Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick´s Sponge Cakes

Around the 800´s, Celtic monks on the island of Iona, between Scotland and Ireland, created a calligraphy masterpiece of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in color. They used 10 different colors and only left two out of 680 pages in black and white. 

You can visit monasteries in different locations in Ireland, where it is easier to imagine the monks´lifestyle and how they might have been inspired enough to create this kaleidoscope of celtic handwriting. At the idyllic Glendalough Lake, which resembles a painting of a peaceful body of water lined by tall picturesque pine trees on either side, the ruins of a stone tower and other buildings beckon visitors to walk through them to experience the tranquillity their previous inhabitants felt daily (especially when they weren´t being invaded by Vikings). 
The Book itself can be seen in Dublin, at Trinity College (, which was founded by Elizabeth I. Its library, full of priceless antiques, features their country´s most prized possession in a very long room that reminds one of a long dining table, or an Italian museum hall filled with statues of Roman emperors. It has large shelves against its walls, brimming with books, and along the center, you can find a line of busts of Irish celebrities who were alumni of the college, such as Jonathan Swift, whose grave can be found in St. Patrick´s Cathedral.

 This now Anglican Cathedral, built in 1191 out of gray stones, has intricate woodwork decorations inside. It was erected on the site where Patrick baptized those who had converted to the Catholic religion in a plain wooden chapel. 
Inside of the St. Patrick´s Cathedral

History of the Dessert
These sponge cakes are traditionally eaten on  St. Patrick´s Day, in Ireland. They were originally cooked in a tin that produced small cakes in the shape of shamrocks, but the cakes can also be decorated by applying shamrock shapes with frosting. Some may wonder why the design involves three-leaf clovers, rather than the four-leaf version. It probably has to do with the fact that St. Patrick used three-leaf clovers to represent the Holy Trinity. In case you were wondering, the four-leaf version truly exists! They don´t only appear in Ireland, though. The first and only four-leaf clovers I have ever found were in a cloud forest in El Salvador, in Central America. Some people say that the chances of finding them are 1 in 10000. However, there are farms in the U.S. that grow them to later turn them into charms by sealing them in plastic.
The first leaf on a four-leaf clover stands for faith; the second, for hope; third, love; and the fourth, luck. 

Recipe (from and the book Irish Teatime Recipes. England: J. Salmon Limited.

2 oz. butter
2 oz. granulated sugar
1 egg
2 oz. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
Dash of vanilla
White glacé icing
Green food coloring

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat egg and stir into butter mixture a little at a time. Sift flour and baking powder together and fold in. Place 6 paper cake cases into                        muffin tins and divide mixture between them. Bake for 15 minutes until they have risen and are golden. Cool on wire rack.
Set a bit of the icing aside and color it green. Coat the cakes with the remainder and let it set for a few hours. Place the green icing in a bag with a piping nozzle and pipe a small shamrock in the center of each cake. Make the outline for the shamrock first, then fill with green icing.

Glacé Icing Recipe                                                                                
2 oz. icing sugar
1/2 tbsp. water, or1 tbsp. water

Glacé Icing
Irish Teatime Recipes. England: J. Salmon Limited.

Other recipes I haven´t tried yet for Glace Icing:

1/2 cup confectioner´s sugar
1/2 tbsp. boiling water
1/2 tbsp. soft butter
1 cup confectioner´s sugar
3.3 g butter
1 tsp. milk   Stir for five minutes until heated.
1.25 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp. milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla

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