I learned long ago to never be 100% set in my ideas because you never know what is going to change them. I have great love and respect for the culinary classics but I have seen so many successful riffs off those ideals that I’ve accepted not to rule anything out. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but it’s always an interesting journey. Failures sometimes lead to the best success stories. If you routinely hit something out of the part on the first try, well then you’re probably not trying hard enough.
In my search to find out of the ordinary desserts rooted in Irish tradition, I turned up some interesting things. I never thought a pudding made from oatmeal would be the least bit delicious but I was wrong. Or how about ordering a fool; a combination of pureed fruit and whipped cream? Or perhaps you’d like to whip up a flummery; a soft pudding made of stewed fruit thickened with cornstarch? Not things we typically see on this side of the pond and sort of fun. As mentioned previously, I didn’t see the point in exploring recipes flavored with mint or dyed a fantastic shade of green. Plenty of people out there are doing just that so I’ll leave it to them to tie it back to the Irish. I was far more fascinated that desserts, in general, are always called “pudding” or “pud” which sounded funny to my American ears.
Something else that pops up quite a bit this time of year is soda bread. It doesn’t get more traditional than that. Some recipes, like mine, can be simple and plain; others might be studded with dried fruit and spices and a heavy lean toward the sweeter side. There was a recipe in Irish Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles, and Fools by Margaret M. Johnson that piqued my interest: Soda Bread Tarte Tatin. Well, isn’t that an interesting idea. While made like a traditional Tarte Tatin, where apples are caramelized in sugar and butter then topped with a pastry crust, baked and then flipped so the apples are on top, this one forgoes the pastry crust and replaces it with a sweet raisin studded soda bread. I was intrigued with the combining not only of cultures but of culinary classics. And we know where that leads.
This recipe is delicious, surprisingly complex and definitely has a split personality. A cross between a tarte tatin and an apple shortcake, it’s the best of both. The apples are 100% tarte tatin, caramelized slowly in a mixture of butter and sugar until golden brown and meltingly tender. The “crust” is pure biscuit; tender, flakey and a bit sweet. Together they make the most wonderful combination – two distinctly different things, yet one and the same. Now I love a good tarte tatin but there’s something about this version’s biscuit-like crust, how it absorbs those beautiful caramelized juices, that is rather wonderful. While not as pretty or refined as the classic, it’s still damn good in it’s own special way.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: TIP OF THE HAT. This is perfect for your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Elegant enough to pass off as a fancy dessert, hearty enough to be an afternoon snack and different enough to be a surprise. And nary a green dye bottle in sight. Bonus booze factor! It’s St. Pat’s – you have to work some booze in there. Here, the raisins are soaked in Irish Whiskey, or my favorite, bourbon.
on this blog one year ago: French Onion Soup
on this blog two years ago: Parmesan Black Pepper Crackers
SODA BREAD TARTE TATIN – based on a recipe in Irish Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles, and Fools by Margaret M. Johnson
For the soda bread crust:
¼ cup golden raisins
2 Tablespoons Irish whiskey (or bourbon)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 Tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup unsalted butter, cold cut into ½” pieces
½ cup buttermilk
for the filling:
1 cup sugar
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled cored and each cut lengthwise into quarters
2 Tablespoons Irish whiskey (or bourbon)
- Infuse the raisins: Place the raisins and whiskey in a small bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap.
- Place in the microwave and heat for 30 seconds on high power. The plastic wrap, if sealed tightly will contract and create a bit of a vacuum, which helps infuse the whiskey into the raisins more quickly. If you don’t have a microwave, gently heat the whiskey and soak the raisins for 30 minutes.
- for the soda bread crust: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
- With your fingers, cut in the butter by rubbing it between your thumbs, index and middle fingers, working the butter into the flour until it’s the size of small peas. Alternatively, you can use a pastry blender or two knives but I much prefer using my hands.
- Drain the raisins, reserving any liquid for the filling.
- Add the raisins and buttermilk to the dry ingredients and stir just to combine.
- Lightly dust the work surface with flour, turn the dough out and gently knead to bring it all together and no dry bits remain.
- On a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper, pat the dough into a 10” circle (or the diameter of your pan). Transfer to a sheet pan and refrigerate until needed.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- For the filling: in a 10” skillet, combine the sugar, reserved whiskey (add enough additional to make 2 Tablespoons) and butter.
- Cook over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes until the sugar caramelizes to a light amber. It will be rather thick and appear to crystallize; that’s ok it will work itself out.
- Add the apples in a spiral pattern, tightly packed, cut side up. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 minutes until tender and the caramel turns a dark amber.
- Off the heat, rearrange the apples if needed into concentric circles, cut side up, over the caramel. (Remember, once flipped the bottom will be the top so make it look pretty.)
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator, discard the plastic wrap and place the dough on top of the apples, tucking the edges in if necessary.
- Bake: bake for 15-20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
- Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes (if you turn it out of the pan too soon, the caramel is too hot and runs every which way. It needs enough time to set a little but not become firm.)
- Place a serving plate over the pan (a rimmed plate, if you have it, is ideal to catch any drips.)
- With potholders, firmly grasp the handle of the plan, place a flat palm against the bottom of the plate and with supreme confidence, quickly flip, plate side down and set on the counter.
- Carefully remove the pan. If any apples stick or become dislodged, gently push them back into place.
- Serve the tart warm or at room temperature but it is best the day it’s made.