I grew up my whole life thinking that my Irish family was from Sligo. That’s it. Just Sligo. I never grew up hearing about anywhere else. My one Irish ancestor who came direct from the Emerald Isle that I heard the most stories from/about passed away in 1936, she was my great-great-grandmother Winifred Macken (Mackin) née Mahon. She was poor, and came here and worked as a maid. Never learned to read or write. She was very secretive and didn’t like to talk about the past- this only adds to the air of mystery surrounding her in my mind. Including the fact that she was married twice and nobody was 100% sure of the names of either man. Anyway, it’s very possible that she was indeed from Sligo (I can’t find a trace of her anywhere either way), but the other Irish side that came here around the same time, the Kieran/Rooney’s, hailed directly from Louth. We have plenty of info on them, including the house that Jane Rooney (née Kieran) was born in, which is still standing.
Sufficient to say, however: I have no family (that I know of) from Donegal.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy their cakes. This recipe I found on Pinterest a long while back and never made. I’ve been saying to myself, “you have to make those” and then I never do. So today, here they are!!
They may not look like much, but they’re very tasty and an amazing vehicle to get cheese, jam or butter into your mouth. A good Irish cheddar on these is like heaven.
The key, however, is to letting them dry out completely before baking. I didn’t wait the entire hour because I’m impatient, and the cakes aren’t as crisp as I would like. They’re crispy, yes, but there isn’t a totally dry, satisfying snap when you break them in half. That is what you want. Almost along the lines of a hard tack. Except more appetizing and palatable. With no damage to dental work.
DONEGAL OATCAKES (from Darina Allen’s Irish Traditional Cooking: Over 300 Recipes from Ireland’s Heritage)
- 1 1/2 cups stone-ground oatmeal, preferably Macroom’s
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter or lard, cubed and chilled, plus butter for serving (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup boiling water
- Jam & butter, for serving (optional)
- Pulse oatmeal, flour, butter, and salt in a food processor until pea-size crumbles form. Add water; pulse until dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet.
- Press a sheet of parchment paper over dough and using a rolling pin, roll dough into a ½” thick square; cover with a kitchen towel and let sit 1 hour to dry slightly.
- Heat oven to 250°F. Using a 3″ round cutter, cut out cakes; gather and reuse scraps. Transfer cakes to a baking sheet; bake, flipping once, until golden and slightly crisp, 1 hour and 15 minutes. The more slowly it cooks, the better the flavor will be. Let cool slightly; serve with butter and jam, if you like.
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
You don’t have to use a round cutter, even though that’s the norm. You can use any basic cutter you like. A shamrock is perfectly acceptable in my eyes. A scalloped edge is cute, too. Or you can just use a drinking glass and get on with your day. Oh- and these will be very hard & crisp if you’ve done them right. If serving to kids, make sure they’re slathered in butter or used like a Zwieback.
Yes, you can have them with a Guinness just as easily as you can have them with tea. Also great with wine and cheese and cured meats just as good as it is with jam, plain butter or clotted cream (yuck). I personally ate three in a row with thick slices of Cracker Barrel Aged Reserve. Happily.
If you’re interested in other delicious, substantial and hearty Irish breads/cakes, here are a few:
- authentic Irish soda bread
- Irish soda muffins with Jameson soaked raisins
- Irish soda cake
- basic Irish soda bread
- Irish apple cake