With recipes handed down through generations, one of Northern Ireland’s food treasures lies in the uniqueness and variety of its local breads and bakes. From the traditional soda and potato farls to Guinness wheaten bread, artisan loaves, tray bakes, and delicious puddings, you’ll find serious baking taking place throughout Northern Ireland as Ulster continues to celebrate its “Year of Food and Drink.” In September, “Bread and Baking” took center stage as the latest addition to a monthly theme, and in October, Ulster celebrates its harvest. With these recipes from my newest cookbook, “Favorite Flavors of Ireland,” you can join in from afar. Order signed copies of my cookbook from irishcook.com.


The Bushmills Inn is a historic coaching inn located in the heart of Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast in the village of Bushmills, Country Antrim. Local attractions include the famous Giant’s Causeway, reputed to be giant Finn McCool’s stepping stones to Scotland; seventeenth century Dunluce Castle, headquarters of the McDonnell Clan; and the Old Bushmills Distillery, the oldest working distillery in Ireland. Old-fashioned steamed marmalade puddings like these (recipe adapted) are one of the inn’s most popular desserts and contain an obligatory “wee bit” of Bushmills marmalade for local flavor. Serve the puddings with whiskey-flavored custard sauce, best made ahead and allowed to cool before serving.

Custard Sauce

Serves 6

Makes about 2 cups

2 cups half-and-half

5 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean

5 large egg yolks

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons Bushmills Irish Whiskey


8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons ground allspice

6 tablespoons thick-cut orange whiskey marmalade

Orange segments and mint sprigs for garnish

  1. Make custard. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine half-and-half and 2 tablespoons sugar.
  2. Split vanilla bean in half, scrape out seeds, and chop pod into small pieces. Add to half-and-half and heat for about 5 minutes, or until steaming.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and salt. Gently whisk half-and-half mixture into eggs, and then return custard to pan and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until mixture coats back of a spoon.
  4. Strain custard into a bowl, stir in whiskey, and place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for about 4 hours or overnight.
  5. Make puddings. Preheat oven to 325°F. Generously grease six (4 ounce) ramekins.
  6. In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and then add orange juice and zest. Sift in flour, baking powder, and allspice.
  7. Spoon 1 tablespoon batter into each ramekin, top with 1 tablespoon marmalade, and then cover with remaining batter.
  8. Put dishes in a large baking pan, add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of the dishes, and bake for 45–50 minutes, or until puddings are set and lightly browned and skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
  9. To serve, run a knife around sides of dishes and turn each pudding out onto a dessert plate. Spoon custard around puddings and garnish with orange segments and a sprig of mint.


Makes 2 loaves

I discovered the recipe for this unusual bread many years ago in Belfast. The secret ingredient is barley malt, thick syrup that gives the bread a moist texture and delicious flavor.

2 cups fine whole wheat flour, plus additional for sprinkling

2 cups coarse whole wheat flour or

1 cup each quick-cooking Irish oatmeal or oat bran

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon barley malt extract (see Note)

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1 1/4 cups Guinness stout

Softened butter for spreading

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease two 7-in. loaf pans and sprinkle with whole wheat flour.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flours, oatmeal, oat or wheat bran, sugar, baking soda, and salt. With a pastry cutter or 2 forks, work in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. Make a well in center, add malt, buttermilk, and Guinness, and mix with a wooden spoon to a porridge consistency. Do not overbeat.
  4. Transfer to prepared pans, sprinkle additional flour on top, and bake for 30 minutes. 5. Reduce temperature to 325°F and bake for 30 minutes longer, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Turn oven off and let bread cool with door open for 30 minutes. Remove bread from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. Serve slices spread with butter.

Note: Malt extract, also called barley malt, is available in health foods stores.


Several varieties of pears grow in Ireland, perfect for these sweet and spicy muffins that are a lovely addition to a breakfast breadbasket or with a cup of tea or coffee.

Makes 12 muffins

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup canola oil

1 large egg

2 cups flour

1/3 cup (packed) brown sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup chopped almonds

1 medium Bartlett, Anjou, or Concorde pear, peeled, cored, and chopped

Softened butter for spreading

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F C. Grease a standard muffin pan and dust with flour; tap out excess.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, oil, and egg. Stir in flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, mixed or pumpkin pie spice, ginger, cinnamon, and almonds until blended. Stir in pears.
  3. Spoon batter into each muffin cup about three quarters full. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool 5 to 8 minutes. Serve warm spread with butter.

Margaret M. Johnson’s ”Favorite Flavors of Ireland” is a “labor of love and tribute to her thirty years of travel there. It offers more than 100 best-loved recipes from her previous ten cookbooks and celebrates the special flavors of each Irish season: Spring/An t-Earrach, Summer/An Samhradh, Autum/An Fómhar, Winter/An Geimhreadh.” To order a signed copy,  visit www.irishcook.com.

This story first appeared in the Irish Echo. For more, visit their website here

Read more: Nine scrumptious foods you didn't know were from Ireland