Saint Patrick's Day again - incredibly fast it seems. As always I've given a nod here to my favorite Irish author, the late Moira Laverty, who wrote so lovingly of the people and the goings-on in her small village, Ballyderrig.
...It seems unbelievable that there was a time, not so very long ago, when our village knew nothing of the intricacies of cake-making.
Now, American chocolate cookies and pineapple upside-down cake seem practically indigenous! It is Polly Sweeney who must be thanked for teaching Ballyderrig to rise above currant bread.
"I'm home to stay," Polly announced when she came back to us after working for 25 years as a cook in the States. It was difficult to credit that she would be willing to live in a quiet little place like ours after all those years abroad. She had been back a bare three months when she bought Humpy Hyland's little shop which had stood empty for years. Her grocery store flourished almost from the first, as did we all, from her culinary know-how. "Would you ever think of making cookies for a change?", she would ask a customer - and then the recipe would be scribbled out and handed along with your change.
That's not to say we entirely stopped baking the sweets that had be taught us by our grandmothers. Indeed, such a thought! Here are two for old time's sake.
PETTICOAT TAILS (a lovely shortbread)
(makes 3 dozen)
2-1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sifted granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 large egg, beaten
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, work the butter and flour together until you have the texture of small peas. Mix in the sugar and salt. Add the beaten egg and mix well. Although the mixture will be dry and crumbly, no other liquid should be added. Work the paste well with your hands to make it a cohesive mass (dough).
Cut dough into 4 equal parts and, using a rolling pin, form each into a round about 1/8-inch thick. In the center of each round, stamp out a circle with a 2-inch biscuit cutter. Cut the outside part into 8 equal segments. Lift carefully with a spatula onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake about 20 minutes. They should be very pale brown in color. Perfect with afternoon coffee or tea.
COLUMEILLE COOKIES (makes 2 dozen)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup or more whole milk
5 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts or walnuts
Powdered sugar for garnish
Heat oven to 450.
Sift all dry ingredients together and rub in the butter. Add the beaten egg and sufficient milk to make a soft but non-sticky dough. Turn onto a floured board and knead gently. With a rolling pin, roll out 1/4-inch-thick and cut into rounds with a 2-inch biscuit butter.
Make filling by creaming the honey with the butter and adding the nuts. Spread filling on half the rounds, cover with remaining rounds and press the edges together with the tines of a fork.
Place on a parchment-lined or nonstick cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes in the hot oven. Sprinkle tops lightly with powdered sugar.