Traditional Irish Desserts That’ll Make You Feel Like You’re in Ireland
We can picture the lush green countryside already.
The first time I visited the Cliffs of Moher, I could barely see just a few feet in front of my face. Thick gray fog surrounded my roommates and I like a heavy blanket — the distant sound of crashing waves was the only indication we were over 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. I can remember that day in 2004 like it was yesterday.
I’d wanted to visit Ireland for years, longing to see the lush green country from which my grandfather’s family came. Studying at NUI Galway my sophomore year of college was never a question. It was a must. I took in as many experiences as I could, from marveling at the Book of Kells in Dublin and riding in a horse-drawn cart around Inis Mor to simply sitting by the Galway Bay any sunny afternoon I could and, often, finishing the night with a dark pint.
While I still consider living in Galway one of the greatest, albeit too short, experiences of my life, there’s one thing I regret: I didn’t eat dessert often enough. We have our stout-infused cakes and shamrock-inspired sweets in America, but if I could do it all again, I’d seek out a classic apple cake like Gemma Stafford’s (pictured above). “It’s a humble cake but it yields a big reward,” she says. “A lot of Irish recipes are like that.”
Gemma’s recipe features tart Granny Smith apples in a cinnamon-spiced batter, with the buttery streusel topping providing just the right amount of sweetness. Like many traditional Irish desserts, the cake isn’t overly complicated, she notes.
As Gemma says in her Butter Whirl Biscuits class on the Food Network Kitchen app, Irish bakers keep things simple, and their recipes are quite basic, though beloved and considered more like comfort food. “We have really amazing ingredients in Ireland … great butter and eggs and things like that,” Gemma says. (I can attest Kerrygold butter is the best I’ve ever tasted.) Her cherry-topped biscuits are not the lovely, layered biscuits Americans are familiar with — Irish biscuits are what Americans know as cookies! They’re buttery, crumbly and absolutely irresistible.
Scones may have originated in Scotland, but the Irish are known to love them just as much. Ina Garten’s buttery scones, cut into circles, as traditionally seen in Ireland, feature dried cranberries and a sweet sprinkle of sugar.
Bread and butter pudding is similar to bread pudding, though they differ slightly in their preparation: The former calls for buttered bread slices to be layered in a dish before being covered with custard, and the latter skips the bread-buttering step. Bread and butter pudding is commonly served in Irish homes — Gemma has a simple, satisfying recipe on her site. While Food Network Kitchen has yet to perfect the bread and butter recipe, this take on bread pudding, very similar to the one my mom used to make for my grandfather, does not disappoint. Toasting the bread cubes will ensure they soak up every bit of the deliciously rich, vanilla bean-spiked custard.
One of the things I believe that makes food so incredible is that it can transport us to a special moment or place, even if we can’t physically be there. A hot cup of tea can evoke bay views from an old apartment during your college days; a bite of bread pudding can help us remember a special family meal. We lost my grandfather almost a year ago, and if there’s anything these last few months have taught me, it’s that you should eat dessert first. And call your grandpa.