• Stir It Up: An Irish tea for St. Patrick's Day
    By
     | March 14,2014
     
    Photo by Steve Legato

    These scones full of chocolate and walnuts are a delicious way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. The photo and recipe are from “Irish Pantry: Traditional Breads, Preserves and Goodies to Feed the Ones You Love” by Noel McMeel with Lynn Marie Hulsman.

    A few years ago, my neighbors organized a St. Patrick's Day tea. They served all sorts of Irish goodies: tea cakes, shortbread, soda bread, scones. It was a tame celebration, but a tasty one.

    This year, St. Patrick's Day falls on Monday, which makes Sunday perfect for afternoon tea. Or you can get your partying started Monday with breakfast treats.

    Just in time for the holiday is the cookbook “Irish Pantry” by Noel McMeel, executive chef at a resort in Northern Ireland. McMeel provides chapters on canning; pickling; potting and curing meats; condiments; and cakes, cookies, breads, biscuits and other sweet delights.

    You could take your tea party in a savory direction — offering, say, homemade potted ham and chutney on homemade rye crackers — or stick with sweet offerings such as Chocolate and Walnut Scones and the Traditional Irish Tea Cake (see below). McMeel offers the cake recipe with an homage to his brothers, mentally and physically disabled since birth. Like them, he says, the cake epitomizes “pure goodness and a gift from God above.”

    Don't forget the Irish breakfast tea. Like English breakfast tea, the Irish version is a blend of black teas, but considered more malty in flavor. In the United States, specialty shops carry authentic Irish brands such as Lyons, Barry's, Bewley's and Nambarrie, but you are likely to find the Twinings brand of Irish breakfast tea in your supermarket.

    “A cabin with plenty of food is better than a hungry castle,” writes McMeel, quoting an Irish proverb. Open your “cabin” to your hungry friends and celebrate your inner Irish on St. Patrick's Day.



    Chocolate and Walnut Scones

    Yield: 10 scones

    1¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

    ¼ cup sugar

    2 teaspoons baking powder

    ½ teaspoon salt

    8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

    6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks (1 cup)

    ¾ cup coarsely broken walnuts, toasted

    ½ cup buttermilk

    1 large egg

    1½ teaspoons vanilla extract



    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment.

    In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using your fingers, crumble the butter into the dry mixture until you have a rough crumb, like tiny marbles coated in sand, then add the chocolate and walnuts and stir until mixed.

    In a medium bowl, stir together the buttermilk, egg and vanilla. Slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and mix with your hands, just until the dough comes together, taking care not to overwork it.

    With lightly floured hands, tip the dough onto a floured work surface and press into a sheet about 1 inch thick.

    Using a round 2½-inch biscuit cutter or a drinking glass, cut circles in the dough. After you've cut as many as you can, pull the remaining dough together and repeat until all the dough is used.

    Bake the scones on prepared sheet for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Place baking sheet on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then transfer the scones to the rack to cool slightly. Serve while still warm, or store in an airtight container for up to five days.



    Traditional Irish Tea Cake

    Yield: 1 (9-inch) cake, or about 8 servings

    8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for the pan

    1¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

    1 cup sugar

    2 large eggs

    1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

    2 teaspoons baking powder

    ½ teaspoon salt

    ½ cup whole milk

    ¼ cup confectioner's sugar, for dusting cake



    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

    In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and the sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Turn off beater and stir in the vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and stir into the batter. Stir in the milk.

    Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack, then turn cake onto a serving platter and dust with confectioner's sugar. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to five days.

    (Recipes reprinted with permission from “Irish Pantry: Traditional Breads, Preserves and Goodies to Feed the Ones You Love” by Noel McMeel with Lynn Marie Hulsman; Running Press/Perseus Books Group, 2013)



    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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