I don’t know that corned beef and cabbage is the best thing to serve on St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t even know for certain that the Irish are all that fond of the stuff. But it’s like this: you can serve Irish Stew, but that tastes a lot like, well, stew–the stuff I cook up every month or so in the winter. Nothing all that Irish about it.

And so it goes with Salmon Filets or Beef Tenderloin, or any number of things you might find to eat in Ireland.

But I never cook corned beef and cabbage (with potatoes and mustard seeds), unless it’s St. Patrick’s Day. I’m a traditionalist at heart, and that’s our tradition, this side of the pond.

It’s the bread I make with it that I’m sure is authentic, must be authentic, to judge by its hard-bitten exterior. It’s Barmbrack: a hard-crusted bread with the outward texture of the stones the Irish used to build their abbeys and castles and Celtic crosses.

Don’t let that discourage you. When you cut it open (and that will take work) you’ll find inside something sweet and fragrant and wonderful:


4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon dry or granulated yeast
(do not substitute cake yeast)
1 1/4 cups milk
2 eggs, well beaten
1 1/2 cups seedless raisins
1 cup chopped dried currants
(or substitute dried prunes, dried apricots, or dried peaches)
1/4 cup candied orange peel or lemon peel
melted butter to brush top of bread, optional

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, F.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and nutmeg; cut in the butter. Add the sugar and yeast.

Warm the milk slightly, until lukewarm, and mix in the eggs; add to the dry ingredients and beat with a spoon until the dough is stiff but pliable.

Fold in the raisins, currants, and orange or lemon peel.

Shape dough into a round ball and place in a well-greased and floured 9-inch round baking pan that is at least 3 inches deep. (Dough should fill the pan halfway.) Press down as needed to spread dough evenly in the pan. Cover with a dry cloth and set in a warm place to rise until dough is double in bulk, about 1 hour.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes, then reduce oven to 350 degrees F and continue baking for the balance of an hour.

Remove from the oven and immediately turn out onto a rack to cool, right side up.

Brush with butter, if you wish. Serve at room temperature, thinly sliced.

Makes 1 loaf.

(This recipe comes fromThe Pioneer Lady’s Country Kitchen, by Jane Watson Hopping–a history and cookbook in one. I recommend it!)