Decadence In A Dish For Saint Patrick's Day

I am all for festive food, but is it just me or does St. Paddy’s Day always seem a little…green? As I reviewed the Saint Patrick's Day–inspired recipes on Pinterest, I realized that while all of it felt very fun and lighthearted, it didn’t tell us anything about Ireland, except reinforce stereotypes (like rainbows and leprechauns). So, I decided to do a little digging to discover some real Irish culinary history that would inspire a recipe post for today.

I quickly became obsessed and found myself falling down a research rabbit hole, digging up information from ninth-century Ireland — probably as far back as I'd be able to get. However, my epic investigation sadly yielded little inspiration for a celebratory post. For example, according to Gwerin: A Half-Yearly Journal of Folk Life, a typical monastic meal in ninth-century Ireland was “gruel upon water, gruel between two waters and gruel under water.” OOOOOK. But, come on, guys — what about when there's cause for celebration? This is a party! “On Sundays and holydays a bit of wheaten bread and a piece of boiled salmon.” Sigh.
Photo courtesy of Tara Fisher

While the idea of gruel does not really whet my appetite, I was pleased to find that two of my favorite things have been a staple of the Irish diet for many centuries: bread and butter. Though that in itself is not the most thrilling discovery ever, I did get really excited when I saw that the Irish city of Cork used to have something called the butter exchange, which was the largest butter market in the world of its time — i.e., the most divine place ever. In fact, the city of Cork has an entire museum devoted to butter. (In case you're wondering, France seemingly does not.)

So, how to encapsulate this newfound knowledge in a recipe? We turned to Irish chef Clodagh McKenna to help create this insanely delicious Salted Caramel Whiskey Bread and Butter Pudding with Golden Raisins. When you bake this up, know that you are making something that is truly part of Irish history — a great way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Salted Caramel Whiskey Bread and Butter Pudding with Golden Raisins
Serves 6 

2/3 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup Irish whiskey
5 extra-large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 to 9 slices firm white bread, crusts left on
3 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing

For the Salted Caramel Whiskey Sauce
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp sea salt
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup Irish whiskey

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and grease an 8 1/2-inch square nonreactive baking dish.

2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine the golden raisins and whiskey, and let soak for 1 hour.

3. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, cream, sugar, spices, and vanilla to make a custard. Spread one side of each slice of bread with the butter. Cut the slices in half diagonally, and arrange half of the bread in the bottom of the baking dish, overlapping the slices. Drain the raisins, and sprinkle half over the bread. Repeat with the remaining bread and raisins. Pour the custard over the bread, and let soak for 30 minutes.

4. Place the baking dish in a large baking pan. Add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake in the oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the pudding is set and the top is golden. Remove the baking dish from the water bath and let cool slightly on a wire rack.

5. Make the salted caramel whiskey sauce: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Beat in the sugar, sea salt, cream, and whiskey. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Serve the pudding warm with the salted caramel whiskey sauce spooned over each serving.                        

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