Baking and stuff

‘Mr Guinness Cake’

Now referred to by its rather generic name, ‘Porter Cake’, this cake was known as known as Guinness Cake when I was young. I loved the name my mother recorded this recipe under: ‘Mr Guinness Cake’ giving it an elevated status that makes me smile. Another thing which made me smile was the date given: 28 April 1971. My 6th birthday and certainly this was not the cake served at my party! I had mum’s chocolate cake. I always had Mum’s chocolate cake.

When people ask what they should bring from Ireland as gifts abroad, I always recommend a Porter Cake, which is now available in tins, and a bottle of whiskey – of which there are many varieties and standards of excellence.

8 ounces, butter
8 ounces, soft brown sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
10 ounces, plain flour sifted
2 level teaspoons of mixed spice, sifted in with the flour
8 ounces, seedless raisins
4 ounces, sultanas
4 ounces, mixed peel, roughly chopped
4 ounces walnuts, roughly chopped
8-12 tablespoons, Guinness

1. Pre-heat oven to 325 F degrees (160 C)
2. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale
3. Gradually beat in the eggs and mix through
4. Fold in the flour and mixed spice
5. Add the dried fruit and walnuts
6. Mix together well
7. Add in 4 tablespoons Guinness
8. Turn into a prepared 7 inch round cake tin
9. Bake in a moderate oven for 1 hour
10. Reduce heat to 300F degrees (150 C) and bake for another 1½ hours
11. Allow to cool in the tin
12. Remove from the cake tin
13. Prink the base of the cake with a skewer and spoon over the remaining 4-8 tablespoons of Guinness
14. Store for one week before eating

Nana's corner

Nana and Teresa’s Christmas Pudding


At Christmas, my mother was a traditionalist. With idiosyncratic perfection, she would prepare the turkey, perfectly stuffed with her own recipe of bread stuffing. She would sew up the stuffed cavity with needle and twine. Such time taken to get it just right. and each year, she would whinge and moan about how dry and tasteless this poultry was and how “Did I ever tell you…?” Goose with potato stuffing was the traditional fare for an Irish Christmas before this mass bred import arrived.

Next would come the ham. She would lift the skin off and with such precision, cut the remaining skin into identical squares. She would then stud each and every one of those squares with a clove pressed into the skin. She would cover the entire ham with rings of tinned pineapple secured neatly with cocktail sticks. Glazed cherries placed in the centre of each ring, the ham all liberally covered in brown sugar, she would bake it in the oven until that sugar turned to a caramel covering the ham. And complete, she would place the 18lb ham onto one of the large meat plates handed down through the years. Every year, I would marvel at the result as it looked like the cover of one of those Cordon Bleu magazines she loved collecting.

The vegetables? All traditional. Fresh Brussel Sprouts would be prepared, cleaned, outer leaves discarded and a cross cut into the stem. The Marrowfat Peas would be placed in muslin, soaked in water with a tablet left to dissolve gradually. Carrots cleaned, cut into batons and placed in sugared cold water to keep overnight. The potatoes would be peeled, turned and also left in salted cold water until required.

And the butter? She would take out two wooden panels which belonged to her own mother. Cubing the butter, she would roll each between the wooden panels until it was a perfectly shaped ball with diamond pattern adorning it. Or she would take a more modern gadget. Digging it into the block of cold butter and pulling back, she would create curls of butter. Whatever tool she picked, one thing was for sure – butter would not adorn her Christmas table in a pack, block or tub.

Then there was Cranberry Sauce. Being out of season, she would choose a frozen block of Oceanspray cranberries and work her magic until it was transformed into a bitter tasting accompaniment for the turkey and ham.

The sweet accompaniments of the festival? Every year, she would prepare a Christmas cake. It had a lighter cake mix than the traditional one and she didn’t ice it. Why? She couldn’t be bothered as none of us ate the madeira like cake so icing it seemed silly. She would, however, put a recycled Yuletide frill around it each year to take away the beige-ness of the cake.

And every few years, she would make Christmas Puddings. Rich in fruit and suet (and alcohol), she would place them in plastic bowls, add buttered paper, cover the top and secure each with string. She would boil these puddings until cooked and, when cool, she would seal with a plastic lid, clipped onto the top. There they would lie in the cupboard until required. And I mean that. The amount of alcohol would preserve them indefinitely. Finally released from the plastic bowl, Mum would douse it with brandy, light it and we would all marvel at the burning mass before one by one we would refuse a piece because quite simply, we all hated it. Mum would sit there, solemnly, eating the pudding with the Brandy Butter she had prepared for the occasion.

As the years passed, I grew to love Christmas Pudding – the darker and richer the better. I always wished I could make Mum’s version but I couldn’t find a recipe. In the little notebook of recipes, there it lay. Covered in specks of food from having prepared the puddings with the pages open. Dated 12 December 1955, I give to you ‘Teresa’s Plum Pudding.’

1lb, sultanas
1lb, raisins
¼ lb, mixed peel
½ lb cherries
¼ lb almonds, chopped
½ lb suet, chopped finely
½ lb brown sugar
¼ lb flour
4 large eggs
1 carrot, finely grated
1 apple
¾ lb breadcrumbs
Pinch of salt
1 ½ teaspoons of mixed spice
1 generous glass of whiskey

1. Mix all the dry ingredients together
2. Beat the eggs
3. Add in the whiskey
4. Combine the wet and the dry ingredients
5. Place the mixture into well-greased pudding bowls
6. Cover tightly with butter paper and then with cloth tied with twine*
7. Boil for 3 ½ to 5 ½ hours

This amount makes
4 small puddings – cook for 3 ½ hours
3 medium puddings – cook for 4 ½ hours
1 large pudding – cook for 5 ½ hours

On the day of using
Boil for another 1 hours

Serve with
Brandy Butter
Thick whipped cream
Pouring cream

*In years to come, this would be replaced by parchment paper

Nana's corner

Aunty Teresa’s Cherry Cake


In the days of letters and phone calls and the absence of text messaging, emails and Skype, my aunty Teresa was still a principal character in my life. She and Brendan made their life together in Springfield, in the middle of the emigrant community from West Kerry, socialising in the John Boyle O’Reilly Club and returning home at regular intervals. For visits. Only ever for visits.

I always had this image of her in an American style pinny – of which many were gifted to us – in a flurry of baking and cooking. That probably bears no resemblance to reality but I like that image nonetheless. It is based on the number of recipes she gave my mum and the fact that she was a nice, gentle, lady.

Cherries? I love them. When I was little, they were the only thing among the dried fruit mix that I would venture near. But they weren’t dried but rather plumped up with sugar. Glazed cherries appeared in so many cakes and breads. There were no fresh cherries to be had and my first encounter with those was in the Schwartzwalder Cake which adorned the menu in Jury’s Hotel, Ballsbridge. On all other menus it was Black Forest Gateau but that’s me. Always leaning towards the more exotic!

This is a plainer cake but still one I really like.

½ lb unsalted butter
½ lb castor sugar
¾ lb self-raising flour, sifted
¼ to ¾ lb cherries (adjust according to taste)
4 large eggs

1. Pre heat the oven to 220 degrees
2. Roughly chop the cherries and coat thoroughly with a little flour. Set aside
3. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale
4. Drop in one egg at a time and mix well
5. Add a little flour at a time and beat well
6. Continue one egg, some flour and beat until those ingredients are gone
7. Add the cherries to the cake mix
8. Turn into a cake tin which has been lined with greaseproof paper
9. Bake in a very hot oven for ten minutes or less
10. Drop the heat to a 180 degrees and bake for 1 ½ hours (this cooking time includes the first 10 minutes)
12. Check the centre with a skewer to see if it comes out clean
13. Turn onto a wire rack and leave to cool