Monday, February 27, 2017

Easy Irish Soda bread and Blackberry Butter

For those living where the month of March means chilly, gray, and not-quite-Spring days, it's nice to know that come the seventeenth of the month, there's a perfect reason to celebrate and brighten our drab wintry moods. While admittedly not a "major" holiday, St. Patricks Day is such a wonderful way to embrace the vibrance and charm of Irish culture. Of course all the vividly overly green dyed food, funny hats, cheeky sayings, and free flowing liquor, is lots of fun, but for a simpler, low key nod to the Emerald Isle, I thought I'd whip up a basic bread and butter, no green dye needed.

Irish Soda Bread
I was lucky to have found a wonderful cookbook at, of all places, a store in our area called Five Below -yes everything is $5 or less
 The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook. (Parragon Books, UK)  features recipes for classic simple fare, a bit on customs and history  and beautiful photography from around Ireland. For this St. Patrick's I thought I'd give their soda bread a try. While I don't have a great record of baking from scratch, this recipe with only a handful of ingredients, seemed a do-able challenge. I used their basic soda bread instructions (there's a molasses version as well) to make three small loaves instead of the one larger for gifting.
You'll Need
3 2/3 cups all purpose flour
more for dusting
oil, cooking spray, or parchment for baking sheet
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cup buttermilk 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Sift flour, salt and soda in mixing bowl
Create well in center and pour in "most of buttermilk" 
I started with 1 1/4 cup
Mix together with hands until soft but not too sticky, slowly adding additional buttermilk if necessary
Knead on floured surface and divide into three round loaves
cut a deep cross into top
Folklore says this is either to ward off evil spirits or let the fairies out(!) which in either case is more charming than the probable science of baking reason
Bake about 25-30 minutes until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom.
Cool on wire rack and serve warm with butter if desired
pop in a basket and serve with berries and coffee or tea or add some
Blackberry Butter, recipe below

Blackberry Butter
In honor of the rambling blackberries which grow all through the Irish countryside, I thought I'd make a flavored butter with a decidedly Irish twist. An online search found many ideas, but I whipped together my own based on a couple recipes.
You'll Need
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 blackberries
2 tablespoons seedless blackberry preserves
2 teaspoons honey
In a mixing bowl whip together butter, preserves and honey.
On a lower speed mix in blackberries so some rustic chunks remain
Keep chilled (letting it sit overnight let's the flavors mingle)
This is one of those non-recipe recipes where different elements can be adjusted to suit your own taste.

Bread Labels
Smaller loaves and mini jars of butter are perfect as little gifts for a friend or neighbor in the spirit of Irish hospitality. I created a label from a photo I took in Ireland ages ago and a charming vintage image from the

I wrapped each loaf in parchment and tied with a ribbon. Note: scotch tape won't stick on parchment's waxy finish. I then taped the back of the label to the ribbon and added one of those stickers from a stationary set
I scooped the butter into a clean baby food jar 
(Our senior cats love baby food as a treat -
 I checked with vet to see which flavors were ok)
and tied off in a cellophane treat bag

If you're as smitten with Ireland as we are at PennyWise, you can pop over to our previous posts for easy Irish inspired ideas, recipes and a few travel photos
previous posts:

      So delighted to be featured at Imparting Grace!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Valentine's French Hot Chocolate

Just hearing the words "Chocolate" and "Paris" seem to instantly conjure up dreamy notions of love. So naturally a sweet chocolatey treat inspired by this most romantic of cities seemed a perfect combination for celebrating l'amour this Valentine's. 
Leave it to the french to elevate, a winter childhood favorite, to a gourmet experience. Apparently, Chocolate Chaud, or their version of hot chocolate, is not the apres-sledding powder and marshmallow mix, warming tiny mitten clad hands, but a rich, decadent and grown-up luxury to be savored.
 Although I admit to overindulging in sweets and treats during my limited travels abroad, (I'm quite sure I've eaten my weight in macarons), I've never, sadly, had the chance to sample the famous hot chocolate of Paris. 
With limited time and budget barring any overseas jaunt and a wintry wind chilling the air, I thought I'd attempt this cozy yet decadent treat here at home. After several attempts at different chocolate chaud recipes (all in the name of selfless research of course) I found this relatively simple, not overly sweet but flavorful version from 

Chocolate Chaud
2 cups whole milk
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons light brown sugar  
 Heat the milk in a medium saucepan.When milk is warm, whisk in  chocolate, stirring until melted. Cook at a low boil for about 3 minutes, whisking constantly. Watch carefully as mixture may boil over.  Taste, and add brown sugar.
Chocolate will thicken upon standing
*The original recipe suggests a high quality bittersweet chocolate finely chopped, but I subbed the easier and less costly chocolate chips.

Cafe Cups
Unable to find the small round bowls often used for serving warm drinks in France, I improvised with oversized white mugs and plates from the dollar store.
 I used a glass friendly paint from my craft store to add some romantic sentiments "Je t'aime" and "Toi et Moi"  (I love you, You and Me) in pink and gold tones.
Simply follow your paint manufacturer's instructions and get creative

Flavored Whipped Cream
The chocolate is delicious as is but for added panache I thought I'd add a little flavored whipped cream topping. Simply whip one cup heavy cream and add one tablespoon powdered sugar and vanilla, raspberry or almond extract, adjusting to taste.

Wishing Everyone
Sweet Valentine's Day!