The Ladies' Tea Guild

Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish tea and treats for St. Patrick's Day

Well, even though I'm not Irish, how can I pass up celebrating a holiday that honors a nation of tea-drinkers?  My mom always makes a corned beef, cabbage and potato dinner, and has lately started buying Irish beer for my dad and brother.  I, on the other hand, am more a fan of cider and wine rather than beer, and much more a fan of tea and treats.
I've made seed cake, shortbread and soda bread before, but not barmbrack, which according to modern recipes, is a fruitcake where you first plump the dried fruit in hot tea and then add it to the cake.  I may have to try that today for elevenses (morning tea and treat at 11 a.m.), which according to some Irish cultural websites, is as much an Irish tradition as an English one!

I think this is the recipe I used when I made the Soda Bread in the photo:

Irish Soda Bread.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach

Marilyn O'Reilly's Irish Soda Bread
3 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 T. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 T. unsalted butter
2 T. caraway seeds
1 c. raisins [soaked in orange juice or tea]
1 c. buttermilk
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and set rack in middle position in the oven.  Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.  Rub in the butter, as for scones, then stir in the caraway seeds and (drained) raisins.  In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk with the egg, and add to the dry mixture.  Stir to combine.  Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead gently for a minute or so until the dough comes together, then shape into a round loaf.  Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and cut a deep cross into the top of the loaf.  Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. and bake another 20 minutes or until browned and the loaf tests done with a toothpick.  Cool on a wire rack and serve with butter or marmalade.
-- recipe from
Seed Cake.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.

The soda bread and the seed cake were both really good, but different because I'm not used to tasting caraway seeds in a sweet food.  The flavor really grew on me, and caraway seeds were first added to foods (in the British isles, at least) as a digestive aid. The cake and bread were both on the dry side, which made them perfect companions to a good cup of tea, but they didn't go stale quickly and lasted, wrapped in plastic wrap, on the kitchen counter for a few weeks without losing flavor or texture.

Elevenses is such a good idea; I think I need to start bringing more tea things to work, because I don't eat breakfast before I leave the house, and I don't usually get a break for tea and a morning snack until around 11 a.m. ... So join me in a cup of tea and a treat, and have a Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)