• Lemon slice (Donal's Kitchen Hero)Source: Donal's Kitchen Hero
Conjuring up warm hugs and kitchens full of the heady smells of baking, these recipes are all family treasures.
13 Mar 2020 - 7:52 AM  UPDATED 13 Mar 2020 - 3:48 PM

Fruity barmbrack. Buttery scones; intriguing gur cake ... Ireland has a fine tradition of baking, passed down from generation to generation, and after watching  SBS Food's favourite Irish blogger-turned-TV host, Donal Skehan, spends an afternoon with his grandmother, Elizabeth Ryan, in Donal's Kitchen Hero, we're wishing we had an Irish granny too. 

"Everything I know I either taught myself or learned from my mother and grandmother,” says Skehan, who shares recipes for many family favourites in the show, including barmbrack and lemon slices.

They're part of an Irish baking tradition that, Irish food writer Suzanne Campbell explains, owes a lot to the availability of eggs and milk, even when times were tough. "In past generations, Irish women were really, really into baking and that was because there wasn't much indulgence in their cooking because money was tight but as butter, eggs and milk were widely available and plentiful, baking was something that women excelled at and I think they took a huge source of pride in it, whether it was a simple soda bread or a decorated lemon sponge," she tells Skehan in Donal's Kitchen Hero. 

Here, for those who aren't lucky enough to have their own Irish granny, are some of the Skehan family's favourites. 


"The word brack in Irish means speckled which describes the cake when it's sliced," says Skehan. "It's a great traditional Irish recipe. The beautiful thing about barmbrack is that it's an incredibly easy recipe.". It was something "my granny used to make for me and which I still love making today," he says. 

Lemon slices

"These lemon slices are my brother's favourite. He used to get them baked for him by my aunt for his birthday every year. So they've come a bit of a tradition in our house," Skehan says of this tangy slice, drizzled with a simple lemon icing. 

Lemon slice

Mary McDevitt’s apple cake

"When I think about baking it reminds me of coming home from school, smelling that gorgeous scent of a cake rising in the oven and everything just seems good in the world," says Suzanne Campbell during her chat with Skehan. And doesn't that just make you want to fill your kitchen with the aroma of baking cake? Here's one that will do the trick nicely: this deliciously crumbly Irish apple cake from the Feast magazine archives.

Betty's ambrosia cake

This is the cake that Skehan's grandmother, Elizabeth Ryan, makes for him when he pays her a visit in Season 2 of Donal's Kitchen Hero. It is a family favourite - "part of the family for years and years", she says. "I find it utterly simple and it's lovely to serve after your cheese course if you're having a meal. Also, it's lovely with afternoon tea... it's not too heavy, not too rich." 

Soda bread

"The beautiful 'ting about a bread like this is that it's so simple," says Skehan of this very traditional Irish recipe, where the leavening comes from the interaction of buttermilk and baking soda. Traditionally, a cross is marked into the loaf to put a blessing on the bread (and shaping it into four handy pieces for tearing apart after baking); and if you spot a version with a hole poked into each of the four quarters, well, that's to let the fairies out. 

Gur cake

"The usual way of using up stale bread for a dessert is bread and butter pudding, but another great traditional recipe is this gur cake," Skehan says. It's a cake that was common in Dublin in the 19th and early 20th century, as bakers turned their leftover bread or cake into something they could sell. The leftover cake, bread or sweet pastries are incorporated into a filling that is baked between two layers of pastry. 

Honey scones

"These Irish honey scones are a classic recipe and so delicious," says Donal Skehan. You can make round scones, or form them into wedge-shaped 'farls'. 

Dingle pies

Let's not forget the savoury side of Ireland's baking traditions! These round pies are a traditional favourite in Country Kerry, and especially the city of Dingle. Versions are often made with lamb these days, but traditionally mutton was used, and the round shape reflects their popularity through the years as a 'fairing' - food sold at fairs. Recipes for Dingle pies appear in many older Irish cookbooks, and this version, from Donal Skehan, is inspired by a recipe from The Pleasures of the Table: Rediscovering Theodora Fitzgibbon, a book about one of Ireland's leading cookery writers. This recipe uses mutton, but it's also a great way to use up leftover roast lamb or roast beef. 

Watch Donal's Kitchen Hero, with Ireland's Donal Skehan, weeknights 5:30pm from 16 March to 20 May on SBS Food Channel 33, then on SBS On Demand.

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