At our Cider Table, we love to celebrate holidays in appropriately themed ways. It's a fun way to experience different cultures through food and engage the kids in some learnin'. St. Patrick's Day is one of our favorites. Irish food is hearty and feels right in March in Pittsburgh, and the holiday gives Mike the chance to teach the kids a thing or two about Irish history.
So what did we eat?
Corned beef made easy by Trader Joe's, whose pre-corned beef gets topped off with water before spending the day low and slow in the crock pot. Beth always insists on a big pot of colcannon—mashed potatoes with cabbage, green onion, and loads of salted Irish butter.
We went off-script for the beverage, pouring a Red Newt Semi-Dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes. Though there's a newt on the bottle, this fragrant, fruity wine is a chameleon, pairing well with just about any food. Most notably in this case, it has just enough crisp acidity to cut all the that butter you see above.
We brought cider to the table with an Irish cider and cheddar bread that puts a little spin on something you've probably all had before: beer bread.
Beer breads are simple fare, quick breads leavened with baking soda rather than yeast. They come together in a blink and are best served still warm from the oven. Beer adds flavor and the necessary liquid.
As we discussed in a previous post, beer and cider have a lot in common, so subbing the latter for the former in a recipe is rarely a dangerous move. With the addition of cheese, this substitution makes even more sense. Apples and cheese are great friends. Don't believe us? Spread some apple butter on a thick slice of sourdough and top it with smoked gouda. Mix some cheddar in to your pie crust next time you make an apple pie. Or you can trust us. We wouldn't lie to you.
The only Irish cider we can find in our area—and you can probably find it wherever you are, as it is one of the largest global cider brands—is Magner's. Too sweet for us for every day drinking, Magner's works well as the base for this bread. The borderline cloying sweetness means you don't need to add any sugar to your mix (many beer breads call for a tablespoon or two ), while the fruit-forward profile brings an apple-y undertone to the finished loaf.
Making this bread even more Irish, we added a healthy handful of shredded Irish cheddar in the dough, then topped it with more.
The end result is a dense, chewy loaf, more akin to a savory scone than an artisan loaf of bread. When we make this again, we may throw in some crispy bacon or a few jalapenos. Or perhaps some chipotles in adobo. Shredded or diced apple might be a nice touch if you want to go a little sweeter.
Next time you are looking for an easy, starchy, Irish-y side, grab a bottle of cider and put this on your table.
Recipe for Irish Cider and Cheddar Bread
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups Irish cheddar cheese, shredded and divided (1 cup and 1/2 cup)
12 ounce bottle Magner's cider
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
Irish butter, for serving
Prep your loaf pan with butter and flour (or to make it easy, use cooking spray with flour). Preheat oven to 350.
Get a big bowl and put all your dry ingredients in: flour, salt, baking powder. Whisk it together. Mix in 1 cup of the shredded cheddar. Pour in the cider, carefully, and mix briefly until it looks and feels like dough.
Dump the dough in to your prepared loaf pan. Drizzle with the butter. It looks like a lot, and it is. But roll with it. Butter is always good. Sprinkle over the remaining 1/2 cup of cheddar.
Bake for 40 minutes, then check with a toothpick near the center of the loaf. If it comes out clean, pull it out. If it comes out sticky, let it go for another 5 or 10 minutes.
Cool slightly, slice, and slather with Irish butter.