Next make the Coffee Glace Icing. Sieve the icing sugar and put into a bowl. Add coffee essence and enough boiling water to make it the consistency of a thick cream (careful not to add too much water)

To Decorate:

Remove the cake from the fridge. Pour the glace icing evenly over the top of the cake, gently spreading it down the sides with a palette knife. Allow to set, 30 minutes (approx.). Decorate with piped rosettes of buttercream and garnish with the caramelized walnuts.

Caramelised Walnuts

100g (3 1/2oz) sugar

50ml (2fl oz) cold water

20 walnut halves

225ml (8fl oz) hot water

Dissolve the sugar in the cold water over a gentle heat.  Stir until all the sugar has dissolved, then remove the spoon and continue to simmer until the syrup caramelises to a chestnut colour.  Remove from the heat, dip the walnuts into the hot caramel, and coat each one completely using a fork. Remove to a silicone baking mat, or oiled cake tin, and allow to cool. Once all the walnuts have been coated, Pour the hot water into the saucepan and continue to cook until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is quite smooth. Reduce until it starts to thicken slightly.  Allow to get cold.  This sauce can be used for serving with ice-cream.

Chocolate and Almond Cake with Chocolate Curls

Claudia Roden, one of my favourite cooks and food writers, showed us how to make this delicious flourless cake when she came to the school for the inaugural Ballymaloe Litfest in 2013.   It’s her family’s favourite chocolate cake, not surprising.

Serves 10

150g (5oz) dark chocolate, we use 54%

3 tablespoons water

150g (5oz) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

4 large eggs, separated

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 tablespoons rum


100g (4oz) dark bitter chocolate, broken into pieces

100g (4oz) unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 160°C/310°F/Gas Mark 3.

Line an 8 inch (20.5cm) in diameter spring-form cake tin, with parchment paper.

Heat the chocolate with the water in a Pyrex bowl or small pan that is sitting on top of a pan containing water over a low heat so that the top pan or bowl does not touch the boiling water (this is a double boiler), until almost melted.  Add the butter and let them both melt. 

In a bowl mix the egg yolks, sugar, ground almonds, baking powder and rum very well.  Add the melted chocolate and butter and mix vigorously.  Beat the egg whites until stiff with an electric mixer and fold them into the mixture.

Pour in the cake mixture and bake in an oven preheated to for about 35 – 40 minutes until firm.  Turn out when it is cool.

For the topping, melt the chocolate with the butter in a small bowl over boiling water, let them melt and mix well. Allow to cool until thick and spreadable. Pour over the cake, smoothing around the sides and top.

Chocolate Curls

Melt 5oz (150g) of 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. Use to garnish cakes, mousses or ice-cream

Decorate with chocolate curls and dredge with cocoa powder.

Whisked Sponge Cake with Autumn Berries and Rosewater Cream

Serves 8

4 organic eggs, or free range

110g (4oz) castor sugar

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

110g (4oz) plain white flour


1-2 tablespoons of homemade raspberry jam

350g (12oz) fresh Autumn berries – raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries

225ml (8fl oz) double cream

1 tablespoons castor sugar approx. (optional)

1 tablespoon rose blossom water

mint, lemon balm or sweet cicely to decorate

castor sugar for sprinkling on top

2 x 20.5cm (8 inch) tins

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

Grease the tins carefully with melted butter, dust with flour, cut out a circle of greaseproof paper and fit it neatly onto the base of each tin.

Put the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract into a bowl and whisk until it is a pale and fluffy mousse.  When you lift the whisk, make a figure of 8 on top: it should hold its shape for several seconds.  Put the flour into a sieve and sift about one-third gently over the mousse; fold in the flour with a spatula or a long-handled metal spoon (not a wooden spoon) and then sieve in some more; repeat until all the flour is lightly folded in. Turn gently in the prepared tins and bake in the preheated oven, for 20 minutes approx., until cooked.  Turn out on a wire tray, peel off the greaseproof paper and allow to cool.

Once cool, whip the cream to soft peaks, add the castor sugar and rose blossom water. 

Spread the raspberry jam onto the base of each sponge cake. Pile the summer berries on top, and finally spread the cream over the fruit. Place the remaining sponge onto the cream and press gently. Sprinkle castor sugar over the top of cake.

Decorate with fresh mint or sweet cicely and additional summer fruit and a few rose petals if desired. Serve immediately.

Coconut Macaroon Cake

This cake has an irresistible crispy topping – the crumb is moist and rich with coconut and almonds, so needless to say, it will keep well, stored in an airtight tin.


8 ozs (225g) butter

8 ozs (225g) castor sugar

4 free-range and organic eggs and 1 egg yolk

8 ozs (225g) plain white flour

½ teasp. baking powder

1 oz (25g) ground almonds

1 oz (25g) desiccated coconut

¼ teasp. pure vanilla essence

Macaroon topping

1 egg white

3 ozs (85g) castor sugar

½ oz (15g) desiccated coconut

1 oz (25g) ground almonds

¼ teasp. pure vanilla essence

2-3 ozs (50-85g) flaked almonds

8 inch (20.5cm) tin with sides 2¾ inch (7cm) approx. high

Line the sides and base of the tin.  Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.gas mark 4.

Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Whisk the eggs and egg yolk and add gradually, beating well between each addition.  Add the vanilla essence.  Mix the dry ingredients well and stir in gently.  Turn into the prepared tin.

Next prepare the topping:

Whisk the egg white lightly and fold in the other ingredients.  Spread carefully over the cake mixture in the tin.   Sprinkle with flaked almonds and bake in a moderate oven for 40 mins approx.  Cool in the tin before putting on a wire rack.

Julija’s Lemon Cakes

Makes 6 small mini loaves or 2 pound loaves.

450 g self-raising flour

350 g caster sugar

zest of 4 lemons

6 eggs

200g (3 1/2oz) natural yoghurt

350 g butter, melted and cooled a little to room temperature

Icing 400g (7oz) icing sugar

juice of a lemon approximately

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

Line the tins with baking parchment.

Mix the flour, sugar, lemon zest together in a large mixing bowl.  Beat the eggs into the yoghurt gently, then tip this into the dry ingredients with the melted butter.  Mix together with a wooden spoon or whisk until lump-free, but gently. Divide into cake tins.  Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes minutes until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean – the cakes will be quite pale on top still.  Cool for 5 minutes in the tin, then carefully lift onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

To make the icing.

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to make a stiffish icing. 

Using a palette knife to spread, ice the lemon cake. Decorate with lemon candied peel or crystallised lemon julienne.

Alternative Icing

Lemon Butter Cream Icing

8oz (225g) soft butter

14oz (400g) icing sugar

1 tablespoon golden syrup

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Cream the butter and gradually add the sieved icing sugar. Mix thoroughly and stir in the golden syrup and lemon zest using a palette knife to spread onto the cakes.

The Wonder of Oats

Virtually every food writer and journalist who stays at Ballymaloe House raves about the porridge that they serve for breakfast with a generous drizzle of Jersey cream and a sprinkling of soft brown Barbados sugar. It’s not just any old porridge – it’s Macroom oatmeal, lovingly kiln roasted and milled by Donal Creedon at Walton’s Mill, the last surviving stone mill in Ireland. The mill has been in the same family since the 1700’s. Donal, the great, great, great, great grandson of founder, Richard Walton, carefully and respectfully carries on the tradition.

The porridge is sold in the same distinctive red, white and yellow bags – which is somehow reassuring. The oats are gently toasted for up to two days on cast iron plates to give the oatmeal the distinctive toasted flavour we all love. October 10th is World Porridge Day, a good opportunity to remind ourselves of this inexpensive super food which comes to us in many variations – it’s basically one of the great convenience foods of the world.

Long gone are the days of gruel and watery porridge….. So if you are convinced oatmeal is just for breakfast – think again! The texture is deliciously chunky and packed with flavour. Steel cut or what many refer to as pinhead oatmeal, which takes considerably longer to cook.  Jumbo rolled oats and ‘speedie cook’ rolled oats, are also delicious. Oatmeal is not just for breakfast porridge, biscuits and granola. It’s also brilliant in savoury dishes such as savoury porridge with greens.

A past student Alex Hely-Hutchinson, opened a restaurant in London called 26 Grains. The 8 or 9 different types of porridge on their menu, both sweet and savoury have customers queuing every day. 26 Grains was probably inspired by GrØd the porridge paradise in Copenhagen, opened in 2011 in a basement on Jaegerborggade, at that time a distinctively dodgy street with appealingly low rent. Now there are several branches and a GrØd cookbook. They were pretty much ‘skint’ when they opened but manged to afford to buy some oats to make bowls of hot steaming porridge – the rest is history…a huge success story! The menu now includes other comforting food like risotto, dahl and congee and there are now branches all over Denmark.

Oatmeal has a long and fascinating history. It has been grown in Ireland since medieval times, our humid, wet climate suits it. There are many historical references and a wealth of archaeological evidence. Oats were used in gruel, porridges, flatbreads and by all accounts, a not very good beer! The straw and chaff were used in the manufacture of floor covering, baskets, hen roosts and bedding – but back to the kitchen.

To use that much overused term, they are definitely a ‘super food’. Oats are packed with protein, high in soluble fibre, which helps to lower cholesterol and you’ll have noticed that you don’t feel like reaching for a donut at eleven if you have a bowl of porridge for breakfast. Apart from the fibre content which is good for your gut and helps to prevent constipation, it is super filling and satisfying and boosts our energy levels. Oats also contain a wide range of nutrients, vitamin E, essential fatty acids and if you are to believe all the research, helps to prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering your bad LDL cholesterol without affecting the good cholesterol. The high fibre and complex carbs help to stabalize the blood sugar according to the American Cancer Society. The lignans In oats helps to reduce hormone related cancers. Up to relatively recently I was a Jersey cream and soft dark brown sugar devotee but I’ve become much more adventurous (led by my grandchildren and the Ballymaloe Cookery School students example). Think peanut butter and banana, walnuts, Blueberries and maple syrup or Honey, roast almonds, dates and almond butter (it’s all about what you sprinkle on top). Stewed apple or compote with cinnamon. I draw the line at white or dark chocolate chips but suspect that’s a generational thing.

Macroom Oatmeal Porridge

Serves 4

Virtually every morning in Winter I start my day with a bowl of porridge.  Search out Macroom stoneground oatmeal which has the most delicious toasted nutty flavour.  It comes in a lovely old-fashioned red and yellow pack which I hope they never change.

155g (5 1/2ozs) Macroom oatmeal

1.2 litres (2 pints) water

1 level teaspoon salt

Obligatory accompaniment!

Soft brown sugar

Bring 5 cups of water to the boil, sprinkle in the oatmeal, gradually stirring all the time.  Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.

Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the salt and stir again.  Serve with single cream or milk and soft brown sugar melting over the top.

Left over porridge can be stored in a covered container in the fridge – it will reheat perfectly the next day.


If the porridge is waiting, keep covered otherwise it will form a skin which is difficult to dissolve.

Savoury Porridge with Greens

Serves 1

1 clove garlic grated or crushed

Ginger – grated or crushed

Extra virgin olive oil

Fist of greens – kale, chard, spinach, bok choi, mustard or a mixture

A dash of tamari

Pinch chilli flakes – optional

Sesame seeds

Fried Egg – optional

First make the porridge.

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the grated garlic and ginger, stir for a couple of seconds, add the chopped or torn greens. Toss until they wilt, add a few chilli flakes, a dash of tamari (careful it is easy to make it too salty). Taste. Pile on top of the hot porridge. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and even a fried egg if you fancy it and enjoy!

Rachel Allen’s Chewy Seedy Oat and Apricot Bars

Makes about 36 squares

300g (10oz) porridge oats

100g (3 1/2oz) pumpkin or sunflower seeds, or a mixture of the two

50g (2oz) desiccated coconut

50g (2ozcup) plain flour

200g (7oz) butter

200g (7oz) golden syrup

150g (5ozup) soft brown sugar

150g (5oz) cranberries or dried apricots, chopped

125g (4 1/2oz) crunchy peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Line a 23 x 23cm (9 x 9 inch) square cake tin with non-stick baking parchment, leaving a little hanging over the edges for easy removal later.

Place the oats, seeds, coconut and flour in a large bowl and mix together.  Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a saucepan, then mix in the sugar, chopped apricots, peanut butter and vanilla extract.  Pour into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix until evenly combined.

Press this mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 30 – 40 minutes, or until golden and slightly firm.  Allow to cool in the tin, then remove, still in the paper, and cut into 36 small squares (or cut them depending on whatever size you want them to be).  Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.  These will also freeze well.

JR Ryall’s Oatmeal Biscuits

These are the delicious heart shaped oatmeal pastry biscuits that JR Ryall of Ballymaloe House Sweet Trolley fame serves for afternoon tea.
Makes 20-25 approximately

100g (4oz) butter

62g (2 1/2oz) caster sugar

150g (5oz) Flahavan’s porridge oats

50g (2oz) flour

Pinch baking powder

Pinch of salt

Extra caster sugar to sprinkle

Mix the dry ingredients together. Rub in the butter. Press the mixture together to form a dough. This dough is quite brittle and can be tricky to handle. Roll out to 3mm thick, cut into heart shapes and transfer to a lined baking tray. Egg wash each biscuit and sprinkle with caster sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven at 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3, for 15 minutes or until golden.

Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Sue’s Oatmeal Bread

This recipe surprised me from the start. When Sue Cullinane, one of our great teachers at Ballymaloe told me about this simple bread made from oats, yoghurt and a couple of other ingredients I was not so sure. I was even less sure the first time I tried making it myself as I tipped the heavy dense dough into the tin. But hey presto, after 1 hour in the oven I realised I had a gorgeously nutty and nutritious loaf, not dissimilar to a great brown soda bread.

425g (15oz) rolled oats (not jumbo or pinhead)

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons bread soda, sifted

2 tablespoons mixed seeds

1 egg

500g (18oz) natural yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Line the base of a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix the oats, salt, sifted bread soda and the mixed seeds. Make a well in the centre.

Whisk the egg into the yoghurt. Pour the yoghurt and egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well. The dough is meant to be dry and sticky at this stage, so don’t worry.

Scoop the dough into the tin and bake for 50 minutes. Turn out of the loaf tin and bake for a further 10 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack.


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