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  • Writer's pictureAmy Minichiello

Rugged Coastlines & Cosy Cottages

My coat, gloves, and scarf hang by the door. The Aga and the multiple cups of tea that followed kept my hands warm. Trees bare their skeleton limbs as the biting winds rattle the windows. Outside, the rugged landscape sings the songs of life. It hums the tunes from the stories and traditions folded into the generations of families gone by and those who live on.

A large ceramic bowl is positioned on the kitchen bench. Flour, salt, bi-carb soda, and buttermilk - humble ingredients for the most famous of Irish bakes, Soda Bread.

My nose picks up the aroma of comfort, of something slow-cooking. It lingers in the air and then something catches my eye. On the bench under the filtered light by the window lie crimson stalks of rhubarb embedded into pistachio and hazelnut frangipane. It is almost too much for me to handle. The excitement, the overwhelming beauty of the temptations that surround my being.

The golden, buttery pastry topped beef and Guinness pie is lovingly brought to the table alongside a large dish of champ (mashed potatoes with spring onions) complete with a generous knob of butter which ever so slowly melts away into a glorious golden pool above the surface. Vibrant green peas roll onto the plates as I succumb to the kindness and generosity that is prevalent in the Irish way of living.

I gaze around the table. To my right a bespectacled lady from County Meath sharing earlier memories of her and her mother taking a picnic of sandwiches and tea to the men in the fields. Directly opposite, sits an artisan seaweed farmer who works the shores of Quilty, County Clare, and who has an ambitious goal to become the world's largest producer of hand-harvested seaweed.

To my left sits a fifth-generation flour miller. The current steward of Martry Mill where the waterwheel continues to turn after 700 years of rotations.

The lady at the other end was a child during wartime. I hung off of her every word as she told us about her life growing up on a farm with 13 siblings in a four-bedroom house.

There were so many more fascinating stories shared by inspiring farmers, producers, and people who live off the land. I could have sat in that very spot for hours on end. But then the last of the dessert was served and I had come to the very last recipe in the book, Barmbrack bread and butter pudding with apricot glaze. After 337 pages I had fallen for Ireland without ever having left our humble white weatherboard home. Such is the magic and sheer beauty of Cherie Denham and Andrew Montgomery's work of art, The Irish Bakery. They have bound the very essence of Irish baking together through words, photography, and recipes. The fascinating essays by Kitty Corrigan add yet another layer of uniqueness. It is a book that transported me to the rugged coastlines and cosy cottages of Northern Ireland.

A cookbook becomes so much more when it can both accompany the reader into the bedroom where stories are read while propped up against pillows and then taken to the kitchen where the recipes that make up so many of the baking traditions of Ireland are created. Many of these are derived from Cherie's grannie's and great-aunts whom she learned so much from.

I have had great pleasure in dog-earing many a page. The coffee and walnut cake became morning tea for the pre-school working bee. Slices of rhubarb, pistachio, and hazelnut frangipane tart were gifted to neighbours and school mum friends. The beef and Guinness pie with rough puff pastry warmed us from the inside out and left our home full of salivating-inducing aromas for two consecutive nights. Thick fingers of raisin and seed flapjacks made their way into lunchboxes, with a few being sent via post in a care package for a mum in the newborn bubble. The biscuit container was dipped into several times to fish out petite cranberry and apricot lace biscuits. Generous smears of softened butter layered the surface of thick-cut slices of soda bread and provided a vessel to mop up any last remains of soup from the bowl.

With so many more recipes needing to be made in my kitchen, it is safe to say that The Irish Bakery will be a book that I will continually turn to time and time again and will lead me that little bit closer to landing on the doorstep of an Irish home to warm my hands by the Aga. Until then, I'll bake.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Cherie and Andrew's book simply head here


Cherie has kindly allowed me to share the recipe for her Beef & Guinness pie with rough puff pastry. A perfect meal to comfort and share.

Beef and Guinness pie with rough puff pastry

serves 8

This is a great recipe for feeding a crowd. If you can't get beef shin (chuck) steak can also be used. The pie filling can be made up to 2 days in advance, and can also be frozen. If anything, the flavour develops with time. Brown the meat off in small batches - if the pan is overloaded, the temperature drops and the meat stews instead of getting that lovely caramelised brown colour and rich flavour. Although there is a bit of work in the preparation of this pie, once the filling is made and the pie is assembled, you can relax and enjoy your evening. If making puff pastry isn't your thing, feel free to use shop-bought all-butter puff pastry. I like to serve this with a large bowl of creamy mash and buttered cabbage.

4 tablespoons of olive oil

1.3kg beef shin, cut into large chunks

570ml beef stock

30g butter

140g streaky bacon, sliced

140g chestnut mushrooms, quartered

3 onions, finely sliced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

3 garlic cloves, crushed

4 tablespoons muscovado sugar

2 tbsp plain flour

570ml Guinness

2 tsp red wine vinegar

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs of thyme, leave picked

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the rough puff pastry

285g plain flour

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

140g cold unsalted butter, cubed

5-10 tbsp iced water

1 egg yolk, beaten with a pinch of salt, to glaze

Preheat the oven to 160c (350f/Gas 4).

Heat a splash of the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. brown the beef in batches, then transfer it to a casserole dish.

between batches, pour some of the stock into the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan (this is where a lot of the flavour is), then pour the stock back in with the rest of the stock.

Heat the remaining oil in the pan and add the butter, bacon, and mushrooms. Fry for 5-10 minutes over medium heat until browned, then lift out and add to the beef.

Reduce the heat and gently soften the onions, celery, and carrots. It will probably take about 10 minutes or so. Once softened, add the garlic and sugar and stir. After a few minutes, stir in the flour and cook out for 2 minutes.

Add the Guinness, stock, red wine vinegar and herbs. Slowly stir and bring to the boil. Season and simmer for 5 minutes., then pour into the casserole dish and stir. Place the casserole dish over medium heat and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 2 1/2 hours until the meat is soft and tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Remove the herbs.

Meanwhile, make the pastry. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the butter and use your hands to gently toss it through the flour. stir in 5 tablespoons of the iced water using a round-bladed knife and then gradually add more until you have a soft and scraggy but not sticky dough. Use your hands to bring it together, then wrap it in baking parchment and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, gently roll out the dough into a 30 x 10 cm rectangle. Don't be heavy-handed as you don't want the butter to break through.

Fold the bottom third of the pastry up to cover the centre third, then fold the top third down to cover the other two. Now turn the pastry anticlockwise so that the folded edge is on your left. Wrap and return to the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Repeat this rolling and folding technique three more times, resting the pastry in the refrigerator for 15 minutes between each roll. Once you have completed all the folds, chill the pastry for at least 20 minutes before using it.

Preheat the oven to 180c (400f/Gas 6).

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry. Spoon the pie filling into a 20 x 30 cm baking dish. Top with the pastry, then brush it with the egg wash, cut a slit in the top, and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden.


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