Showing posts with label Connolly's of Leap. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Connolly's of Leap. Show all posts

Friday, December 16, 2016

Irish Porter Cake

Porter cake is traditionally served around St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, or so say a lot of recipes. But when I was visiting Eileen Connolly—the Connolly who gave her name to Connolly’s of Leap, the model for Sullivan’s Pub in my books—I walked into her kitchen while she was baking a batch of loaves to give as Christmas gifts to friends. The room smelled wonderful, and she shared a warm loaf with me. What could be better? Sitting in the “real” pub with a hot-from-the-oven cake and a cuppa tea and talking with a friend about the business so I could write about it later? Perfect.

She wouldn’t part with the recipe, but her secret is to marinate the various raisins in Guinness overnight.

A lot of recipes call for candied fruit, which you’d find in a fruitcake. I can’t stand the stuff—and Eileen didn’t include any (maybe we’re related after all?)

The result is a soft, rich, dark cake, which if you warm it up a bit goes well with some butter. It’s not quite a fruit cake (everybody’s not-favorite loaf).

Irish Porter Cake (thank you, Eileen!)


1-1/3 cups currants
2 cups raisins
2 cups golden raisins
1 bottle Guinness (assuming you don’t have a keg handy)

Everything else

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup soft dark brown sugar

4 cups flour
spices (cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg) – at least a couple of teaspoons of each
Pinch of salt
1 tsp baking soda
grated rind of one lemon
3 eggs, beaten together


Mix the currants, raisins and sultanas with the Guinness in a large bowl and let soak overnight.

On the day of baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Drain the raisin mix well. Grease whatever pan(s) you're using (see below) and line with parchment paper.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Sift together the flour, spices, salt, baking soda and lemon rind. Gradually add the mixture to the butter-sugar mixture, alternating with the eggs.

Mix the raisin mix into the batter by hand. Note: this will be stiff!

Spoon the mixture into a greased and lined 9" round cake pan, or 2 4 x 8-inch loaf pans (easier to give as gifts).

Bake in the preheated oven until a skewer comes out clean (start checking after an hour, but it may be a bit longer). Cool for 20 minutes in the pan before turning it out on a wire rack.

The cake’s flavor improves with age if you let it sit for a couple of days. Wrap with foil while still warm to keep moist.

And share with friends!

And now for the giveaway! I’d send you a loaf of the cake, but I don’t think it would survive the trip (besides, I’d have to admit to our nice post office employee that it’s perishable, right?). So instead I’m offering this very useful small jar to keep whatever you like it (pennies for your next holiday fund? spices? lost buttons?). Oh, all right, it's for cat treats--I'm just a bit biased, with three of the critters.

PLUS a copy of the latest of any of my series: A Turn for the Bad (County Cork Mysteries), Seeds of Deception (Orchard Mysteries) or Dead End Street (Museum Mysteries), in print or e-format. 

It was the lovely spicy smell of the porter cake that drew me into Eileen’s kitchen (and kept me there for an hour or more). What smell of baking means “holiday” to you? (Or if nobody in your house bakes, is there another scent that reaches you?) Leave a comment and I’ll draw a winner.

And happy holidays to you all! 

Friday, November 20, 2015

An Irish Thanksgiving

by Sheila Connolly

All things willing (in these uncertain times), I am now in Ireland not celebrating Thanksgiving. In part that’s deliberate: I always think of the American version of Thanksgiving as an event that should be shared with friends and family and even hungry strangers. It is a celebration of survival under challenging circumstances. I applaud those early settlers (and the Indians who helped them) in Plymouth, close to my home. But I don’t have any family in the area, and I always forget to make a reservation at Plimoth Plantation for their annual dinner, because you have to sign up in June. So I take the easy way out and leave the country altogether.

Sorry, I couldn't resist--I saw this
in Dublin.

The Irish do not celebrate American Thanksgiving. They regard Samhain as their harvest festival, if they think about it at all. They do not eat turkey on any particular day in November, but save those birds for Christmas dinner.

But! There is a theory that without an Irish contribution, that first Thanksgiving wouldn’t have happened. Actually it was first held in February 1621 (the November date came along courtesy of Abraham Lincoln in the 19th century). The Pilgrims were starving, having landed only a couple of months before with inadequate supplies in the midst of a New England winter. They were saved by a ship called The Lyon bearing food…that sailed from Dublin! And this isn’t just Irish propaganda, nor did I make it up: it was the Boston Post newspaper that first reported it, decades ago. So let’s give the Irish at least a little credit.

Oh, you wanted a recipe? Have I mentioned before (a few dozen times) how good Irish food is these days? I want to take up residence in the Fields market in Skibbereen, with the occasional excursion to the year-round farmers’ market down the street. That’s one reason I like to rent a cottage with a kitchen—so I can take advantage of all the great fresh ingredients. And bread. And cakes.

But back to the point…one of the premier cooking schools in Ireland (and just about anywhere) is Ballymaloe Cookery School, which happens to be located in County Cork. (They even have an annual literary festival now—I’m still angling for an invitation.) It is managed by Darina Allen, and her recipes lean toward locally-grown, fresh products, simply prepared. So here’s a side-dish that you can use for Thanksgiving or Christmas or any time you want some Irish comfort food. (One note: this dish is said to have originated in Northern Ireland, but Ballymaloe is clearly at the south end of the country, so I’ll claim this version for County Cork!)

Pea and Parsley Champ

Champ is a traditional Irish dish, made with (you guessed it!) potatoes and butter and milk, and often scallions (aka green onions). This one is a little different. It’s a nice change if you’re bored with the usual plain mashed potatoes with your turkey.


2 pounds potatoes suitable for mashing (i.e., not the waxy ones but the floury ones like Russets, maybe with a few Yukon Gold thrown in)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1-1/4 cups whole milk
1-1/2 cups small peas (fresh is best, but may be hard to find this time of year, but the frozen ones work fine—just thaw them first)
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
2-4 Tblsp butter (Irish butter! Available everywhere!)

Wash the potatoes (do not peel). Put them in a large saucepan and cook in boiling salted water until they are tender (and a knife pierces them easily). Drain, then return to the pan and let them dry over low heat for a couple of minutes. Mash them while they’re hot. Since there are still skins, this won’t be a puree, exactly.

In another pan, bring the milk to a low boil and add the peas. Simmer just until the peas are done. Drop in the chopped parsley for a minute or so at the end. 

Add the milk mixture to the mashed potatoes and check for seasoning. Add the butter and beat until light and fluffy. The mixture should be moist. 

Serve immediately. (But to tell the truth, my mother used to make mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving and keep them in a large ceramic or glass bowl over a saucepan of barely boiling water. The potatoes didn’t cook any more, but they stayed nice and warm.)

And now you have a pretty green and white dish of fluffy potatoes to go with your turkey!

If I'm lucky, here's where I'll be celebrating my
Thanksgiving, in my favorite pub, Connolly's
of Leap, soon to celebrate their grand reopening!
And if you're looking for more stories about Connolly's, er, Sullivan's Pub, A Turn for the Bad will be released in February 2016!

Preorder it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.