Sunday, 24 March 2013

In Praise of the Bun

The humble 'bun' seems to have fallen out of favour. Baked (and burned) by generations of Irish mammies, it has been all but forgotten since Carrie Bradshaw arrived, brandishing it's bigger, swankier, tarted-up American cousin, The Cupcake.

 Old Fashioned Buns (recipe at end)

Though originally denoting a larger, lighter, version of the traditional Bun, (albeit one piled high with  butter-cream) many of us here in Ireland now use 'Cupcake' to refer to pretty much all of our paper-case-baked goods. And I think that's kind of sad. Baking is so incredibly popular but you will rarely hear anyone declare that that they have just baked 'buns' nowadays, perhaps with the exception of TV3's more-than-slightly-terrifying force of nature, Catherine Leyden (...have I just admitted to watching Ireland AM?....Moving swiftly on...)

 A really versitile, light cupcake(recipe at end)

In any case, I don't consider a bun and a cupcake to be the same thing. They are different, each with their own merits.  For me, a bun is a heavier, richer, butter-based mixture whilst a cupcake is only slightly bigger, an altogether airier affair, generally made with oil rather than butter.

Growing up in Mayo, we referred to fairy-cakes, queen-cakes and buns interchangeably, even though my mother always and ever used the same recipe from her dog-eared old domestic science book.(On reflection, this may have been a wily attempt to convince us that we were being given something different each time). However, if you're a stickler for accuracy, which certainly wasn't the case in our house, I have learned since that queen cakes do traditionally contain raisins. Nevertheless, 'Buns', it seems, have now come to refer to various different (often American) bread-based goods rather than little cakes. 

                                          Blueberry Streusel Muffins (recipe at end)

Muffins only entered my radar in the early noughties as visually- impressive (but strangely bland)pillow-soft monstrosities (made, at that time, almost exclusively by Cuisine de France). They were much like a larger version of my beloved bun but with much of the flavour removed. However, it seems the meaning of Muffin is now changing too and is coming to denote what is more often than not a breakfast item (often savory and including bran or something similarly virtuous) and not just a giant cake. 

                                                     Lots of Paper Cases 

I am presently going through a bit of a bun/muffin/cupcake phase, sparked, I think, by the predictably kitsch mini cases my Korea-based brother sent me a couple of months back. Though they turned out to be that bit too tiny to deliver even one whole satisfying mouthful(and are probably more suited to chocolate/sweet making) my thoughts turned to all things paper-case related and the seemingly endless scope there is for experimentation.

Here's some of what I have been making recently

Old Fashioned Buns

This is the good, solid, old-fashioned bun recipe I have used for years and very like what many of us in Ireland would have eaten as children. The most important thing here is to have your butter super-soft.


150g soft butter
150g caster sugar
175g plain flour, sieved tgether with 3/4 tbs baking powder
2 large eggs


1)Beat butter and sugar together until pale and creamy.

2) Add a tbs of the flour and mix before adding the first egg and beating.

3) Continue to add the flour , mixing to ensure it's evenly incorporated.

4) Spoon the mixture into 12 standard cases or 24 minis.

5) Bake in an oven preheated to 140 ' (fan) for approximately 20 minutes (standard) and 12 (mini).

Super light and Airy Vanilla Cupcake

I'll admit that I didn't have to do a huge amount of work to perfect this recipe. Scrap that, I didn't do any at all. I came across a great site called where an American blogger named Stef tests and recommends a huge range of cupcake recipes. This vanilla cupcake recipe is all hers and damn good it is too, light as a feather and really moreish. The only changes I made were to omit the vanilla beans and replace the sour cream with Greek yogurt which worked brilliantly. I won't give you the recipe for the strawberry buttercream as, to be honest, it was a bit of an ill-judged experiment, too sweet, and not something I would make again.

Blueberry Streusel Muffin

This recipe comes from the wonderful Joy of Baking and is about as far from a generic, wet, plastic-wrapped blueberry muffin as you could get. It also fits in well in terms of my perception of what a muffin should be, delivering much more of a bite than the cupcake above, for example. They are also not overly sweet, making them a good breakfast option.

In conclusion 

But what does it matter, you might argue, if we describe these little treats as buns, muffins, queen-cakes, fairy-cakes or something else entirely? Well I think it does matter. Ireland's food culture (though now well on the up), is still poor enough without us surrendering elements of it so freely. We don't have the rich food history of the Italians or the French but they certainly wouldn't rename some of their baked staples so easily. And neither should we.

So, if you do decide to bake the above,  I hope you enjoy them, as much as I did - the Cupcake and the Muffin, certainly, but also, that thing of simple beauty that is a Good Old (Irish) Bun.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Review - L'Ecrivain

If you were to judge me on my restaurant visits as documented here to date (the only other being Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud) you might think I have too much money, very expensive tastes or both. You would be wrong.

February is The Birthday Month Chez Us and treating each other to a special meal out has come to be something of a tradition. And, this year, it being the big three-0 for me (and the smaller two seven for him) we decided to go mad and and go Michelin.

L'Ecrivain is located on Baggot Street, Dublin 2 and has held a Michelin Star since 2003. The name  means The Writer in French and, if you look carefully, you will see nods to this theme dotted about the place, such as this little bronze Oscar Wilde.

I had been here twice previously. Once for their (now discontinued) €23.50 lunch and, more recently, when a Menupages promotion helped to shave a welcome chunk off what was hefty dinner bill. But I had never had the Tasting Menu so, for the month that was in it, we decided to go all out and splurge. I had enjoyed a tasting menu just once before( on a cruise ship ) and so was really looking forward to it.


L'Ecrivain's rotating ten-course Tasting Menu is posted weekly on their website and my email queries on this in the week leading up to our booking were answered promptly and helpfully. Not sure how far Keith was willing to tread down the path of mad food, I was given the welcome assurance that any course could easily be substituted for something from the a la carte menu. And you really can't say fairer than that. (In the end, however, he chose, like me, to try what was on offer that night.)

We arrived five minutes early for our seven o'clock booking to find that the dining room had not yet opened and so opted for a glass of fizz at the bar.  The drinks came with some nice nibbles (olives and nuts) which we were careful not to eat too many of given the feast we hoped was in store.

Shown to our table fifteen minutes later, we found ourselves alone in the restaurant. Indeed, there were only a couple of other diners there up to 8pm when the restaurant did fill up, though nowhere near to capacity.


The bread basket consisted of a lovely gently sweetened wholemeal, mini sourdough and a surprisingly light black pudding bread. Despite our best intentions, we couldn't help devouring the lot.The waiters had seemed genuinely happy that someone had gone for the Tasting Menu and we did seem to be the only ones that night.

Our greed was rewarded from the outset.Whilst other diners around us received just one of a selection of Amuse Bouches, we were served all four at once. Above was a cold,salty,set mushroom taster which I was not keen on. It was served with a dark rye cracker which, I'm guessing was tying in with the woodland theme and designed to look like a piece of bark.Unfortunately, it tasted a bit like one too.

We were also given these little deep fried brawn balls with a beetroot puree.These were encased in a thick breadcrumb coating and were nice but unremarkable.

A couple of thick but melting slices of gravlax were the highlight of this course, the final component of which was some rabbit salami (made, if I recall correctly, from the flesh, heart and kidneys). This was tasty but the jelly that held it together would have worked better for me teamed with a thin cracker/a little piece of bread and unfortunately, we had eaten all of ours at that stage!

Our first 'proper' course was Scallops Squid Ceviche, Fennel, Seaweed Macaroon.  This was one of the standout dishes for me featuring a huge perfectly caramelised scallop I just did not want to stop eating. The seaweed macaroon was super-cute, though much more sweet than the salty hit I had been expecting.

Next up was Monkfish Potato Aioli, Broad Beans, Iberico, Baby Gem Lettuce, Chanterelles, which was another favourite. I have had tough monkfish more times than not but this was beautifully soft. All in all, a perfectly balanced and really morish plate of food.                    

We were finding our food stride now and a Buck’s Fizz Palate Cleanser was up next. This was a tangy sorbet with popping candy and a fruit coulis but I gobbled it up before I remembered to take a picture.

'And now we go a little crazy' announced the waiter as he delivered the next dish - Foie Gras ,Seared, Clementine & Almond Pavé, Clementine Purée, Cromesquis. He wasn't wrong. Having only previously sampled foie gras in pate form (and enjoyed it very much) I had been optimistic about this but found the rare liver and 'Cromesquis' with its fatty,sweet, molten centre a step too far for my tastebuds. Visually, this was an absolute work of art but not a dish either of us would order again.

Squab Pigeon Hay Poached Breast, Celeriac, Quinoa, Hazelnut Dressing, as you can see, had a lot going on on the plate. I had expected the meat to be served rare but, in truth, it was almost raw (and quite cold to boot).In fact, this whole dish was served noticeably colder than the others and, for that reason I didn't enjoy it so much.

The wine must have been kicking in here because, as you can see, I dug into my beef before taking a picture. This was Dry Aged Hereford Prime Beef Fillet, Oxtail Raviolo, Root Vegetables, Ravigote Beignet, Shallot & Buttermilk Purée and it was, on the whole, very good. However, the little biegnet was filled with a strong vinegar laced buttery filling we didn't enjoy so much.

We were offered a break at this point but chose to plough on, as much for fear that our bellies would catch up with our mouths as anything else. This was the first dessert - Thai Textures Rice Beignet, Coconut & Mango “Egg”, Piña Colada Sorbet. Here, our second biegnet of the night went down much better than the first, containing a yummy sweet sticky rice. Fruity desserts wouldn't generally be my first choice but I did enjoy this very much, especially the cute and tasty little 'egg'.

I am a huge carrot cake fan and Carrot & Walnut (Spiced Carrot Cake, Candied Walnut Ice Cream, Chantenay Carrot Confit, Verjus Sultanas)was a very good interpretation of this classic cake, though the icing seemed to me to be more of a buttercream than the more traditional cream cheese icing.

And so, the end was nigh, and was announced with a top class espresso

And what had turned out to be an epic three- hour meal finished on a serious high with these exceptional petit fours.

I didn't love everything on L'Ecrivain's Tasting Menu but, then again, I hadn't expected to.  However, the amount of effort and skill that obviously went into each component of every plate was incredible and the high quality of the produce used really shone through.

Another real jewel in this restaurant's crown is its wait-staff. The fine line between professionalism and familiarity can be hard to balance, particularly in a higher-end restaurant like this but I am strongly of the opinion that Michelin service doesn't have to be stuffy. At L'Ecrivain they deliver stellar service with a smile.

The meal over and nicely fortified with too much food and booze, what could we do but head back to the bar for a nightcap and to listen to the resident piano player belt out some some cheesy classics.

This visit to L'Ecrivain was a rare and special treat for us and, crucially, it felt like one.

(The Tasting Menu costs €90 per person.)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Accepting the Liebster Award and Sharing the Love


It's really hard to overestimate just how much comments and shares mean to a newbie blogger like me. That someone, somewhere, is actually reading what you have written is thrilling enough but, in these early days, to see that someone has gone further and taken the time to share or comment is just amazing.

And comment is just what the lovely Paula over at did last week. But better again,  she also chose me as one of her Liebster Award nominees.

So, I got to add this cute little green badge to my profile but what does it really mean? Well, 'lieben' is somewhat familiar to me as the verb 'to love' in German so does it mean somebody loves me? Well, maybe not but it seems someone thinks what I'm doing is ok. The Liebster is geared at new bloggers with under 200 followers and is really not unlike like a chain letter, albiet more nice than irritating to receive. At the very least it is a great opportunity to integrate with fellow bloggers and, this being my first 'award', I, of course, accept it with open arms! ;)

The rules are :

1. You must post 9 random facts about yourself.
2. Answer the 9 questions set for you and set 9 new ones.
3. Choose 9 people to award and link them in your post.
4. Tell your nominees the good news via their blogs.
5. No tag backs are allowed.

It must be said, however, that there are different versions of these rules doing the rounds - some ask for 7 of each, some more, some less, but I was asked for 9 so 9 I will go with.

9 Random Facts about me

1. I definitely love cruising more than your average 30 year old.
2. I could (and do) spend hours wandering around food/kitchenware shops but hate clothes shopping and buy mostly online.
3. I was torn between studying food science and Arts in College. In the end, like very many others, I chose Arts (English and Sociology).
4. I consider Spar own brand bacon fries to be the best, filthiest, saltiest, hangover snack (or cure when teamed with full-sugar Coke.)
5. I can't drive (!)
6. I love retro fashion but sadly lack the discipline to perfect the whole look.
7. I think ice-cream is overrated.
8. I would love to go to India for the food alone.
9. I prefer cats to dogs.

Here are my answers to Paula's 9 questions

1) Where did the idea of blogging come from?
 I have been reading food blogs for years and have been waiting for the right time to start my own. I finally took the plunge in January. (I think it was turning 30 that gave me the extra push.)
2) What's your favourite season and why?
Autumn, as sunshine and my fair skin don't mix and Winter in Ireland can be just a bit too miserable.
3) Describe your ideal 3 course menu.
It would probably be a big Indian feast for starters and mains(a selection of spicy and creamy dishes and all the sides) ideally, finishing, if I had room, with something involving caramel or pistachios.
4) Where is your favourite place and why?
This is cheesy but true - on any airplane just as the Irish coast comes into view. It's good to get away but always better to come home.
5) Describe what you'd do on an ideal date.
Go for a meal of course!

6) What do you mostly do in your free time?
dabble in sugarcraft, watch too many cookery programmes,
7) Describe yourself in 3 words.
Loyal, stubborn, greedy
8) What is your most prized possession?
 My make-up bag.

9) What do your friends think about your blog or have you been brave enough to tell them yet
I was nervous about telling them at first as it felt a bit like I was publishing my diary online but I have and they have all been very encouraging.

Here are my questions

1) Why did you start blogging
2) Do you make New Year Resolutions
3) What would your last meal be
4) How would people best describe you
5) Would you sing karaoke
6) What's your favourite word
7) If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life what would it be
8)Ant or Dec
9)If you could visit a period in history what would it be

And finally,  here are nine relatively new blogs I am really enjoying reading and who are each deserving of the little green badge.