Earlier this week, I mentioned that it was great to be able to get back to a regular blogging schedule after my knee surgery. Since today is Friday, we’re back to Food Story Fridays! In honor of National Irish Coffee Day, we have a great Irish food story … Brendan Cronin worked in hotels in Limerick city, County Donegal, and Dublin city before leaving Ireland to pursue his dreams as a professional chef. During his travels, he worked for major international hotel companies in Ireland, Switzerland, West Africa, Thailand, Macao, Malaysia and Singapore. Brendan’s first book; Cheffin’ – from Potatoes to Caviar is a humorous and entertaining travelogue of his time in and out of kitchens around the world.
Cooking for my first guest – memories of a chef.
As a young boy growing up on a small farm on the west coast of Ireland, I often helped my mother with the family cooking in our farm house kitchen. When not in the kitchen, I would be either out in the fields with my brothers, picking potatoes or vegetables, or inside the byre milking cows with my father. I went where ever the work needed to be done – we all did, working as a family to ensure the farm jobs were completed every day. There was always a job for me and my four brothers to do on our dairy farm – our workday schedule determined by the biological clock of 20 dairy cows. As I got older, I began to enjoy the days in the kitchen with my mother – it was warmer than in the fields and the aromas were tantalizing, creating taste memories that I still subconsciously retrieve decades later.
When I was about 12 years old, my mother taught me how to make her coffee cake. It was a simple sponge cake with a delicious coffee flavored butter-cream filling and a dusting of icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar) sprinkled on top. After helping her to make it many times, one day she asked me to make one by myself for some visitors she was expecting. I was not sure I could do this, but it was a chance for me to prove to myself that I could do it – after all, I had watched her make it several times and always prepared the ingredients for her. So I made the cake on my own – first weighing the ingredients on a small green scale with a maximum capacity of 8 ounces, then lining up all the ingredients. Then I whipped up the eggs and sugar to foam in a large bowl. Just like she showed me, folded in the sieved flour and melted butter and poured the mixture in two shallow buttered round baking tins. I baked the sponge for three quarters of an hour at gas mark 7 (about 180C, 350F), removed them from the tins to cool on a wire rack.
While they were baking I creamed together the butter and sugar to a very light consistency – almost like whipped cream – and added a thick liquid coffee flavor which brought the mixture to life – instant powdered coffee was not yet readily available in our area. When the cakes cooled down I spread the top of one with the butter mixture, placed the second cake on top and added a little mixture around the side, sprinkled the top with icing sugar – and that was that. Despite that it was a very simple cake to make, the coffee and vanilla flavor was powerful. When the visitors arrived, my mother served them tea and a slice of the coffee cake – they found it to be delicious. They would not believe her when she told them that her son Brendan had made the cake. After all, cooking was a woman’s job in rural Ireland of the 1960’s – all a lad of my age was supposed to do was work on the farm. I was out working in the field at the time the visitors were eating the cake at our kitchen table, so she called me in to explain to her visitors that it was actually me who made the cake and I described the procedure in every detail – even telling them how my mother taught me to insert a darning needle in the sponge to determine if it was cooked, if the needle came out dry, the sponge was done.
I was very surprised when one of the ladies – Mrs. Kelly, the wife of our local doctor – asked my mother if I could make her a coffee cake just like to one she was eating. She couldn’t believe a boy would be cooking instead of farming, so I made another cake for her the next day– she was my first guest in my long cooking career.
- Sponge Cake:
- 4 oz. (120gr.) sugar
- 4 eggs
- 4 oz. (120gr.) pastry flour
- 2 oz. (60gr.) melted butter
- 2 drops vanilla essence
- Filling: (butter cream)
- 8 oz. (240gr.) unsalted butter
- 6 oz. (180gr.) icing sugar (Confectioners’ sugar)
- 5 tspn instant coffee
- Whisk eggs and sugar to a foamy consistency until the whisk leaves a trace in the mixture.
- Sieve flour, and fold gently into the mixture being careful not to leave any flour residue on the bottom of the bowl.
- Gently fold in the melted butter.
- Pour mixture into a greased 9 inch (23cm) baking tin.
- Bake at 350F (180C) for approximately 40 minutes.
- Remove from tin; allow to cool on a wire tray.
- Cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy.
- Add instant coffee (dilute instant coffee in a few teaspoons of hot water).
- Cut the cake in half horizontally; spread the filling on one half. Place the second cake on top. Add some filling around the side. Sieve the icing sugar on top and serve.
Recipe provided courtesy of Brendan Cronin.