Celebrate Christmas with these Traditional Irish Desserts
A single candle burns in the window, casting its embrace onto the street and letting all travelers know they are welcome. In honor of Mary and Joseph looking for shelter, this is just one Christmas tradition that demonstrates the kindness and hospitality of the Irish people. There is also the Laden Table—a practice dating back centuries of setting a loaf of bread and a pitcher of milk on your table on Christmas Eve. Those who are truly feeling the warmth of the season may opt for a chilly dip into the Forty Foot, a famous swimming spot in Dublin, on Christmas Day.
The joy is felt all around—from pubs bustling with life and music to homes filled with family and friends. As the year draws to a close, it is the perfect time to take stock of all that we cherish, share our blessings, and look forward to the new year and all that it will bring.
While the days may be getting shorter, the Irish people stretch the Christmas celebration out as long as possible. And why shouldn’t they? With warm tidings, good cheer and hearty food—oh, the food!—who wouldn’t like this season to last a little bit longer?
Christmas officially begins on December 8th with Mairgead Mór, also known as Big Fair day or the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is the day when most Irish families will trim their Christmas tree, but some will start preparing for the arrival of Jesus on the first Sunday of Advent, which often falls before December 8th, or shopping for presents and preparing spice mixes for cooking as early as October. The festivities continue in Christmas markets all across Ireland, most notably in Belfast, Galway and Cork, and family parties all leading up to Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is when the season is fully upon us all. Many look forward to Wren’s Day on December 26th even more than Christmas when wrenboys, the seasonal name for crowds of revelers, parade through the streets playing music and “hunting” for a wren. Finally, on January 6th, it is time to observe Nollaig na mBan, or Little Christmas, when the women get to enjoy a well-earned break and the men take care of the household chores and cooking for the day.
In order to help us get in the spirit this year, our good friend, Margaret M. Johnson, was kind enough to share two of her favorite yuletide recipes with us from her 13th cookbook, Festive Flavors of Ireland. Grab your apron and rolling pin, roll up your sleeves, and dust your palms with flour, it’s time to get baking. Be careful, the sweet smell wafting from your kitchen may just attract a few carolers singing “Christmas in Killarney” or “The Holly Tree” looking for a treat.
Nollaig shona dhuit!
It simply would not be Christmas in Ireland without mincemeat and what better way to show your love for those around you than making mincemeat from scratch. Vegetarians need not worry—though this recipe was first created as a way to preserve meat and fruits during the winter months, mincemeat has evolved over time to become a mixture of delicious fruit and spices.
This recipe makes roughly 2 cups of mincemeat which can be used to make the Irish favorite mincemeat pies (recipe below) or even eaten by the spoonful!
¼ cup sultanas (golden raisins)
¼ cup currants
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup candied mixed peel, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped candied cherries
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and shredded
¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 tablespoons fresh white breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons dark rum
1. In a large bowl, combine sultanas, currants, raisins, minced peel, cherries, lemon zest and juice, orange zest and juice, apple, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, breadcrumbs, brady, and rum; stir thoroughly. Cover; let stand at room temperature for at least 24 hours. Stir in additional brandy or rum, if desired.
2. Spoon into clean jars; cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
“These star-studded little tarts are the stuff of which Christmas is made,” says Margaret. There’s no doubt about that. Apart from gingerbread, which we will get to in just a moment, there are few flavors that can trigger gastronomic memories of the holidays stronger than mincemeat tarts.
Margaret’s recipe results in 12 tarts—12 tarts for the 12 days of Christmas, but we’ll be shocked if the batch lasts even one day in our house!
2 cups flour
½ cup ground almonds
5 ounces chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Grated zest of 1 orange
¼ cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons ice water
1 cup homemade or prepared mincemeat
1 large egg white, beaten
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
1. Make pastry. Combine flour, almonds, butter, zest, and sugar in a food processor. Pulse 8 to 10 times, or until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg yolk and water; process for 20 to 30 seconds, or until dough comes together.
2. Form dough into a ball and then flatten into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Dust a work surface with flour. Return dough to floured surface; roll out to a ⅛-inch-thick round. With a 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out 12 rounds. Put rounds into cups of 1 standard cupcake pan. Reroll scraps; with a star-shaped cookie cutter, cut out 12 small stars.
4. Spoon mincemeat into pastry shells; top each with a star. Brush stars and tart edges with egg white.
5. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden and filling is bubbling. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
If you’re looking for a shortcut to turning your kitchen into a winter wonderland, look no further than Margaret’s mouthwatering gingerbread cake. It’s even possible that you have all of the ingredients already in your pantry, just waiting to be mixed up and baked into a holiday dessert for all.
6 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups (packed) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup molasses
2 ½ cups flour
2 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup water
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a 10-inch bundt pan with baking spray with flour.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition; beat in molasses.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in three additions, alternating with water; mix until combined. Transfer to prepared pan.
4. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes; loosen cake from pan and invert onto rack. Let cool completely.
Bring the Taste of Ireland Home
We all want dessert before dinner, but don’t forget to load up with your favorite treats from Tommy Moloney’s! Fill your stockings with premium meats like authentic Black Pudding and Back Bacon Rashers or show how much you care with a bursting basket filled with everything you need for a genuine Irish feast.