The test of any Irish baker is soda bread: the raisin-filled and caraway-scented loaf, served warm with butter in the dank cold of the Irish countryside, is a symbol of hospitality. Johnson has judged two serious soda bread competitions and, naturally, the recipe she features in this, her third cookbook, is her mother's. It is a simple recipe with classic proportions and yields a bread that is slightly sweet, slightly cakey and, when slathered with butter, irresistible. Lest readers think that Irish baking begins and ends with soda bread, however, Johnson leads readers through 80 accessible and mostly traditional desserts, from a Celtic Apple Crisp to a Christmas Cake that can and should be made two months in advance, nurtured every week with fresh whisky. One or two recipes call for mead (fermented honey) or less common Irish spirits, but otherwise, Johnson has designed this book for the home chef who has no need for exotic ingredients. Simply written, each recipe is preceded by a paragraph offering details on cooking lore or suggestions for pairing and substitutions. Numerous elegant photographs of the dishes are interspersed with shots of Irish gardens or country manors. Occasionally, the simplicity falters, as when several recipes for brown bread are confusingly cluttered together on the page. The busiest-sounding recipe, Soda Bread Tarte Tatin with Cashel Blue and Cider Ice, taken from Derry Clarke's L'Ecrivain restaurant in Dublin, looks interesting but ends up nearly inedible: a meager helping of caramel apples with a risen, cakey crust, garnished with an unpleasant mixture of blue cheese and lemon sorbet. While many recipes are conventional and not necessarily even Irish (c.f., Pear Tart with Almond Cream), this book would still be valuable if only for the holiday recipes and the solid soda bread.
Reviewed on: 09/06/2004 Release date: 09/01/2004 Genre: Nonfiction