- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

When St. Patrick’s Day rolls around March 17, everyone wants to be Irish. For many, the best way to celebrate is with an Irish meal. That’sfine with us, the Irish — that is, unless you think it’s all about corned beef and cabbage, green beer and Guinness. Please forget that menu and concentrate instead on using traditional ingredients in cooking, such as oats, one of the first cereals cultivated by man and perhaps the most Irish of all.

In Ireland, the use of oats for human consumption was established early in the Christian era, and references to oatmeal can be found in documents dating from the fifth century. There is evidence that even before this date, porridge was recognized in Europe as a characteristically Irish food.

The cultivation of oats is particularly suited to Ireland’s temperate and humid climate, with vast quantities of oatmeal consumed in the form of porridge or “stirabout,” a thick mixture.

It’s doubtful you’ll want to make porridge or a stirabout the basis of your St. Pat’s meal, but oats rolled, flaked or steel-cut deserve consideration, especially on the sweet side of the day. Well beyond breakfast, you can use oatmeal in many Irish-inspired desserts, especially in crumbles and crisps, where it provides a nutty flavor and a crunchy texture for the topping.

You also might like to make a flummery, which is a sweet, soft pudding made of stewed fruit (usually berries) thickened with cornstarch. Old-time flummeries were made by cooking oatmeal until smooth and gelatinlike, then adding milk and either sugar or honey to sweeten it. In the 18th century, the dish became a gelatin-thickened cream- or milk-based dessert flavored generously with sherry, Madeira, whiskey or rum.

Other oatmeal dishes, such as scones, puddings, cookies and cakes, are also sweet additions to an Irish meal. For more Irish inspiration at your St. Patrick’s Day celebration, you might enjoy some recipes that are flavored with Irish whiskey or Celtic Crossing, Irish Mist and Irish cream liqueurs.

All the following recipes are from my book “Irish Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles and Fools” (Chronicle Books).

Celtic apple crisp

Apples have always played an important part in Irish folklore, tradition and diet, so it’s no surprise to find apple desserts in great supply and variety. This apple crisp is flavored with a respectable dose of Celtic Crossing liqueur, a blend of Irish whiskeys, cognac and honey.

The topping is a combination of white bread crumbs and McCann’s Irish oatmeal, the most widely known brand in the United States. Serve the crisp warm with cinnamon ice cream.

TOPPING:

1 cup fresh white bread crumbs

1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) Irish oatmeal, such as McCann’s

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

teaspoon ground cinnamon

FILLING:

1/3 cup Celtic Crossing liqueur

1/3 cup golden raisins

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 pounds Granny Smith or Braeburn apples

1/3 cup sugar

Cinnamon ice cream (recipe follows)

To make the topping: In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, oatmeal, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

To make the filling: In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring Celtic Crossing and 1/3 cup water to a boil. Add raisins and vanilla, stir, then remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour, or until cool.

Lightly butter an 8-inch-square glass baking pan.

Transfer raisins and their liquid to a large bowl. Peel, core and slice the apples. Combine apples and sugar with raisins. Spoon half of the apples into prepared dish, top with half the bread-crumb-oatmeal mixture. Repeat layers with remaining apples and bread-crumb-oatmeal mixture.

Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until apples are tender and topping is crisp and browned. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Serve warm with cinnamon ice cream, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CINNAMON ICE CREAM:

cup sugar

cup water

1 cinnamon stick

2 cups heavy whipping cream

teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 large egg yolks

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and water. Bring gently to a boil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until sugar is dissolved and mixture is syrupy.

Remove from heat and let cool. In another small saucepan over medium heat, combine cinnamon stick and cream. Bring gently to a boil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until mixture thickens slightly. Remove cinnamon stick.

Whisk together ground cinnamon and egg yolks. Add sugar syrup and whisk for 3 to 5 minutes, or until mixture is thick and mousselike. Set bowl over a dish filled with ice; continue to whisk for 5 to 7 minutes, or until mixture is cooled. Fold in cream.

Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions, or freeze in a plastic container until mixture is half-frozen, then whisk again and freeze until firm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Strawberry flummery

2/3 cup quick-cooking (not instant) McCann’s Irish oatmeal, toasted and cooled (see note)

4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled, plus 4 whole berries for garnish

5 tablespoons sugar, divided

11/4 cups heavy whipping cream

2/3 cup plain yogurt or sour cream

1 tablespoon Irish whiskey

Chill four 8- or 9-ounce stemmed glasses. Set aside 4 teaspoons of the toasted oatmeal for a garnish.

Put hulled strawberries in a large bowl and mash, or pulse a few times in a food processor. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the sugar.

Whip cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Fold in yogurt or sour cream, remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar, whiskey and remaining oatmeal. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of the strawberries into bottom of each glass. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of oatmeal-cream mixture over berries. Repeat layers.

Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, or until set. At serving time, sprinkle 1 teaspoon reserved oatmeal on top of each glass and garnish with a whole strawberry. Makes 4 servings.

Note: To toast oatmeal, spread it out on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven, shaking the pan at 5-minute intervals to prevent burning, for 15 minutes or until toasted. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Apple scones

Raisins or currants are the most popular and traditional additions to a batch of scones, but these, made with apples, are a pleasant alternative.

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough

cup McCann’s quick-cooking (not instant) oatmeal, plus additional for topping

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing sheet

1/3 cup superfine sugar

2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and grated

4 tablespoons milk, divided

Lightly butter a large baking sheet.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, oatmeal, baking powder and cinnamon. With a pastry cutter, 2 knives or your fingers, cut or work in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in sugar and grated apple. Add 3 tablespoons of the milk, and stir until a soft dough forms.

Dust a work surface with flour. Turn out dough and, with floured hands, knead gently until dough comes together. Pat or roll dough into an 8-inch round. With a serrated knife that has been dipped into flour, score dough into 8 wedges but do not cut all the way through.

Brush top with the remaining 1 tablespoon of milk and sprinkle with additional oatmeal.

Bake scones in preheated 400-degree oven for 25 minutes, or until top is golden and a skewer inserted into one of the wedges comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Cool completely before separating scones. Makes 8 scones.

Irish oatmeal cake

This spicy oatmeal cake is a must for afternoon tea. To counter the sweet brown sugar, pecans and coconuts of the topping, serve it with some fresh berries.

CAKE:

Butter and flour for preparing pan

1 cup McCann’s quick-cooking (not instant) Irish oatmeal

1 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

11/4 cups packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

TOPPING:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

3/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

cup chopped pecans

Bring a pot of water to boil. Butter a 9- or 10-inch round baking pan. Dust with flour and tap out excess.

In a small bowl, combine oats and 11/4 cups boiling water. Let soak for 20 minutes. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer. Add eggs and beat until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla and oats. Stir dry ingredients into oat mixture. Pour into prepared pan. Bake cake in preheated 350-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean.

Remove cake from oven, and let it cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 30 minutes. Invert cake onto rack, then turn right side up and place it on an ovenproof cake plate. Spread cake with the topping.

To make the topping, preheat the broiler. Combine butter, sugar, cream, coconut and pecans in a medium bowl. Spread topping mixture evenly over cake; place under the broiler, 4 inches from heat source, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until top is bubbling. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Plum tart with oatmeal crust

Wine-soaked plums are the perfect topping for this crunchy tart’s crust.

PASTRY:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup McCann’s Irish oatmeal

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon superfine sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons milk, optional

Flour for rolling dough

FILLING:

6 red plums

1/3 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons dry red wine

2 tablespoons milk for brushing on pastry

2 tablespoons superfine sugar

Whipped cream

To make the pastry, combine flour and oatmeal in a small bowl. With a pastry cutter, 2 knives or your fingers, cut or work in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in sugar. Mix in beaten egg to make a soft dough. If it is too dry, add a spoonful or two of milk. Transfer dough to a work surface and form it into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Cut plums in half and remove stones. Arrange fruit, cut side down, in a 10-inch pie plate. Sprinkle with brown sugar; spoon red wine over the top. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry out to a 12-inch circle. Place pastry over the plum mixture and press down edges with a fork. Brush with milk and bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees; bake for 15 minutes more. Remove from oven and sprinkle top with sugar. Serve warm with whipped cream. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Besides “Irish Puddings, Tarts, Crumbles and Fools,” Margaret M. Johnson is the author of “The New Irish Table” and “The Irish Heritage Cookbook” (Chronicle Books).

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