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Wicklow Hills, Ireland in winter.

Sláinte: A Winter's Tale

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Wicklow Hills, Ireland in winter.

One thing I knew full well, however, even at such a young age. The King of Ireland’s Son was one of the best books I had ever buried my nose in. The first time, I read it by myself, snuggled up in the ‘back’ bedroom with a plate of Christmas Ginger Cookies and Irish Almond Tea Cakes balanced precariously on the mattress beside me. Oblivious to the winter winds blowing outside the window, I ranged in imagination up, over and across the hills of the Emerald Isle in the company of a colorful host of frolicking fairies and fearsome feys.

In March, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Dad and I read it together, with me reading the narrative and him putting on a thick Irish brogue for all the speaking lines – high-pitched and squeaking for the creature characters, low and growling for the villains, melodiously sweet for the maidens, and in his own dear voice for the heroes.

Throughout my childhood, I read The King of Ireland’s Son again and again and again. As Dad aged into his twilight years, hardly a visit passed that he did not beam at me, blue eyes twinkling, a delighted smile creasing his cheeks, and say: “How about that King of Ireland’s Son – the best book you ever read – eh?” Yes, it was, Dad. It most certainly was. And a fine, fine way to pass a cold winter’s day. Sláinte!

Christmas Ginger Cookies
(personal recipe)
    1     beaten egg
    3⁄4     cup sugar
    3⁄4     cup shortening
    1⁄3     cup molasses
    2     cups flour
    1     teaspoon cinnamon
    2 1⁄2     teaspoons baking soda
    1     teaspoon powdered ginger
    1⁄4     teaspoon salt
        Granulated sugar in a bowl

In a large bowl, stir together egg, sugar, shortening and molasses. Beat well to combine. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, ginger and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, and stir until completely combined. Refrigerate dough for 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Using a teaspoon as a scoop, shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll each ball in granulated sugar and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet 3 inches apart. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until cookies have acquired cracks across their tops. Remove cookie sheets from oven, and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks until they are completely cool. Store in an airtight container. Makes approximately 50 cookies. Note: Keep dough refrigerated between batches.

Irish Almond Tea Cakes
(personal recipe)
    6     large egg whites, room temperature
    2 1⁄2     cups almond meal
    3⁄4     cup granulated sugar
    1⁄3     cup flour
    1⁄4     teaspoon salt
        pinch of nutmeg
    1 1⁄2     tablespoons light corn syrup
    1     stick plus 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
    1     cup plump dried currants
    1 1⁄2     tablespoons dark rum

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter as many mini-muffin pans as you have (recipe makes 48 teacakes) or line tins with paper mini-muffin cups.

With a whisk, beat the egg whites in a bowl just to break them up. Add the almonds, sugar, flour, salt, nutmeg, and corn syrup and stir until batter is smooth.

Melt butter in a small saucepan until it just comes to a boil. Add the hot butter to the batter and whisk it in gently but thoroughly. Stir in the currants and rum. Spoon approximately 1 tablespoon of batter into each mini-muffin cup.

Bake 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point, until the cakes are puffed and golden – a knife inserted into the center should come away clean. Remove tins from the oven and let the cakes rest in the tins for about 2 minutes, then turn them out onto racks to cool to room temperature. Cakes will keep in a covered container for 4-5 days. Wrapped airtight in plastic wrap they can be frozen for up to 2 months.
 

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