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Fresh Apple Cake in a loaf pan with a pot of Irish Whiskey Caramel Sauce

Oíche shamhna, Dear Readers! A very happy Halloween to you indeed. We’re feeling festive in our Irish home tonight. The fire is lit, the kids are passing out candy, and we’ve just tucked into the most spooktacular fresh apple cake, topped with Irish whiskey caramel sauce. And, oh my goodness…this is so much better than a chocolate bar or sweet could ever be! The mixed spice and walnuts in the cake give it a gorgeous flavour…but, truth be told, I think the caramel whiskey sauce stole the show!

A jar of homemade Irish Whiskey Caramel Sauce with a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey behind it

Did you know Halloween originated with the ancient Celts? ‘Tis true! It is an Irish tradition predating St. Patrick by more than 300 years. It arose from the Celtic fire festival called Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”); marking the end of the harvest period and the beginning of winter.

The Celts believed that on the eve of Samhain, the veil separating the living from the dead opened briefly allowing for mischief and anarchy. Huge bonfires were lit to keep evil spirits at bay and costumes were worn to protect people from being carried off into the “other world”. The friendly spirits of loved ones were welcomed home at this time of year and nuts and apples were offered as enticement.

And it was the thought of Halloween+nuts+apples that led me to make tonight’s pudding (dessert). This fresh apple cake incorporates four apples and nearly 4oz of chopped walnuts. And while it may be too late to make it in your home this evening, print the recipe or save it for another autumn celebration {Thanksgiving is right around the corner!}: I think you’re going to love this!

Fresh Apple Cake

Makes 2 Loaves or 1 Bundt Cake

Ingredients

338g/12oz/3 cups all-purpose flour

454g/16oz/2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

350ml/12oz/1-½ cup vegetable oil

125ml/4oz/ ½ cup apple juice

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon mixed spice {pumpkin spice}

1 vanilla bean, split open and seeds scraped out

102g/36oz/3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped

4 apples, cored, peeled and finely diced

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 170ºC/325ºF. Grease and line two 900g/2lb loaf tins with parchment paper or grease a 10-inch Bundt pan and lightly flour it too.

2. Using an electric mixer, mix the sugar, eggs, seeds of the vanilla bean, and oil until, smooth. Stir in the apple juice and mix well.

3. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and mixed spice. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and stir well.

4. Stir in the walnuts and apples. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

5. Bake for 90 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then carefully remove it from the loaf tins/Bundt pan and allow to cool on a wire rack.

 

The above photos were taken while I was making the whiskey caramel sauce. It’s a very easy process that only takes minutes to make: the results are out of this world good!

Irish Whiskey Caramel Sauce

Makes 6oz

Ingredients

114g/4oz/1 cup sugar

50ml/2oz/ ¼ cup water

118ml/4oz/1/2 cup double cream {heavy whipping cream}

30g/1oz/2 tablespoons butter

¼ teaspoon salt

50ml/2oz/ ¼ cup Irish whiskey

Directions

1. Bring the sugar and water to boil in a large heavy bottom saucepan over medium-high heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir until sugar is dissolved.  Boil, without stirring, until mixture turns a golden/amber color.

2. WHILE the sugar water is cooking, into a separate saucepan add the cream, butter and salt. Cook over medium heat until the butter is melted.

3. When the sugar water has turned amber color remove the saucepan from the heat and CAREFULLY add the cream mixture to it.  The combined mixture will bubble up and the caramel will harden.

4. Return the saucepan to a low heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until the caramel is dissolved and the sauce is smooth.

5. Once combined, add the whiskey and stir well. Set aside to cool and use as desired.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credit:
For more information and recipes about Halloween+Ireland, please click on Quick Barm Brack, Halloween & Irish Barm Brack {this is my Barm Brac yeast bread recipe}, Halloween & the Irish offers up lots of lore, Making Candle Pumpkins is a fun craft for this time of year, so too is Halloween Marshmallow Pops, Ireland+Halloween+Apple Cake  features Darina Allen’s Apple Cake recipe+information about the famous Snap Apple Night painting by Cork-born Daniel Maclise, Haunted Ireland is where you’ll find information about haunted Irish castles and homes, and, last but not least, over at Colcannon you’ll find my recipe for this traditional Irish Halloween potato and cabbage dish.

 

 

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We are smack in the middle of apple season in Ireland…

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And Halloween is just a few days away…

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In our Irish home that can mean only one thing…it’s Apple Cake time! 

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Oh yes…Ireland+Halloween+Apples = Apple Cake in our Irish home and today’s gorgeous recipe comes from the Allen family…Rachel+Darina+Myrtle Allen. This recipe has been in their family for generations and it is delicious to the very core! (Sorry…I could’t help myself!)

For a change, I deconstructed the Allen recipe and turned it into these adorable single-servings for our brekkie this morning. They would be absolutely lovely served, hot out of the oven, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream immediately following dinner.

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While I prepped and baked this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder how many Irish people remember that Ireland+Halloween+Apples have been closely linked for centuries. Probably not too many anymore.

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In my mother-and-father-in-law’s time, everyone knew: they hadn’t yet succumbed to the ways of other places. In our time, however, we have been snookered into looking at the world globally and taking on board the commercialism of our celebrations…this means Halloween-a-la-America in many places around the world.

But I digress…

A few years ago, while researching my second book, Irish love & Wedding Customs, I came across a collection of handwritten manuscripts from the last century at the U.C.D. Folklore Library. On the pages were story after story about how apples were used on Halloween in celebratory games and for marriage divination.

Weeks later, I came across a painting called Snap Apple Night. It was painted by Cork-born artist Daniel Maclise in 1832. It is said Maclise was inspired to create the painting after attending a Halloween barn party in Blarney, County Cork.

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Look closely at the painting…do you see the young couple sitting on the floor in front of the fire? The young man has his arm possessively around the dark-haired girl’s waist and just near her left hand is a bright green apple. To the right of the two love birds are a group of young men and women bobbing for apples. And, to the left of dead-centre, a man is trying to take a bite of an apple hanging from a string…he’s playing Snap Apple.

The people in the painting are “trick or treating” in an incredibly voluptuous way…a uniquely Irish way…a way we’ve lost sight of. (Sigh.) Can’t you just feel the tension of the lust and love and happiness between the people in Maclise’s painting? Fantastic…don’t you think?

Another Ireland+Halloween+Apples tradition from long ago, one not shown in Snap Apple Night, is a game of marriage divination whereby a person would peel an apple carefully in order to get one long piece of the skin. Then they would throw the skin over their shoulder and check to see what letter it formed on the ground. The letter was meant to signify the first initial of a future spouse.

I adore the old Irish ways and it is such fun to share the traditions and memories of long ago with my children. Much like the Allen girls handing down of a favourite family recipe, I hope that through my cooking and writing, I am handing down something from the past to the current and, one day, the future generations of our family. From our Irish home to you and yours wherever you call home…we wish you Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh (Happy Halloween)!

Irish Apple Cake

Serves 6

Ingredients

22g white flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

110g butter

125g caster sugar

1 (organic) egg, lightly beaten

about 50-125ml milk

1-2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped into bit sized pieces (Note: I suggest using 3-4 apples)

2-3 cloves, optional (Note: if serving in ramekins you will need 1 clove per ramekin)

egg wash

Directions

1. Preheat the oven t0 180C/350F.

2. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl.

3. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until it resembles the texture of breadcrumbs.

4. Add 75g of the caster sugar.

5. Make a well in the centre and add the egg and enough milk to form a soft dough.

6. Divide dough in two. Put one half into an ovenproof plate and press it out with floured fingers to cover the base.

7.  Add the apples and the cloves.

8. Sprinkle over some or all over the remaining sugar, depending on the sweetness of the apples.

9. Roll out the remaining dough and put on top of the apples – easier said than done as this “pastry dough” is more like scone dough. (Note: my dough was too sticky to roll out so I just flattened it with my hands and then put it on top of the apples in the ramekins.)

10. Press the sides together, cut a slit through the lid, egg wash and bake for about 40 minutes or until cooked through and nicely browned on top.

11. Dredge with caster sugar and serve warm with Barbados sugar and softly whipped cream.

* From Living Library blog: “Lady Wilde, in her book Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms & Superstitions of Ireland wrote: “It is said by time-wise women and fairy doctors that the roots of the elder tree, and the roots of an apple tree that bears red apples, if boiled together and drunk fasting, will expel any evil living thing or spirit that may have taken up abode in the body of a man.”

* From The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids: “In a Medieval Irish story Connla the Fair, an Irish prince, fell in love with a beautiful Faerie woman, who arrived on the Irish shore in a crystal boat. She offered him an apple from the world of Faerie; he took the fatal bite, and was hers forever. They set sail for her magical island where the trees bore both fruit and blossom, and winter never came. There they ate an ever replenishing stock of apples, which kept them young forever. An Otherworldly apple tree magically makes music which can dispel ‘all want or woe or weariness of the soul’. In Irish lore, the God Óengus offered three miraculous apple trees from the magical woods, Bruig na Bóinde (New Grange), as a wedding gift for one of the Milesians. One was full in bloom, one shedding its blossoms, and one in fruit. The deliberate felling of an apple tree was punishable by death in ancient law).

* The old Irish tree list here and a brief history by Irish forester, Fergus Kelly, speaks directly to the history of old Irish trees, including the apple tree.

* The secret steamy history of Halloween apples over at NPR.og.

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Autumn has arrived. The leaves on our trees are just starting to turn and fall. The days are obviously shorter: the nights longer. And, because there’s a distinct chill in the air, the central heating is back on.

As Mother Nature moves us gently from summer to winter, I find that I am making fewer foods that are light and healthy and more that are luxurious and hearty.

Traditional Irish foods…stewed apples, Barm Brack, thick and creamy soups, roasts and, of course, Colcannon…are what we’re eating more of now.

Colcannon, in particular, is as traditional as traditional Irish food gets. Known as Cál Ceannann in Irish, which literally means white-headed cabbage, it’s the stuff songs and poems are written about here. No kidding!: “Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream? With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.~ lyrics from a song sung by Mary Black

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Irish Americans sometimes serve Colcannon on St. Patrick’s Day, but it is customary to eat it on 31st October in Ireland. There are, in fact, quite a few Irish traditions having to do with Colcannon and Halloween. For example, a very long time ago, bowls of Colcannon were left on the front doorsteps of Irish homes for wandering spirits in search of their earthly abode. It was also used for games of marriage divination, whereby charms (namely a ring for marriage and a thimble for spinsterhood) were hidden inside the fluffy mixture and bowls were then served to the young women living at home to foretell their future. And finally, Irish colleens sometimes hung socks, partially filled with Colcannon, on their front door on Halloween night in the belief that the first man through the door would be their future husband.

To be sure, such shenanigans do not (never have/never will) happen in our Irish home. Between the arguing over the ring and the unsightly mess of a potato-filled sock hanging from the front door…I’ll be having none of it. For us, Colcannon is simply a comforting side dish we enjoy year round…but most especially at this time of year.

Colcannon

Serves 6

Ingredients

900g/2 ½ lbs potatoes, scrubbed and peeled

110g/8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for serving

1 small green cabbage, outer leaves removed, cored, washed and thinly shredded

8oz/1 cup milk (plus a little more if the potatoes are very dry)

4 scallions, green parts only, finely chopped

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

1. Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold water by 1”. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until slightly tender, about 15 minutes. Drain off about two-thirds of the water. Put a lid on the saucepan, place the saucepan back on the hob (stove) and put on a gentle heat, allowing the potatoes to steam until they are fully cooked. (Keep a watchful eye on the potatoes at this point as you do not want them to burn.) When fully cooked, drain excess water and put softened potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Rice or mash potatoes. Set aside.

2. Return saucepan to hob over medium-high heat. Add butter. When melted, add cabbage and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 5 minutes.

3. To the cabbage, add the milk and scallions, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

4. Add hot milk mixture to warm mashed potatoes and stir until smooth. (You may use a food mixer, but use the spade paddle for the mixing).

5. Season with salt and pepper, and transfer to a warm bowl. Serve immediately with a large pat of butter melting in the centre.

Additional Notes, Related Articles & Credits:

* Colcannon may be made ahead and reheated in a moderate oven.

* Leftover Colcannon may be made into potato cakes and fried in bacon fat until browned on both sides.

* Colcannon would be lovely served with Guinness Beef Stew!

* To hear Mary Black sing Colcannon click here.

* Irish Halloween Traditions & Customs here, here and here.

* For a fascinating look at the history of Irish food click here.

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October is a beautiful time in Ireland. The weather is crisp and cool, leaves are turning and falling, fires are seriously stoked in the evenings, and the scent of cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice fills the air. It is all so wonderful. As the month comes to an end, there is a growing excitement for Halloween night to arrive. In our Irish home the children have already selected their costumes and started to make plans.

Our youngest will be out trick-or-treating in the neighbourhood with a group of friends, while our eldest, who feels she is too old to dress up and go begging for candy, will be at home with her cohorts celebrating with a real old-fashioned Irish Halloween party.

In keeping with the customs of long ago, there will be a bonfire, fireworks, bobbing for apples, bowls of nuts and fruits, Colcannon (a dish of mashed potatoes, kale and onions), and a Bram Brack, a fruit filled bread traditionally eaten on and around Halloween.

Irish Barm BrackThe Bram Brack will have small items, wrapped in greaseproof paper (parchment paper), baked inside as a means for fortune-telling. A ring will symbolise love or marriage, a coin for wealth, a soup-pea for poverty, and a thimble for a life of spinsterhood or bachelorhood.

Interestingly, the recipe I’m using comes from Young Housewife’s Cookery Book by Brigid Russell. Published in 1928, the book was written for housewives “untrained in cookery skills”…in other words…the self-taught home-chef like me!

In preparation for this blog post and the party, I baked a loaf of Barm Brack over the weekend. It turned out really well, though I felt the recipe lacked complexity. I will add cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice when making it again. If you’re not a fan of those autumn spices, you could, of course, leave them out.

Barm Brack keeps nicely for about three days, after which it tends to get a little stale. When this happens, don’t toss it in the bin. Instead, toast it and serve it buttered with a hot cup of tea.

From our Irish home to yours, I wish you and your little ghosts and goblins a Happy Halloween.

Barm Brack

Makes One Loaf

Ingredients

2lbs flour

1/4 lb butter

1/4 lb currants

1/4 lb castor sugar

1/2 lb sultanas

1 egg

1oz yeast

2oz peel (candied)

Tepid milk

Directions

1. Heat the flour. (I placed mine in a large mixing bowl and popped it into a warm oven for about 15 minutes.)

2. Break the butter into the flour and add the sugar. (I cut the butter into small pieces and worked it into the flour with my hands until the flour resembled coarse bread crumbs.)

3. Put the yeast into the flour, and, with beaten egg and sufficient tepid milk, make the whole into a loose dough. (I sprinkled the yeast over the sugared flour, whisked the egg with a fork in a small bowl with one cup of room temperature milk. I added more milk straight from the carton into the bowl as needed.)

4. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes; put to rise in a warm place for 2 hours. (The dough was very stiff, but somewhat elastic…vague, I know, but that’s the only way to describe it.)

5. Add the prepared fruit and the finely-chopped peel and knead again for 8 minutes. (I did not add peel to my loaf, but I did add an extra 2 ounces of raisins. Here is where I would suggest adding 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice.)

6. Place in a greased cake-tin, and again put to rise in a warm place for about 20 minutes. (I lightly buttered a loaf tin and I left the Barm Brack to rise for 30 minutes.)

7. Bake in a hot oven for about 1 hour. (I baked mine in an oven preheated to 180°C/350°F. When the top started to burn, I covered it with a piece of greaseproof paper to protect.)

8. When done, the loaf should be glazed by brushing over with a solution made from equal parts of sugar and boiling water. (I omitted this last step.)

Related Articles:

My Quick Irish Barm Brack Recipe is super easy to make.

A recipe for Irish Tea Brack, a similar but easier version of Barm Brac, may be found here.

An article from the Archeological Institute of America on the history of Halloween’s Celtic Roots may be read here.

A history lesson of Ireland’s Halloween customs may be found here.

Haunted houses in Ireland here.

Irish Halloween traditions here.

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It’s Halloween and the veil between the living and the dead is slowly drawing back! Tonight all across the land, ghosts and ghouls will roam freely.

In Ireland we have our share of strange and evil figures and haunted places. From Seaforth House to Loftus Hall, Friars Bush to Charleville Castle the spirits of the “other world” are out in force to frighten us.

Leap Castle in County Offaly is owned by the Ryan family. Built on an ancient Druid site, it has a history of murder and death.

Take care as you venture out tonight…the ghosts of Ireland are watching you. Happy Halloween!

Related Articles

More haunted places in Ireland at: http://blog.discoverireland.com/2011/10/irelands-most-haunted-places/

Ghost stories from Ireland at http://blog.discoverireland.com/2012/10/ghost-stories-ireland/

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Halloween.

Forget the candy, the costumes, the carved pumpkins.

Strip away the decorations and the slasher movies.

Take away all that is modern and what do you have?

An Irish tradition.

Yes. Halloween is an Irish tradition predating St. Patrick by more than 300 years. It arose from the Celtic fire festival called Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”) and was a celebration marking the end of the harvest period and the beginning of winter.

Being a pagan society, the Celts believed that on the eve of Samhain, the thin veil separating the living from the dead opened briefly allowing for mischief and, sometimes, anarchy. Huge bonfires were lit to keep evil spirits at bay and costumes were worn to protect people from being lifted into the “other world”. The friendly spirits of loved ones were welcomed home at this time and hazel nuts and apples were offered as enticement.

Over time, Samhain was replaced with the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve but many of the traditions associated with the old Celtic ways remained. These customs traveled with the Irish as they emigrated away from home during the potato famine. By the late 1800’s, Halloween was firmly rooted in America as a day for dressing up and going from house to house asking for sweets or money. Then, in the mid-1990’s, as the Celtic Tiger roared its way through Ireland, the returning Irish brought back to Ireland the now popularised version of Halloween which we celebrate with ghoulish pleasure.

Today carved turnips have been replaced with brightly lit pumpkins and kids running from house to house expect candy instead of nuts and apples. Thankfully, old Irish ways die-hard and there are some remnants of the true Irish spirit in Halloween to be found. Colcannon and Barmbrack are still served at home, parades and festivals run the length of the country, and bon fires light up the chilly night air in estates everywhere.

To learn more about the Irish and Halloween, click on this video link featuring historian Joe McGowan on TV3.

For wickedly more information on haunted castles, eerily silent islands and other scary happenings around Ireland check out these sites: https://inanirishhome.com/2012/10/31/haunted-ireland/ and http://www.discoverireland.com/us/ireland-things-to-see-and-do/whats-on/listings/?l=1all&wo=999229131 and here: http://www.independent.ie/travel/travel-destinations/ten-best-halloween-treats-1502960.html?start=2

Recipe for Colcannon here: http://www.bordbia.ie/aboutfood/recipes/potatoes/pages/colcannan.aspx

For my Barm Brack recipe click here: https://inanirishhome.com/2014/10/27/halloween-irish-barm-brack/

Recipe for Barmbrack here: http://edible-ireland.com/2011/10/31/barmbrack/

Irish words and phrases associated with Halloween may be found at: http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/3Focloir/Halloween.html

To read more about Ireland and Halloween: Halloween in Ireland – GoIreland

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