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Cooking Blog

Visit our blog to read about Michelle Barry's adventures in cooking and eating Irish cuisine and to learn about new products and upcoming events. 

 

Filtering by Category: Baking

Almond Pear Cake

john barry

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So it turns out having four kids five and under is busy. It doesn’t really “feel” busier than three, but it must be.  See, I notice it more in the things that don’t get done because I have more priorities to sift through and more goes by the wayside. So while I’ve been managing to get home-cooked meals on the table most nights, taking photos of them, writing down recipes, even trying new recipes has mostly not happened. Evenings are chaotic.  It all is. But it’s also fun. And hard to believe how much the kids have grown up in a few short years. They are able to offer more and more help in the kitchen and everywhere. I’ve also noticed a gradual change in their eating habits. Isla eats a lot these days and Eve has been surprising us by eating all kinds of stuff she never did before, broccoli, mushrooms, celery, etc. Noelle likes everything and Emmett, always a good eater, gets a little better each week.  I’m looking forward to the day when they all eat less like toddlers and I’m hopeful that it might be somewhat soon.

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One food we all like is this cake. Well, in the end at least. Emmett swore he wasn’t going to like it before he even tried it because it wasn’t chocolate (he made me promise that he could have candy for dessert instead - ever the negotiator). Of course, he ended up being obsessed and claiming all of the leftovers for himself. I wonder what his kindergarten teacher thought of me sending him to school with a slice of cake in his backpack.  “Mother of the year?” “She must be French?” Hopefully the latter. Either way, I’m so glad I remembered my little trick of making an extra to stash in the freezer.

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I made this simple Almond and Pear Cake for Paddy’s birthday this year. It’s really an almond cake with some sliced pears on the bottom - the top when flipped over. It doesn’t taste strongly of pear but is definitely almondy if you like that sort of thing. I’m a sucker for anything with almond paste.  It’s also one of those cakes that gets even better if you let it sit for a day. Which is great if you are having a dinner party and have other dishes to focus on. We also had rack of lamb, green beans with almonds and brown butter and potatoes, though by the time we sat down to eat, food was the last thing on our minds.

That’s because Paddy had gone to church that evening for some kind of event and was supposed to get to our house around 5pm, according to Paul.  When 6pm rolled around and he was nowhere in sight, Paul got worried and started to drive around looking for him. Meanwhile, I was grilling my brother-in-law John about where he could be, whether or not he had a cell phone with him, where the church was, when the meeting was - all questions he couldn’t answer. Paul did know what church it was and had already called. They told him that the meeting ended an hour earlier which only worried him more, so he set off for the church.  

A little while later, Paddy waltzed through the door without a care in the world, talking about how the meeting had run quite long. Classic! Relieved, we all felt silly for being so worried, after all, Paddy has been navigating the world for several decades, most of them before cell phones and gps. The funny thing is, this kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME with the Barry boys. I’m so glad Paul’s sister CeCe has moved back to Chicago to commiserate with me and help keep everyone in line.

The benefit of this little scare was that I think it made us all a little more grateful for another year of happiness and good health with Paddy.  We love him so much! Even more than cake.

Almond Pear Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe pears

  • 1 cup cake flour, divided

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/3 cups caster or superfine sugar

  • 7 ounces almond paste

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature and cut into 1-tablespoon cubes

  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature


Instructions

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line two six-inch (or one 8 or 9 -inch) cake pans with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.

Peel and slice the pears. Arrange them in the bottom of the cake pan.

Whisk together 3/4 cup of cake flour, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.

In a food processor, grind the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup of the cake flour until the almond paste has mixed with the sugar and forms a sandy texture.

With the food processor running, add the cubes of butter one at a time, followed by the almond extract. Process until the batter is smooth and light.
Add the eggs one at a time, processing after each addition.

Add half of the dry ingredients and pulse until incorporated. Then add the rest of the dry ingredients pulsing a few times again until just incorporated.

Pour the batter over the pears, then bake the cake in the center of the oven. Check it after 40 minutes rotating in the oven.

Watch it closely, mine took 55 minutes but it can take as long as 70 minutes depending on the pans you use, your oven etc.

When a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp knife around the perimeter of the pan to loosen it from the sides. Let the cake cool completely, then invert it.

Wrap in plastic and keep at room temperature until you are ready to serve.

Homemade Dessert Night

john barry

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The little ones have yet to understand how much time it takes to say, bake a cake. They think that it if they will cake to appear, it will.  For the longest time they would ask me to bake them something for dessert on weeknights, when there was barely enough time left for a book before bedtime, let alone homemade dessert.  Besides, we really shouldn’t be eating dessert on weeknights anyway should we? Though I sometimes secretly wish it was the 60’s and we ate homemade desserts every night. Who would make them? Not me.  I finally put a stop to all of the asking by instituting the “Homemade Dessert Night” on the weekend. I started to suggest to them that we pick out a homemade dessert to make on either Saturday or Sunday when we have the time for such a project.

This has helped to teach them that desserts, like most things in life, do not materialize out of thin air and has become a fun activity that we all look forward to. We start by selecting a baking book and then a recipe to try. Then we assemble all of the ingredients we need and measure them out so that when it’s time to do the baking, it’s a relatively simple affair.  And, when things go well, not too messy. A couple of weeks ago we made Rachel Allen’s molten lava cakes from her awesome book “Bake” which were such a resounding success that, well, the lack of photographic evidence speaks for itself.

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Then last weekend we made Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake which you can find the recipe for here.  I halved the recipe and again, the cake didn’t last long enough to get any “after” photos. In fact, only a tiny sliver was left to share with family the next day.  The baked cake itself was no beauty. Due to its super moist batter, it sinks quite a bit in the middle, but it’s oh so delicious - the perfect cake for “Homemade Dessert Night”. Easy, simple and impossible to mess up, especially since it’s not meant to be pretty anyway.

Any amount of time when you are waiting for a homemade dessert to come out of the oven is a long time.  When you’re talking about he five and under set, any amount of time is a long time. Period. So it’s not easy. But, when it’s all said and done, it is gratifying to make something delicious from scratch. Try it, I promise it's worth the wait! 

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 Donegal Oatcakes and Tomato-Rosemary Jam

john barry

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I’ve been home most of this week with FOUR sick kids.  I’m only just getting used to having four children, let alone sick ones.   It’s been snowy and cold here, so if there is a time to be taking care of sick little ones and baking, that time is now.  

This whole cold, snowy weather, sick kids thing could really be a bummer, and while I hate that the kids are off their game, I’m feeling fortunate that it’s not this nasty flu everyone else is getting.  Also, since I’m on maternity leave, I can be here to take care of them.  And do what I would probably be doing anyway: Bake.

It’s funny how I think most people who know me would say that I’m an extrovert, outgoing, social and talkative (“excessive talking” was the comment I would get from every single teacher on my elementary school report cards).  I’m all of those things, but I’m also a homebody to the core. I can go days, weeks even, without leaving the house. I always have a list of projects I want to tackle and it’s so easy for me to just get lost in one or a few of them.  When I’m focused, I don’t notice the hours or days go by.  Paul tells me that he can identify the look in my face when I’m “in the zone” and he knows to just get out of the way. Haha.

My point is, that for me, being snowed in with sick littles isn’t so bad. It’s an opportunity for me to get things done around the house, including trying some recipes I’ve had on my list.  So, once again, I find myself cooking comfort food from the pantry.

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I’ve been wanting to try this simple recipe for Donegal Oatcakes by Darina Allen for ages.  When I surveyed the contents of our fridge and saw tomato-rosemary jam, a by-product of Paul and I both buying grape tomatoes on the same day, I thought it would complement these oatcakes perfectly. Well, as it turns out, I was right. These were nutty and homey and another easy and delicious way to use my favorite Irish flour. They are also great with fruit jam and clotted cream, creme fraiche, or greek yogurt.  They can be taken in the direction of dessert with a generous swipe of nutella - sort of like an oaty, nutty, chocolate digestive. With just five ingredients, and a little time, they couldn't be easier to make.

Put the kettle on.

Donegal Oatcakes

  • 1 cup stone-ground oatmeal
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter or lard, cubed and chilled, plus butter for serving (optional)
  • 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1⁄2 cup boiling water

Tomato- RosemaryJam

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  • 2 cups grape tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅓ to ½ cup of sugar

For tomato jam:

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer until tomatoes cook down and the mixture reaches a thick, jammy consistency, about 1 hour.  Remove rosemary sprig, its ok to leave some whole leaves that have fallen off in the jam. Serve with oatcakes, brown bread, on a grilled cheese or even with chicken, fish or pork.  

For oatcakes:

Add oats, flour, butter and salt to food processor and pulse until butter is in pea-sized clumps.

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Drizzle in boiling water until dough comes together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a ½” thick square.  Place a kitchen towel over the top and let sit to dry out for about an hour.

 I rolled the dough out between the parchment I baked them on and a sheet of saran wrap. 

I rolled the dough out between the parchment I baked them on and a sheet of saran wrap. 

Preheat oven to 250F.  You can cut the cakes out with a biscuit cutter and gather and reuse the scraps or just cut them into squares as I did.

 With this approach, they don't look identical (unless you rolled them out in a perfect rectangle) but I don't mind the "rustic" look.

With this approach, they don't look identical (unless you rolled them out in a perfect rectangle) but I don't mind the "rustic" look.

Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and bake, flipping once, until golden and slightly crisp, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature with butter (or Irish cheddar) and tomato jam.

 It's tough to tell from the photo but these did brown slighty on both sides.  They are crisp on the outside and a soft on the inside. 

It's tough to tell from the photo but these did brown slighty on both sides.  They are crisp on the outside and a soft on the inside. 

These last about 1 week in an airtight container.