Ireland’s love of tea is no secret. We’re well known for our love of a hot brew and our eagerness to share it with any visitors. Nothing is as delicious after a night at the pub enjoying a good trad session as a hot cuppa with just a splash of whiskey. But as nice as a cup of tea is, it is even better with something freshly baked. With winter approaching, it is the perfect time to learn about some very underappreciated traditional Irish baked goods. Here are three classic Irish baked goods. Once you’ve tried these, you will wonder why they aren’t as famous as the French baguette. And you’ll want to find recipes so you can taste these Irish gifts from the kitchen!
A traditional Samhain or Halloween treat, barmbrack is somewhere between cake and bread. It’s usually round, although loaves are an acceptable option, and uses yeast as a rising agent. (Barm is an old word for yeast.) Brack is from an Irish word for ‘speckled’, which refers to the raisins and sultanas in this treat. But don’t eat barmbrack too quickly! It traditionally includes small trinkets such as rings, coins and thimbles. Samhain was the last day of the Celtic year, and these trinkets were to predict the coming year. If you got a coin in your slice of brambrack, the year ahead would be prosperous, but a scrap of cloth suggested hardship. A ring indicated a wedding ahead, while a thimble or nut said you’d stay single.
This classic staple is baked in both round and rectangular loaves. While you will find it in every Irish grocery store today, soda bread is a relative newcomer. Irish people embraced the still-new discovery of baking soda (instead of yeast) during the famine. They needed a replacement for potato breads, and they didn’t have the time or the type of flour to make yeast breads. The rules for making it allow for a lot of variation and creativity – as long as the basics are in place. True Irish soda bread requires buttermilk, egg and baking soda (or vegan substitutes). But it can be made with white or whole wheat flour and with or without raisins. Don’t worry about which is authentic. They all are. Just experiment to see which you like best!
Is it bread? Is it a potato dish? Some kind of dumpling? Arguably, it is all of the above but most importantly boxty is delicious. This dish combines mashed and grated potatoes, and it can be fried or baked. It’s a brilliant way to enjoy left over mashed potato. Our ancestors really couldn’t afford to waste anything. Basically, you combine the mashed potato with grated raw potato, flour, egg and milk then cook. Serve with hot tea for a hearty winter breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner.
Serve with Irish style
No matter where you are, these three treats make delightful Irish gifts for loved ones. They are also perfect to whip up when you’re expecting company and want to serve something different and delicious.