Ready, Set, Cook: Part I


Holiday Countdown | By Margaret M. Johnson

For the next few weeks, I’ll be crisscrossing the pond — on paper only — offering recipes for both of the big upcoming holidays. With Thanksgiving only two weeks away and Christmas a short three after that, it will be nonstop cooking, baking, and celebrating. Not to worry: these recipes are interchangeable for either holiday and have Irish as well as American origins to satisfy one and all.

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If you grew up in the U.S. the 1980s, you might have tasted this festive, boozy cake “made from a box”! The makers of Bacardi rum published it in newspapers and magazines every holiday season, even offering it as recipe cards in supermarket and liquor store displays. My mother taught me to be a “scratch cook,” but even I couldn’t resist this recipe, which can also be adapted into a chocolate version (follows).

For the cake

1 cup chopped walnuts
1 package yellow cake mix
1 (3.4oz) package instant vanilla pudding

4 large eggs
1⁄2 cup water

1⁄2 cup canola oil
1⁄2 cup Bacardi Dark Rum

For the glaze

4 ounces unsalted butter

1⁄4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup Bacardi Dark Rum

  1. Make cake. Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat a 10′′ tube or Bundt pan with cooking oil with flour spray. Sprinkle chopped nuts over bottom of pan.
    2. In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water, oil and rum; beat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until thoroughly mixed. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula so the mixture blends well.

  2. Transfer to prepared pan and smooth top. Bake 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 or 15 minutes. Invert cake onto a serving plate, and with a long skewer, poke a few holes in top of cake.

  3. Make glaze. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Stir in water and sugar; boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly so mixture does not burn (boil for the full 5 minutes). Remove from heat; stir in rum.
    5. Spoon and brush a small amount of glaze over top and sides of cake; wait for glaze to be absorbed and then repeat until glaze is used up.

CHOCOLATE RUM CAKE: substitute pecans for the walnuts, chocolate fudge cake mix for the yellow cake mix, and chocolate pudding for the vanilla pudding.



Makes 1 loaf

This lovely cake is Irish through and through. The recipe comes from Dromoland Castle in County Clare, one of Ireland's finest hotels and one of only a few castles that can trace its ownership back through history to families of royal heritage. The fruitcake is served year-round at “Mrs. White’s Afternoon Tea,” an event named for a long-standing staff member, but it’s perfect for a holiday dessert. Be sure to start it at least two days before you want to serve it to let the fruits soak and the flavors meld or wrap and store for serving later. You’ll find it in my soon-to-be- released cookbook Teatime in Ireland.

1 cup water

1 cup raisins

1 cup golden raisins

2 ounces candied red cherries

1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum

1 1/2 tablespoons sherry

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup self-rising flour

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or Mixed Spice (see Note)

Softened butter, for serving (optional)

  1. On the day before baking, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring water to boil. Stir in raisins, golden raisins, and cherries; cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain fruit and transfer to a small bowl. Stir in rum, sherry, and vanilla extract; cover and let stand overnight.

  2. Preheat oven to 300°F. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan and dust with flour; tap out excess.

  3. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. With a wooden spoon, fold in flour and pumpkin pie or Mixed Spice; stir in fruit mixture.

  4. Transfer to prepared pan and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack. Invert cake onto rack, return to upright, and wrap cake in aluminum foil; leave overnight before cutting into slices. Serve spread with butter, if desired.

Note: To make Mixed Spice, put 1 tbsp. coriander seeds, 1 crushed cinnamon stick, 1 tsp. whole cloves, and 1 tsp. allspice berries in a spice or coffee grinder. Process until finely ground. Add 1 tbsp. nutmeg and 2 tsp. ginger. Mix thoroughly by hand. Store in an airtight container.

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Makes 24 cakes

These little cakes, reminiscent of sticky toffee pudding, are perfect as an alternative to fruitcake. In addition to the dates and nuts usually found in the popular pudding, the grated apples add a holiday touch. The recipe, from Wade Murphy, chef-proprietor of 1826 Adare, a lovely restaurant in the charming Limerick village, can be made a day or two ahead; leave the cakes at room temperature and reheat sauce in a microwave.

For the puddings

1 1/4 cups chopped dates

1 1/4 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 ounces butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 large eggs

2 1/2 cups flour

2 cooking apples, peeled, cored, and grated

For the toffee sauce

1/4 cup water

3/4 cups sugar

4 ounces butter, cut into pieces

2/3 cup heavy (whipping) cream

  1. Make puddings. In a medium saucepan, combine water, dates, and soda. Bring to a boil, stir once or twice, and then remove from heat and let cool completely.

  2. Preheat oven to 325° F. Spray cups of two standard 12-well muffin pans with non-stick spray.

  3. In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then fold in flour, date mixture, and apples. Spoon batter into prepared pans, filling two-thirds full, and bake for 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.

  4. Make sauce. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring water and sugar to a boil. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until mixture begins to caramelize. Whisk in butter until blended; whisk in cream until smooth. To serve, spoon warm toffee sauce over warm puddings.

Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page expands this year to “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” Her newest cookbook, Teatime in Ireland, will be published later this year! For further details on her work or to order a signed cookbook, visit