Castles that keep

A view of Castle Durrow through the trees.

Ireland Hopping | By Margaret M. Johnson

Now that my trip to Ireland in July has officially been cancelled, I’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing about past visits, especially ones that included stays at historic properties. If you’ve been yourself, you know there seems to be a castle, crumbling ruin, or tower house around every corner, including regal properties and castle-like “big houses” and country estates that have been converted to hotels. Castle Durrow, which I visited a few years ago on my “castle tour,” is one of them.

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A pre-Palladian home built between 1712 and 1715, the massive stone structure was the creation of the Flower family, Anglo-Irish landlords later known as Viscounts Ashbrook, who built and lived in the house during a period of high taste and culture. It’s the first country house of importance that still stands in nearly its original condition and one of the few 18th-century houses for which precise building records survive. In addition to its 40 bedrooms, the public rooms can only be described as “classically eclectic.”

My favorite, the restaurant, is adorned with hand-blocked wallpaper, a direct copy of 18th century Chinoiserie paper reminiscent of the Byzantine and Chinese empires, and French chandeliers hang from restored plastered ceilings adorned with baskets of fruit. During dinner, I noticed that the room quickly filled with locals, patrons that proprietor Shelly Stokes told me make up a substantial portion of their bar and restaurant business. Because of the hotel’s prominent location in the heart of the village of Durrow, in County Laois, the house and grounds are always open to neighbors to enjoy both casual and formal meals along with yummy desserts like this summery crème brûlée. For more on Castle Durrow, visit castledurrow.com.



7 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar, plus more for topping

2 cups heavy (whipping) cream

1/2 cup milk

2 vanilla beans

1/2 pint raspberries, plus more for topping

Mint leaves, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 325° F.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together yolks and sugar. In a medium saucepan, combine cream and milk. With tip of a sharp knife, scrape seeds out of beans into mixture; bring slowly to boil. Slowly whisk in yolks mixture until smooth.

3. Divide berries into six 6-ounce ramekins and spoon mixture over. Place dishes in a baking pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of dishes. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until centers are just set (mixture should still be wobbly). Remove from oven and let cool in pan; cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

4. To serve, sprinkle 1 tablespoon additional sugar evenly over top of each dish and heat with a kitchen blowtorch until sugar caramelizes (alternately, put dishes under broiler until caramelized). Let sit at room temperature for a few minutes to harden. Garnish with additional raspberries and a few sprigs of mint.

Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page also includes “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work, or to order a signed copy of her new cookbook “Teatime in Ireland,” visit www.irishcook.com