Friday, January 9, 2015

Nellie's Sweet Caraway Luncheon Loaf

Good for more than just your next luncheon!

So, I have two things to apologize for. First, I'm not actually technically done with the holiday posts yet, and two, this should have gone up three days ago. Oh well, real life comes first!

The reason this should have gone up three days ago is that the sixth of January is Little Christmas, or the Feast of the Epiphany. It's celebrated in a lot of different ways all over the world, but in Ireland, some families have adopted a pretty nice tradition they call Women's Little Christmas. Why? Because after wives, moms, aunts and grandmas break their backs over the holiday season (and the rest of the year), Women's Little Christmas is a day where their husbands and male relatives take on the household chores and dote on them. They're taken out to lunch, given presents and get together with their female friends to chat and catch up. Mother's Day is starting to replace this tradition, but it's still practiced in several parts of Ireland as it has been for generations.

Although there isn't much documentation about how this tradition got started, it's an old one, and one I'd never heard of before doing some research for this blog. Because of that, I was excited to find a recipe to help showcase it here!

So, what does one make on Little Christmas? No offense to my dad, but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be baking any tea treats if we celebrated this day that way - I'm pretty sure we'd grill something or make jambalaya, or just go out to dinner! But if you're planning on having a sort of Mother's Day tea or having a few friends over, you can't go wrong with including this traditional Irish tea bread on the menu, which actually has a lot in common with Irish soda bread. I'd say this is sort of a classier soda bread, with a lot more body and slightly different flavors than your traditional Irish soda bread.

I found this recipe on and it can be accessed here! It's a pretty standard recipe, and I've made enough tea cakes and quick breads to feel pretty confident whipping together treats like this. Of course, I'm still careful with measurements and other things, because I don't want to cause some kind of fiasco, but on the whole, I feel like I've got this. Even though this recipe used weight as a measurement instead of volume, I felt pretty comfortable just diving right in and seeing what happened.

You start off by cutting six ounces of butter into a pound of flour, two heaping teaspoons of baking powder and a quarter teaspoon of salt. Add two ounces of candied fruit peel, six ounces of sugar and two teaspoons of caraway seeds to this mixture and mix them all together. Then, add two beaten eggs and twelve fluid ounces of milk (or buttermilk) and mix everything together. You don't want to over mix so your butter is still nice and chunky, but it doesn't take long to get a nice, workable batter.
The only major deviation I made from the recipe was adding in orange zest instead of the candied orange peel. I couldn't find any at the store, didn't want to make my own, and decided to just add the zest of an orange and see what happened. I'd like to make it again when I have more enthusiasm for either making my own peel or hunting it down at another grocery store!

My only complaint about this recipe is that it doesn't specify what size loaf pan you need to actually bake your loaf in. This might not seem like a big deal, but we only own two loaf pans and they're basically the same size - I think one might be very slightly longer and deeper than the other. I knew I had too much batter to dump all of it in one pan, but I still didn't really know how much would be too much. After my accident with the raisin nut bread baked in coffee cans, I was very wary of letting anything overflow in the oven again, so after some worrying over it, I decided this was hopefully safe enough:

It baked in the oven for an hour and a half at 375 degrees. I've had some issues making cakes like this before, in that my oven always seems to take forever to cook the centers through or gets it perfect on the first try, and this time, it decided it wanted to cook the thing perfectly so my tester came out clean on the first go. Thanks, oven!

You're left with a pretty looking loaf of cakey bread (which fortunately didn't overflow or weld itself to the top of my oven, although it definitely came close to the second part) that's pretty much ready to be eaten as soon as it won't burn the roof of your mouth!

This is definitely something I could see being served at tea time. Unlike a few of the other loafs, cakes and tea breads I've made, this one has a crust that's substantial without feeling like you're sawing through a block of wood when you cut it. The cake itself has a nice body to it, not quite dense, but close, and mine was nice and moist in the middle.

Without the candied orange peel, it definitely looks a little less exciting than it would if I'd been able to include it, but the zest was still noticeable. It gave it a nice hint of orangey flavor, and stopped this from seeming like soda bread without the raisins. That said, if you want a denser soda bread, throwing in some raisins to this recipe will give you something that tastes pretty similar and has the texture you're looking for. It was sweet without being too sweet, and my mom said she'd even consider using it as a base for an actual sandwich, not just as an accompaniment to tea or as a dessert.

So, next time you're looking for something to treat your mom, grandma, aunt or other important lady in your life, give this a shot. It's tasty, something different, authentically historical, and would have been right at home in the O'Malley household, before or after Nellie and her siblings were adopted by Gard and Cornelia.

It tastes pretty good with butter or jam, too!


  1. This is cute! My mom is not a fan of soda bread, so she probably wouldn't be a fan of this either but I love the idea! Thanks for sharing :)

    1. You're welcome! Bummer she wouldn't like it, but I do get it, haha. It took me a while to genuinely like soda bread - the one I made last year for St. Patrick's Day was the first one I genuinely liked!

  2. I'm declaring a new tradition at our household. What a lovely idea to honor the women in your life! The tea bread sounds interesting, too.

    1. It's definitely nice! We should all do stuff like this more often.