Luck O’ the Irish Soda Bread

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St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday I fully support. In some ways it is kind of like the kick-off party to spring: it brings in lots of fun, friends and booze. Plus, it’s the only holiday where bearing my freckles is not only acceptable, but encouraged.

The best part of St. Patrick’s Day, in my humble opinion, is Irish soda bread.

Irish soda bread is kind of a funny thing, because when made well it is FANTASTIC and when made poorly it is coarse, dry and just not very good at all. My first experience with Irish soda bread was of the latter variety and I was not particularly excited to give the bread a second chance. However, I had to make it for Home Ec in high school, and much to my surprise, I absolutely loved it. Just goes to show that a good recipe really makes a difference.

I have been using that same recipe from Home Ec ever since. I will note that this recipe yields an Irish soda bread that is moister and cakier than most traditional varieties. I happen to like that better. If a drier bread is what you’re after, then this recipe is not for you. However, I have found that you can compensate for this by overcooking the bread a little. A LITTLE.

The difference between a doughy bread, a slightly crunchier, drier bread, and a burnt bread is, in all seriousness, 5 minutes (or less). So be careful. Generally I find cooking the bread the full 60 minutes will give me a bread that I am very happy with.

So give it a whirl! Let me know what you think! And most importantly, have a very happy St. Patrick’s Day!

One more thing! Don’t skimp on the raisins!

Happy Eating 🙂

3 ½ c flour

¾ c Sugar

2 tsp Baking powder

½ tsp Baking soda

½ tsp Salt

¾ butter, soft

1 egg

1 ¼ c Buttermilk

½-1 c Raisins

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease pan.
  2. Measure flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Mix softened butter to the flour mixture. It should look fairly crumb-y when it is mixed.
  4. Mix buttermilk and egg together in a separate bowl.
  5. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and mix well. The mixture will be VERY thick. Stir in raisins.

1 large loaf = 55-60 minutes or 4 or 5 small loaves = 30 minutes

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Snowflake Cake: To Fondant or Not to Fondant?

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If you look closely, you should be able to see the sparkle from the cake dust. It creates a very nice snowy effect.

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Having the fondant stick around an edge was tricky. I think it worked reasonably well.

If you are anything like me, then you love to watch baking shows. I like the ones with competitions, the ones about a bakery and the good ol’ fashioned this-is-how-you-make-this-at-home ones. I like it all.

While salivating in front of my TV I did notice that fondant has become very trendy. I come from a family where everyone has a homemade birthday cake, and frosting from a can is unthinkable. I don’t even like thinking about it now.

I had never tried a cake with fondant. I had no idea what it was really like. It was just a big sugary question mark in my mind. I had heard some rumours that fondant isn’t very tasty. Maybe I’m too conventional, but I was apprehensive about putting something that isn’t tasty on my very tasty cake.

Still, some of the work that people do with fondant is really amazing. I always marvel over Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes (not the surrounding drama, just the cake decorating). Fondant enables you to do decorative things that are probably impossible to do with buttercream. Also, a layer of fondant over your cake creates a nice, neat, flat surface, which is harder to do with buttercream (you may have noticed that my frosting skills can use some improvement).

There are definitely valid reasons to use fondant. My question was, “Is it really worth it?” Expertly decorated or not, cakes are meant to be eaten. I have an endless amount of appreciation for extreme cake decorating (when the cake looks like a pirate ship, or the Eiffel Tower etc), but if the taste does not live up to the pretty picture… then I just don’t see the point!  So to bring an end to a lot of ado… I went to Michael’s and bought fondant.

My initial reaction is that kneading it into a workable texture is a lot like playing with Play Dough. No complaints from me there. My next step was to do the obvious: rip off a tiny piece and taste it. Now I have complaints: I found it to be flavorless and it felt like I had swallowed some gum. Footnote: you can flavor fondant, but that isn’t going to fix the gum-like consistency issue. Still, I’d come so far… I took out the rolling pin and covered my counter in confectionary sugar. In my opinion, the time to back out is well before you’ve made a mess of your kitchen.

I made some very pretty snowflakes (I felt like being festive for the holiday season), which I dusted in pearl cake dust (also, from Michaels. I am definitely a big fan of the cake dust). I pressed the snowflakes onto the cake (vanilla buttercream is the most delcious adhesive). The snowflakes that bend around an edge in the cake did not stick quite as well as the ones that were completely flat, but I suppose that is to be expected.

I thought the cake was very pretty (for a first fondant attempt). I would like to be a little more ambitious next time. Still, this was only my first date with fondant, so I’d like it get it know it a bit better before things get wild.

Much to my relief, on the finished product, you could not even taste the fondant. It seems that in small doses, fondant blends into the background, which is a good thing. I’ve never tried a cake that has a lot of fondant on it. I encourage anyone who has to leave a comment sharing your thoughts. I don’t know what to expect from a cake with a lot of fondant, but I am curious.

I also readily acknowledge that I did not make my fondant myself. I don’t know that it would make a significant difference in taste. I find that DIY is usually better than store bought. The reason I did not make the fondant from scratch is that since I had never used it, I really had no idea what kind of consistency I should be looking for. By the time I finish using the package of fondant I bought, I will probably be comfortable enough to try making it myself.

I’ve included the recipe for both the vanilla cake and vanilla buttercream. I love them individually and together. I’ve experimented with different recipes on occasion, but this is what I always come back to. Some things are classic for a reason.

I am planning to make from scratch a very extravagant gingerbread house. Keep on watch for the results. I may even break out the fondant.

Happy Eating 🙂

Vanilla Cake

2 2/3 cup sifted flour

3 ½ tsp baking powder

¾ tsp salt

¾ cup butter

1 2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 eggs

1 cup milk

  1. Lightly butter and flour 2 9’’ cake pans and preheat oven to 375F
  2. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla extract.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  4. In a separate bowl (I just use the measuring cup) combine flour, baking soda and salt.
  5. Alternate between adding flour mixture and milk to the butter mixture.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool before removing from pans. The cakes should be completely cool when you frost them.

Vanilla Buttercream

1 lb Domino Confectioners 10-X Sugar

½ cup soft butter

1/8 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla extract

3-4 tbsp milk

  1. Cream 1/3 of sugar with butter and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Blend in vanilla extract, 2 tbsp milk and remaining sugar into the mixture.
  3. Gradually still remaining milk into frosting until desired spreading consistency is reached.

Cinnamon and Banana Crumble Muffins

Cinnamon and bananas is one of my favorite flavor combinations. I even contemplated it as a name for this blog because I love it so much! I found this recipe on allrecipes.com and I think it is really delicious. If you are skeptical, on allrecipes.com it has 5 stars and almost 7500 reviews. If almost 7500 people can agree something is delicious then it is probably worth investigating. Right?

I did tweak the recipe slightly…

I added 1 tsp vanilla extract and 3 tsp cinnamon to the muffin batter and in the muffin crumble used 1/4 tsp cinnamon instead of 1/8 tsp cinnamon. In my opinion the cinnamon was not at all overpowering, and gave a nice undercurrent of flavor to the muffins. If you aren’t hot for cinnamon then try the original recipe first. You can always spice things up next time.

In addition, I strongly recommend using very ripe bananas. The recipe does not specify this, but I am. If you use bananas that are not ripe enough your muffins will not have a strong and rich banana flavor. I once made banana bread (one of my all time favorite recipes, I will post it next time I make it) with yellow bananas without many spots… it wasn’t the same, trust me! Or don’t. Your choice entirely. Either way, if you have thoughts, a similar recipe or other recommendation let me know.

Happy Eating 🙂

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End result. Wish they rose a little bit more, but were very delicious!

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Ideal banana muffin/bread bananas. Penguin sticker: optional.