Irish Soda Bread, er, Tea Cake

IrishSoda3
I tried a new ciambella recipe a while back, and found myself thinking, “hey, ciambella is like Italian Irish soda bread!” Which of course planted that seed and here we are. I’d never actually eaten or made Irish soda bread until a couple of years ago. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the actual loaf was nothing like I’d envisioned. Imagine a giant, moist scone. With currants and orange zest. (Unless of course you are a soda bread purist, in which case you will insist that including fruits actually make it a tea cake. ) Regardless of nomenclature, let’s settle on delicious. This freezes great. It’s easy to make, and even more fun to give to the neighbors. No one cooks anymore, so home made things always elicit the most enthusiastic responses in my experience. And this is easy-peasy!
IrishSoda2
I like to use currants instead of raisins simply because they’re smaller, so you get lots of little raisin bites instead of big blobs of raisin. I also like to soak my currants in hot water with a little vanilla before I start to bake with them. It adds a nice dimension and texture to the flavor profile. So, you’ll need some almost speciality ingredients for this – currants, buttermilk, real sweet cream butter. Because those ARE the flavor of the bread, using the real deal will make a significant difference. I will even go so far as to say if you don’t plan to use real butter, you shouldn’t plan on making this. It is that important.
IrishSoda5
This is roughly fifteen minutes to get in the oven, then you just have to wait. Oh, and have a house that smells awesome. Once it’s cool, slice yourself a big chunk and enjoy it with even more butter slathered on it, along with some orange marmelade or honey and lovely strong cup of Irish breakfast tea with milk and sugar. MMMMM. Heaven!
IrishSoda4

Irish Soda Bread
In a heat-safe bowl, stir together and set aside:
1 c. currants
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. boiling water
Preheat the oven to 375*. Line the base of an 8” round cake pan with parchment.
In your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix to combine:
4 c. AP flour
1/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. table salt

Slice ½ a stick of butter in to its 4 tablespoons, and toss it in the dry. (Yes, cold.) mix on medium until it looks like bread crumbs.
In a another bowl or 2-4 c. pyrex measuring cup (because spouts! yeah!) , whisk together:
1 large egg
1 ¾ c. buttermilk
Zest of one orange (about 2 Tbsp.)

Drain the currants. Toss them and the liquid in to the flour and just barely mix it together.
Flour your board (counter) and dump the dough mixture out. Just barely work it until you have a nice ball.
Set the ball in the lined pan. With a sharp knife, mark a deep (like a ½” deep cut) cross or X on the top of the ball.
Bake around 50 minutes. It should be a deep dark brown and sound hollow when you thunk it.
Definitely let this cool all the way before slicing it, or you will have a big pile of chunky crumbs. And, when you do slice it, make them thick ¾” – 1” slices; slices too thin will just fall apart. Or, you could just make wedge slices.
This is truly a delight – not too sweet, full of buttery orangey goodness with lots of little currants. YUM!

Spicy Chocolate Loaf Cake

ChocolateSpiceCake03I came across a really intriguing recipe on Pinterest a few months back, it said for a Starbuck’s Chocolate Cinnamon Bread. Thing is, I have never seen this chez Star Chuck’s. Maybe it was a regional release, maybe it was a long time ago, I don’t know. But, I made it and we loved it. It was delicious, but I decided if I made it again I wanted more spice. And more chocolate.
ChocolateSpiceCake 1
Then I forgot about it. Until last week. I was out of cocoa powder. (What?!? I know, right?) After some browsing on the interwebs, I decided to take a chance on Valrhona alkali processed cocoa powder. I’d always been a loyal Droste girl. Ever baked with Dutch processed cocoa instead of regular cocoa? It’s a huge difference – you know how some cakes and brownies have that deep, dark, almost black color and rich chocolate taste? That’s from the alkalized cocoa; that cocoa is essential for this cake. Go nuts and use Valrhona or just buy some Hershey’s Special dark cocoa powder at the grocery.
ChocolateSpiceCake01

This is a lovely, densely chocolate indulgence. The spice adds a lovely warmth without outshining the chocolate or being obvious. The chocolate chips make it decadent. The sugar spice on top lends a wonderful, crunchy top layer that is a fantastic contrast to the rich chocolate interior. Have a slice with afternoon coffee. If you want to go over the top, warm it up ever so slightly so the chocolate chips are a bit melty. Or, you can make it dinner party dessert-worthy and dress it up with some spiced whipped cream* and a salted caramel sauce.
ChocolateSpiceCake03

Ok. Chocolate cake. Let’s do this:

Double Chocolate Spice Cake
Makes two 9” loaves
Based on this recipe I found through Pinterest – http://www.tablefortwoblog.com/starbucks-chocolate-cinnamon-bread/

for the cake:
1.5 c. butter
3 c. sugar
2 c. flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp salt
1 c. dutch process cocoa powder
¼ c. warm water
1 c. buttermilk
5 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

for the topping:
¼ c sugar
½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp turbinado or sparkle sugar, if you have it.

Grease and flour the pans then line each loaf pan with parchment. Preheat oven to 350*. Mix together the topping.
In the mixer bowl with the paddle, mix the flour, sugar, spices salt, leavening and butter. Mix on low until it resembles moist, clumpy crumbs. While that is mixing, in a medium sized bowl, whisk together first the chocolate and water, then the eggs, vanilla and buttemilk. Add the wet to the dry and mix on high for about 30 seconds. Add in the chocolate chips and give it a quick whirl.
Divide the batter between the pans, smooth the top. Sprinkle evenly and generously with all the spiced sugar topping.
Bake 50-60m. until a tester comes out clean. Cool to just warm, then remove from the pans to finish cooling.

Cool complete before slicing. Seriously. Or it will look like raccoons tried to eat your baking. Unless you live by yourself, in which case have at ‘cuz this is luscious warm.

**Now, to make that whipped cream… You can even do this a day or two ahead and keep it in the fridge. Just don’t eat all of it, because it’s amazing. You need heavy whipping cream for this. Commit to the indulgence – nothing else will do. For each 8oz of heavy whipping cream, in a glass measuring cup or small saucepan mix 1 tsp of unflavored gelatin with 4 tsp of water. When the gelatin is thickened, heat the mixture on low while stirring until it is clear (or 20 seconds at a time in the nuker), and cool it to room temp. You want it pourable, not set up. In a chilled mixing bowl, whip the 8oz of heavy cream with about 1/4c powdered sugar and the spice (1/2 tsp. of cinnamon, or pumpkin pie spice, or Chinese five-spice powder). When it starts to thicken a little, slowly drizzle in the liquid gelatin while mixing. Keep whipping it on high until it becomes dull instead of shiny, and looks like, well, thick whipped cream. If you take this too far, you will wind up with butter so don’t go nuts. This stuff is so stable you can frost cakes with it, and it will keep for DAYS in the fridge. Just one caution – cover it tightly, you don’t want it to absorb the flavor of whatever’s next to it on the shelf. And! do not.stir it when you take it out of the fridge. Just scoop and go. Stirring will pop all those tiny bubbles you worked so hard to incorporate to make it fluffly. Whenever I make the pumpkin pie spice one. people seriously just start shamelessly eating it out of the bowl with a spoon. It’s that yummy.

Shaved Squash Salad with Lemon Shallot Vinagrette

ShavedSquash3
I’m ready for something light. The comfort foods of cooler weather just seem heavy and unappetizing now that the days are longer and the sun is shining. Well, that plus the candy fest that seems to run from St. Valentine’s day through Easter. Ugh. No more sugar. Please.
ShavedSquash1
Shaved squash is all the foodie rage of late, and at first I thought, “uh – no.” But then I tried it. I must confess, it’s tasty. It is actually tender-crisp, mild, and ever so slightly sweet. And with some lemon? YUM! So today’s salad is a super light, marvelously crunchy concoction – it would be great as a big lunch salad, or as a side to some grilled chicken, fish, or tofu.
ShavedSquash5
There is so much crunchiness going on – the tender crisp of the squash, the moist snap of the celery, the toasted earthy crunch of the toasted walnuts. Combined with the freshness of parsley and lemon, and the tangy creaminess of some fresh goat cheese and you are going to be so happy you made this!
ShavedSquash3

Shaved Squash Salad with Lemon Shallot Vinagrette
Serves 2 as a side, or one for lunch
Ingredients:
1 c. walnuts, toasted
1 thin zucchini, shaved in to strips.
2 stalks celery, sliced thin at an angle
½ shallot, minced
2 oz. chèvre
¼ c parsley, minced
Zest & juice of half lemon (about 2 Tbsp. juice)
¼ c. (or so) good olive oil
salt & pepper
For the walnuts:
These must be toasted. Heat the oven to 400*. Put the walnut halves on a baking sheet. Put it in the hot oven, and turn the heat off. Remove from the oven after 5 minutes (you should smell toasty nuts.) If they don’t smell toasty, leave them a few minutes more. Let them cool.
For the dressing:
Combine lemon juice, zest, mustard and shallot in a bowl. Whisk these with some salt & pepper until homogenous. Then, whisk in the olive oil just until it emulsifies.
For the salad:
Plate this just before eating it. Arrange the celery, then the squash, parsley,nuts and use a spoon to make little dollops of goat cheese. This might look pretty done Cobb-style with each ingredient in its own row, but I haven’t tried that. Drizzle with the dressing and enjoy!