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Mother’s Day Comes to Ireland on Sunday


Ireland Hopping | By Margaret M. Johnson

If we were in Ireland this week, we’d all be scurrying to find the perfect gift for Mom. Mother’s Day, originally called “Mothering Sunday,” will be celebrated there with all the pomp and pampering mothers rightfully deserve. In previous generations, the gift of choice might have been a Simnel Cake, a rich fruit cake with a center and top layer of marzipan. The cake was probably introduced into Ireland by Anglo-Norman settlers in the 12th or 13th century, while others claim the custom of preparing an enriched wheaten cake for Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent, might have been introduced into Ireland by Elizabethan settlers in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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Tradition suggests that many apprentices and those in domestic service worked and lived away from home. On Mothering Sunday, they could have the day off and were encouraged to go home to visit their mothers. This was known as ‘’going-a-mothering,” and a special “mothering cake” was brought along to provide a festive touch. If the workers couldn’t go home, they liked to send the cake at Easter, but it had to be one that was sturdy enough to be sent by post. The Simnel Cake proved to be perfect for such a gift, and it has come to be something of an Easter tradition in Ireland too. Marzipan balls placed around the edges of the cake are said to represent Jesus and the twelve apostles, while more modern recipes use edible flowers or preserved fruits. Simnel Cake is lovely to serve at tea, and much like the traditional Christmas cake, it keeps well in an airtight container. As an alternative cake for mom, try the carrot cake with Irish cream icing.



For the marzipan

2 cups almonds, finely ground

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch, plus extra for rolling

1 egg white, beaten

For the cake

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup dark raisins

1 cup currants

1/2 cup hot tea

2 tablespoons corn syrup

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup self-rising flour

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup light brown sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons apricot jam

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

  1. Make marzipan. In a small bowl, combine almonds, sugar, and cornstarch. Add egg white and stir until mixture resembles smooth paste. Roll marzipan into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or until firm. (Alternately, buy Odense Marzipan in 7-ounce tube. Roll out and use half for center and half for top).

  2. Make cake. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter bottom and sides of a deep 7-inch round pan or springform pan. Line bottom with waxed or parchment paper and line sides with a second piece.

  3. In a large bowl, combine raisins and currants. Pour tea over and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in corn syrup. Sift together the flours in a small bowl.

  4. In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and then stir in flours until smooth. Stir in dried fruits and liquid.

  5. Spoon half of batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Unwrap marzipan. Dust a work surface with cornstarch, and roll out one third of marzipan to a 6-inch circle about 1/4-inch thick. Lift and gently place on top of batter. Spoon remaining batter on top and smooth again. Rewrap and return remaining marzipan to refrigerator.

  6. Cover cake pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake cake for 50 minutes; remove foil, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes longer, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool completely on wire rack. Invert cake onto a baking sheet, remove paper, and then return cake to upright.

  7. Preheat broiler (or use a kitchen blowtorch to brown cake.) Put remaining marzipan on work surface and roll into a 7-inch round about 1/4-inch thick. Trim to make edges smooth.

  8. In a small saucepan over medium heat, or in a microwave oven, heat apricot jam until runny. Brush jam over surface of cake, and then press marzipan firmly on top. Place cake under broiler and broil until top is lightly browned (or use a kitchen blowtorch and move the flame constantly over surface until top browns). Let cool completely, dust top with confectioners’ sugar, and cut into slices. (The cake can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, or frozen for 1 month).




This carrot cake is perfect for a family celebration and the simplest of all — no add-ons like crushed pineapple or coconut — and it’s frosted right in the pan.

For the cake

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups cooking oil

4 large eggs

3 cups coarsely grated carrots

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

For the icing

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature

4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

2 teaspoons Irish Cream liqueur

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

  1. Make cake. Preheat oven to 300° F. Grease a 13- x 9-inch pan and dust with flour; tap out the excess.

  2. In large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.

  3. In another large bowl, beat sugar, oil, and eggs with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture and beat on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until blended; fold in carrots and nuts.

  4. Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake for 70 to 75 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Remove form oven and let cool completely on wire rack.

  5. Make icing. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, and Irish cream with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy. Gradually beat in sugar until smooth. With an offset spatula, spread frosting evenly over cake. Refrigerate until frosting is firm and then cut cake into 4 rows lengthwise by 6 rows across.

Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page expands this year to “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work, or to order a signed cookbook, visit www.irishcook.com.

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