Monday, March 27, 2017

Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds


As much as I like going out to eat in restaurants, I love even more the intimacy of a meal shared with family and/or friends at home. Sometimes after traveling and eating out at restaurants for several days in a row, I long for a home-cooked meal. Even if that home-cooked meal is simply a plate of scrambled eggs topped with some goat cheese, a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off, or a container of pineapple yogurt topped with almonds and dried cranberries. In other words, home-cooked doesn't have to mean a three or four course meal or one taking all day or even days to make. It definitely doesn't have to be 'fancy' or 'gourmet', it just has to be satisfyingly good or whatever my current version of comfort food might happen to be. Whenever my niece stays overnight during one of her breaks from school or friends are in from out of town, I like to make at least one homemade meal for them. Something a little more than my simple versions of homemade. I don't usually make these homemade meals 'easy' on myself, however, I recently had one of those moments of clarity. You know, the moment when you finally see the obvious and come to realize (or rather truly believe) simplicity can be a really good thing.


This long overdue epiphany came after making brunch for some friends recently. Everything about the meal was simple. The table was set simply with my favorite white dishes and the menu consisted of only three things. Okay, so there might have been linen napkins and fresh flowers on the table, but if you lived in my world you would understand this was 'simple'.


After going through and trying to sort a bin of saved recipes (not a simple endeavor), I rediscovered the recipe for a Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds. It was one a friend gave to my friend who gave it to me. As soon as I looked at it, I immediately knew it would be one of the three things I would make for the brunch.

I had almost forgotten how beautiful and delicious this fruit trifle was. Fortunately I was able to have my memory jogged. Granted this trifle might be a little more decadent than the fruit platter you might normally serve at a brunch, but we all need a little decadence in our lives. Some of us more than others.


The trifle can be made with any number of fruits or fruit combinations. Although strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and/or blueberries lend themselves to be the best fruit options. Use all of them or use at least a couple of them. The trifle would lack flavor, texture and taste dimension if you used only one fruit. Personally I think this is one of those 'the more the merrier' kind of trifles, so I used all four 'berries' when I made it. Equal amounts of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries create the perfect trifecta: color, texture and flavor. This trifle needs at least 3 pints (or 6 cups) of fresh fruit, although depending on your preferred fruit to whipped cream cheese/whipped cream ratio, 7 cups may be more to your liking.


The luscious, creamy, decadent other layer is made with cream cheese, whipping cream whipped to beautiful stiff peaks, confectionary sugar, and some freshly squeezed lemon juice.


If you don't have a trifle bowl, use a clear bowl to alternately layer the whipped cream cheese/whipped cream mixture with the fresh fruit. The first and last layers will be the whipped cream cheese/whipped cream mixture. Try to create at least 3 layers of fruit between the filling so that the fruit is evenly distributed when spooned out. You can completely finish the trifle with a full layer of the whipped cream cheese/whipped cream mixture or pipe it along the edges of the bowl using a pastry bag fitted with the pastry tube of your choice.


The sugared slivered almonds are the trifle's proverbial finishing touch. In a pan of melted butter and sugar over medium-low heat, the almonds are sautéed until lightly golden. Once caramelized the sugared almonds are transferred to a piece of parchment paper and allowed to cool. You will have more than enough of the almonds for this trifle. Serve the 'extras' in a bowl on the side so everyone is sure to get some of the 'crunch'. They can be made the day before and stored in a sealed container.


You can make the Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds several hours before serving. It comes together relatively easily and takes less than 30 minutes to assemble.

Make this trifle for your next Sunday brunch or bring it to your next office/friend breakfast potluck. Okay, so this Fruit Trifle might not win any healthy awards, but it will for taste and presentation. And I promise it will be incredibly well received and devoured. Scouts honor.


This Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds paired incredibly well with freshly brewed coffee, a pitcher of orange juice, some roasted thick-cut bacon, and this Baked Praline French Toast Casserole. If there was a way to make this menu a little more festive, it would be to open up a bottle of champagne or prosecco and turn the pitcher of orange juice into mimosas. With Passover, Easter, graduation parties, birthdays, anniversary celebrations, Mother's Day, Father's Day or reunion gatherings coming in the weeks and months aheads, consider making this Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds your 'fruit' dish.

Recipe 
Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds
Serves 8-10 

Ingredients
6-7 cups (3-4 pints) fresh fruit (strawberries (cut into slices or wedges), raspberries, blueberries, and/or blackberries)
2 cups heavy whipping cream 
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectionary sugar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup slivered almonds
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Directions
Candied Almonds
1.  Sauté almonds in butter, adding sugar in after the almonds have sautéed for at least 2 minutes.
2. Continue sautéing until almonds are lightly browned.
3. Transfer to a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil. Very lightly sprinkle with some additional granulated sugar.
4. Allow almonds to cool completely. Note: Can be prepared a day ahead. Store in a sealed container until ready to use.)

Fruit Trifle
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Temporarily transfer mixture to a separate bowl.
2. In the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth and creamy (approximately 2-3 minutes).
3. Add confectionary sugar and lemon juice into cream cheese. Beat until well blended.
4. Remove bowl from standing mixer and fold in whipped cream until well blended.
5. Beginning with the whipped cream cheese/cream, alternately layer the cream and fruit mixture, reserving enough of the cream mixture to pipe on top of the trifle. (Depending on the size of the trifle bowl, will have three to four layers of each.)
6. Using a pastry bag fitted with tip of choice, pipe reserved whipped cream cheese/cream along edges of the bowl.
7. Sprinkle candied almonds on top of whipped cream. Note: You will not use all of the candied almonds if you only pipe the whipped cream cheese/cream along the sides of the trifle bowl. Serve remaining almonds on the side when serving the trifle. 
8. Serve immediately or refrigerate several hours before serving.

Notes: (1) The original recipe also suggested the trifle could be made with green or red seedless grapes. It could, but I really think berries work so much better. (2) The trifle is best served to 'company' on the day it is made, but leftovers continue to be delicious the next day. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Smoky Cauliflower Frittata


Happy first day of spring! Here's to the return of fat-bellied robins, green lush landscapes, farmer's markets, outdoor entertaining, planting herbs, and taking my bicycle out for long rides. The older I get the more I appreciate what the change in seasons brings. Particularly feelings of self-renewal. Longer days, warmer weather, and more vibrant landscapes always increase my energy level. Not that I am a slacker by any sense of the imagination, but I just seem to operate on a slightly higher ramped up level when spring arrives. However, I am not quite sure I am ready to put all of that energy into the kind of use the person who shall remain nameless would like to see. Cleaning out and organizing closets/dresser or purging things that haven't seen the light of day in decades aren't exactly the things I like to do with my energy surge. Although life would probably be so much easier if I didn't have to spend so much time looking for things. Maybe this will be the year. Anything is possible.


For as much as I love eggs, cheese, and most vegetables it's rather surprising there are not more frittatas in my life. Considering they are so much easier to make than an omelet, quiche, a chorizo and egg piperade, uovo al forno (baked eggs), or even herb and cheese baked eggs, frittatas should be making more regular appearances at my table. Sometimes some kind of push or some kind of wake up to call is all I need to get back to making foods with great flavor and versatility. This time it came in the form of a dinner at my sister's house. Yes, that would be my one and only younger sister, the one who manages to discover some really great recipes before I do.


The recipe for this Smoky Cauliflower Frittata is one Yotam Ottolenghi shared in his cookbook "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi". A chef and cookbook I had learned about from my sister several years ago.


If anyone has a flair for making vegetarian dishes feel substantial, satisfying, and deeply flavorful, it would be Yotam Ottolenghi. And his recipe for this frittata does not disappoint. It is everything a frittata should be and then some. It is hearty, it is a savory custard, it feels indulgent, it and it could not be easier to make.

The smoky mozzarella, an aged cheddar, some creme fraiche, dijon mustard, and a sweet smoky paprika give this frittata a depth of flavor unlike any other frittata you have ever had. It isn't just the combination of ingredients used, it's the amount of each of them in relationship to the number of eggs (only 6).


There are two parts to this frittata: the egg custard and the cauliflower.


But let me also spend some time talking about some of the ingredients in the custard. From the smoky mozzarella (scamorza), to the aged cheddar, to the dijon mustard, to the freshly chopped chives, to the creme fraiche, to the sweet smoky paprika, the ingredients in this frittata matter.  When looking for the mozzarella, you may come across cheese labeled only as scamorza. Unless it says smoky scarmorza, you don't want to buy that cheese. The smoked mozzarella will have a very light brown, thin skin on it and it will come in either ball or sliced form. When choosing a cheddar, look for any white cheddar two years or older. The smokey sweet paprika adds a complex flavor to the frittata. The original recipe called for 2 teaspoons (which I used), however, by reducing the amount to 1 1/2 teaspoons you would still be able to keep the focus on the flavor rather than on the heat and smokiness. If you haven't cooked with smokey sweet paprika before, I would recommend you use only 1 1/2 teaspoons the first time you make this frittata. Instead of the richness that cream brings to most frittatas, this one uses creme fraiche. It's thicker, less tangy, and richer in flavor than sour cream. It is also slightly more expensive than sour cream. If there was ever a time to not think about cost, this would be one of those times. And last but not least, there is the dijon mustard. The frittata is made with two, yes two Tablespoons of it. Not all dijon mustards are the same. Choose a really good one (see note below for a recommendation).

The cauliflower goes through a two step cooking process before the custard is added to it. In a pan of boiling water, a small head of cauliflower cut into bit sized florets, are cooked until semi-cooked (approximately 4-6 minutes). Not too soft, not hard would be the non-technical way of defining semi-cooked. Drained and dried, the cauliflower florets are then cooked cooked in olive oil until lightly golden brown (approximately 5 minutes). Pressing on the florets lightly with a spatula helps to sear or brown them.


With the cauliflower lightly golden brown, the custard is poured into the pan. Working quickly, use a fork to spread the cauliflower evenly in the pan. Over medium heat, the frittata cooks on top of the stove for approximately 5 minutes. After sprinkling some of the remaining grated cheese over the top the pan goes into the preheated 375 degree (F) oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the frittata is set.


After removing the frittata from the oven, allow to rest for several minutes before cutting into wedges and serving. While it is best served hot out of the oven, I found myself picking at some of the room temperature leftovers and feeling as happy as I was taking a warm bite of it.


If making this frittata for lunch or dinner, simply serve with a peppery green salad tossed with a light (champagne or lemon) vinaigrette, and some warm bread. To make it even heartier (and appeal to the non-vegetarians in the group), bring some grilled steak to the table. And yes, the idea for the grilled steak came from my sister. The perfectly done (medium-rare) thick strip steaks served at dinner were made by my grill master brother-in-law. 

Celebrate the arrival of spring this weekend by serving this frittata for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. Open up a good bottle of wine and invite friends or family over. When serving this frittata for brunch, day drinking is allowed and encouraged. 

Recipe
Smoky Cauliflower Frittata (inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's Smoky Frittata recipe from his cookbook "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi"
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients
1 small head of cauliflower, cut into medium florets
6 large eggs
4 Tablespoons creme fraiche
2 Tablespoons dijon mustard 
1 1/2- 2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
3 Tablespoons finely chopped chives
5 ounces smoked mozzarella or smoked scamorza, coarsely grated (including skin for extra flavor)
2 ounces aged (at least 2 years old) cheddar, coarsely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 Tablespoons good quality olive oil

Directions
1. Simmer the cauliflower in a large pan of boiling water for 4-6 minutes, or until semi-cooked. Remove from boiling water and allow to dry on a paper towel lined plate.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F).
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs creme fraiche, dijon mustard, and sweet smoked paprika. Make sure the eggs and creme fraiche are thoroughly blended.
4. Stir in the chives and 3/4 of the grated cheeses. Season with kosher salt and pepper.
5. Heat olive oil in a medium sized (10 inch) ovenproof frying or cast iron pan. Fry the semi-cooked cauliflower for about 5 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on at least one side.  Note: Press down lightly with a spatula to get brownness on one side of the cauliflower.
6. Pour the egg mixture over the cauliflower. Working quickly, use a fork to spread the cauliflower evenly in the pan. Without continuing to stir, cook frittata on medium heat for about 5 minutes.
7. Scatter remaining 1/4 of the grated cheeses over the top and place pan in oven.
8. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until frittata is set.
9. Remove from oven. Allow to rest several minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve immediately.

Notes: (1) I used 2 teaspoons of the sweet smoked paprika (and loved the flavor), however, may consider reducing to 1 1/2 teaspoons the next time I make it. (2) My favorite dijon mustard is Maille. (3) Use a good quality frying pan (preferably one non-stick) or a cast iron pan when making the frittata. Lodge makes great cast iron pans. (4) Served with an arugula salad lightly tossed with a champagne or lemon vinaigrette you have a perfect meal. (5) Leftovers, if you have any, can be reheated in the microwave.

Winter snow shadows (Morton Arboretum, March 2017).

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Everyday Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Icing


The time-change has me feeling a little more out of sorts than usual. Quite possibly my sub-conscious has been affected by all of the recent daylight savings time stories citing the numerous impacts time-change has on our mind and bodies. Given my frequent unusually high levels of gullibility I would venture to say this more than likely partially explains my temporary altered state. Beside undergoing the recent time-change brainwashing, the winter season in the midwest has been a little outside the norm. Up until the return of the winter wonderland this week, we have been relatively snowless for almost two months. Having summer and spring-like days interspersed amongst wintery weather ones here in February has felt good, but at the same time it has also felt a bit strange. One day you are bundled up wearing layers of winter clothes and boots, the next day you are wearing flip flops and turning off the heat. It's a good thing I didn't change out my closets for the seasons this year (or truth be told any year). Even my cravings for sweets has been different lately. It seems I only want the Cadbury chocolates imported from across the pond or cake.


Kind of like this cake, this Everyday Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Icing. One that should probably be called 'Love at first sight, love at first bite' cake.

As far as chocolate cakes go, this one is the kind you want to eat when you are happy, melancholy, euphoric, out of sorts, stressed, or filled with joy. In other words, it's a cake where in one bite everything is immediately all is either right or better with the world.


The recipe for this chocolate cake comes from someone who seems to understand there is greatness in simplicity. In her first cookbook, 'Small Victories', Julia Turshen uses ordinary, easy to find ingredients and transforms them into extraordinary dishes. In reading through her recipes, you are convinced you will make each one more than once. The recipe for the the buttercream icing comes from Sarah Kieffer's cookbook, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. Another baker whose recipes also seemed destined to go into the timeless classics category.


There are a million reasons to always keep buttermilk in your refrigerator. The million and one reason would be this chocolate cake.


If you made (or have already made) buttermilk is one of your staples, you can make this deep chocolate, moist, just the right amount of sweetness chocolate cake whenever you get a craving for it. Or, whenever the day calls for cake. Which for some of us could be pretty much almost every day. If you can boil water, you can make this cake. Not that you necessarily need to boil any water. Essentially you only need is a large bowl, a whisk, some measuring spoons, and some measuring cups (and/or a digital scale) to make it. It's a cake recipe proving great homemade cakes don't need to be complicated. They only need to made with love using good quality ingredients.


All of the dry ingredient are whisked together in a large bowl.


After all of the wet ingredients are added, the batter is whisked until it is smooth and slightly thickened. That's it. Your cake batter is ready in a matter of minutes.

The 8" inch rounds of cake bake up in approximately 30 minutes in a 350 degree (F) oven. Buttering and lining your cake pans with parchment paper helps ensure they will come out of the pan perfectly. Allow the cakes to cool completely before you begin frosting the layers.


The icing recipe makes just enough to ice this two-layer 8" cake in the naked style. If you want a heavily iced on the sides cake, increase the recipe proportionately. A standing mixer with a paddle attachment makes for an incredibly creamy icing, but you can achieve the same results using a hand mixer and some patience. 

The original recipe for the cake called for a chocolate icing and slathered a generous half-cup of raspberry jam as the middle layer. As much as chocolate and raspberry are perfect flavor combinations, I was in the mood for just cake and icing. And almost uncharacteristically, I had a craving for vanilla buttercream icing rather than chocolate icing.


Simple cakes call for simple finishes. But it you are making this cake for a 'fancy' occasion, make it as fancy as you want.


If you have yet to have a go-to chocolate cake in your recipe file, make this Everyday Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Icing it. It will never disappoint. Never. If you have never added coffee to your chocolate brownies, cookies or cakes to enhance the flavor of the chocolate, your chocolate loving palate is in for a surprise. A really good one.


Top with candles and serve alongside your favorite vanilla ice-cream and you have a cake worthy of celebrating any birthday, anniversary or special occasion. But actually, you don't even need the ice cream. The cake all on it's own is that good. And you definitely don't need a special occasion to make it.


I completely agree with Julia Turshen. This is one of those 'decadent without being too heavy or too sweet' cakes. And we all deserve a little decadence in our lives. Chances are the Everyday Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Icing will become one of your favorites.

Recipe
Everyday Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Icing (minor changes to Julia Turshen's Happy Wife, Happy Life Chocolate Cake recipe as shared in her cookbook "Small Victories: Recipes, Advice, and Hundreds of Ideas for Home-Cooking Triumphs" and not even a change to Sarah Kieffer's American Buttercream recipe as shared in her cookbook "The Vanilla Bean Baking Book: Recipes for Irresistible Everyday Favorites and Reinvented Classics"
Serves 8-12 people, depending on how you slice it

Ingredients
Cake
1 1/4 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour (See Note below)
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (75 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 Tablespoons (120 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup strong black coffee cooled or 1 rounded teaspoon espresso powder mixed into 1 cup boiling water then cooled
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla

Icing
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons good quality vanilla
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups (339 g) confectionary sugar, sifted
Optional: Food coloring and/or sprinkles for decorating

Directions
Cake
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Butter and parchment paper line two 8" baking pans. Lightly butter top of parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
3. Add melted butter, eggs, coffee, buttermilk, and vanilla. Whisk until batter is thick and smooth.
4. Divide batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Lightly tap the cake pans to remove any air bubbles. Note: Using a digital scale helps to ensure each pan has equal amounts of batter.
5. Bake until tops of cake spring back when lightly pressed and edges begin to come away from the pan. Approximately 30 minutes of baking time.
6. Transfer cakes to a wire rack and allow to cool completely. 

Icing and Assembly
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter on medium-high speed until creamy (approximately 2 minutes).
2. Scrape down sides of the bowl, add vanilla and salt. Mix on low until incorporated. Then beat on medium for one minute.
3. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the sifted confectionary sugar until all is incorporated. Stop to scrape the bowl as needed. Increase speed to medium high and beat until light and fluffy (approximately 6-8 minutes).
4. Place one of the cakes upside-down on your serving platter or cake stand. Spoon slightly more than 1/3 of the frosting on the cake. Spread evenly over cake.
5. Place the second cake layer (again upside-down) on the frosted layer. Top cake with approximately 1/3 more of the frosting. Use the remaining frosting to frost the sides of the cake. Smooth out top layer using an off-set spatula.
6. Wait at least an hour or lightly cover cake and chill in the refrigerator before serving. This is one of those cakes that is even more delicious when served chilled.

Notes: (1) The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups or 150 g of all-purpose flour. I used this ounces to grams conversion chart and measured my flour on a digital scale. If not using a scale, recommend using only 1 1/4 cups instead of 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour. (2) If you don't own either of the cookbooks referenced in the recipe, you should. They are destined to become classics. (3) I am a big fan of King Arthur All-Purpose flour, but use whatever high quality flour you have available to you. (4) If you want a raspberry jam filling instead of the buttercream filling, use a generous half cup of your favorite jam.


A wintery March day at Morton Arboretum (2017).


Friday, March 10, 2017

Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway


In the event I ever travel to Ireland (a place high on my bucket list), I fully expect to be detained, deported, or deterred from entering the country for posting this recipe for Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway. And, if by some chance, the authorities do not prevent me from leaving the airport, I anticipate a contingent from The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread will be there to greet me. Not to welcome me, but rather for the purpose of very politely informing me a true Irish Soda Bread is made with only four ingredients: flour, buttermilk, salt and baking soda. Calling my "Americanized" version "Irish" was a bit of stretch. And, of course, they would be right. In this paranoid fantasy moment I imagine I would have at least two options: graciously ask for their forgiveness or ever so kindly attempt to explain myself by sharing a bit of soda bread's history. Because leaving without having explored the lush landscapes, cliffs along the seashores, charming towns, and a couple of authentic Irish pubs, would not be an option.


While it's true the earliest reference to Irish Soda Bread appeared in the November 1836 edition of Farmer's Magazine (referencing a newspaper article for the bread in County Down) the origin of Soda Bread technically was not Ireland (the American Indians actually made the earliest version of soda bread using pearl ash to leaven the bread). The Irish Soda Bread tradition actually began shortly after baking soda was invented in the mid-1800's. It was quickly adopted by Irish women, as it allowed Irish flour to rise setting off the creation of closely guarded family Irish Soda Bread recipes. History aside, the wisest option would be to ask for forgiveness for taking liberties with a revered, traditional Irish Soda Bread recipe. All the while keeping my fingers crossed the old saying 'it's always best to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission' would actually work. My only default to earn their good graces would be to pray the fairies were with me.

One of the concerns about Irish Soda Bread is dryness and crumbly-ness. This one is neither. There are literally hundreds of Irish Soda Bread recipes to choose from. In addition to the four ingredient traditional Irish Soda Bread, variations include the use of both all-purpose and whole wheat/whole wheat pastry flour; raisins or currants soaked in Irish Whiskey; eggs or no eggs; melted instead of cold butter; and ,orange or lemon peel. Narrowing down my choices to three, I went back and forth between them before deciding on the recipe originally shared in Bon Appetit. Even after making a decision, I wasn't sure about the use of both caraway seeds and raisins. In the end, I decided not to eliminate either of them. It turned out to be a really good decision.


If there is one way to make this "Americanized" version of Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway a little more Irish, it would be to serve it with some softened Irish butter.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. I used a fine sea salt instead of my usual Kosher salt. In lieu of using only all-purpose flour, you can use a combination of all-purpose flour and whole wheat pastry flour. See note below.


Instead of cutting the butter into small cubes, grating the butter makes it much easier to incorporate into the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt mixture.

Using your hands, blend the butter into dry ingredients until it looks like a coarse meal. Stir in the raisins and caraway seeds with a wooden spoons. You might think two and a half cups of dark raisins is too much. Trust me, it's not. The proportions in this Irish Soda Bread are pretty close to perfect.


Whisk together the buttermilk and egg. Pour into the dry ingredients. Begin to bring the dough together with a wooden spoon. Once the flour has been fully incorporated, knead very gently. Note: The dough will be very sticky. Flouring your hands before kneading makes it slightly less messy.

Transfer the dough to your prepared baking pan and shape into a mounded round loaf.


"You have to cut a cross in the dough to let the fairies out." There are actually two schools of thought on the cross cut into the dough. Some say it's to let the fairies escape, others say it brings blessings from above. You can choose to believe one or the other, or both, but I dare not upset the fairies. Altering the ingredients in an Irish Soda Bread recipe is one thing, not respecting the fairies is another. When making the cross on the top of the dough, cut deep into (apparently I did not cut deep enough as my finished bread had a barely discernible cross).


This recipe makes either one really large loaf or two perfectly size loaves. One of the benefits of dividing the dough into two loaves is that you will have one to give away.

If you have a cast iron pan, use it. If you won't use cake pans (particularly if you are making two loaves. Whichever pan you use, generously butter the pan and line the bottom withe parchment paper. Many Irish Soda Breads are baked at a high heat (i.e., 400 degrees (F) or higher. This Soda Bread is baked in 350 degree (F) oven, which may contribute to a moister bread. The single loaf will bake in approximately 70-80 minutes while the smaller loaves will bake in 50-53 minutes.

To test for doneness, insert a tester into the center or side of bread. If the tester comes out clean, the bread is done. A less technical way of testing for doneness is to tap on the top of the bread. If it sounds hard but hollow, the bread is done. The baked bread remains in the baking pan for 10 minutes before it is removed and placed on a wire rack to cool. Cut into slices, serve with some room temperature (Irish) butter, then sit back and savor.

Although I was initially reluctant to use both raisins and caraway seeds, but I can't imagine making this soda bread using only or the other or omitting them completely. The sweetness of the moist bread with its' crunchy exterior combined with the sweet/savory contrast of the raisins and caraway seeds makes this Irish Soda Bread mouth-watering delicious. While it may not be a technically traditional Irish Soda Bread, it is one definitely worthy of being made well after St. Patrick's Day.
Recipe
Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway (slight adaptation to the Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway as shared by Bon Appetit, October 2002)

Ingredients
5 cups (625 grams) of all-purpose flour
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 slightly rounded teaspoon (8 grams) baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, grated
2 1/2 cups dark raisins
3 Tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg
Best quality Irish butter for serving 

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Generously butter one large 12 inch cast iron pan or two 9"/10" cast iron or cake pans. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper and lightly butter.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt.
3. Add grated butter. Using your fingertips, rub in butter until coarse crumbs form.
4. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds.
5. Whisk together buttermilk and egg in a medium bowl to blend. Add to dough. Using a wooden spoon, stir until well incorporated (dough will be sticky). Flour your hands and lightly knead the dough in the bowl.
6. Transfer dough to prepared pans. Smooth top, mounding slightly in the center. Using a sharp knife dipped in flour, cut a 1 inch deep cross into top center of the dough.
7. Bake until bread is cooked through and tester comes out clean when inserted into the center of the bread. For a single loaf, baking time will be approximately 70-80 minutes, for two loaves baking time will be 50-53 minutes.
8. Allow bread to cool in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to col completely.
9. Cut into slices and serve with (Irish) butter.
10. Wrap bread tightly with plastic wrap. Store at room temperature. The bread is best on the day it is baked and for one additional day. 

Notes: (1) I measured the dry ingredients on a digital scale. If you decide to use both all-purpose flour and whole wheat pastry flour, measuring on a scale is critical as the wheat flour has a greater density, weighing less (120 grams per cup) than all-purpose flour. (2) Make sure to make a deep cross into your dough before putting in the oven. Not only will be this ensure the fairies are let out, your finished loaf will have a beautiful, rustic look to it. (3) I used Kerrygold Irish butter for the dough and for serving.