Morbid Meals – Irish Wake Cake

One of the traditions of attending an Irish wake is to take something to feed and comfort the family during their grief. Even if the family doesn’t practice “sitting up with the dead“, a potluck gathering often is held to remember the deceased. One such dish is an Irish Wake Cake.

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EXAMINATION
This recipe is adapted from another one of my odd cookbooks, DEATH WARMED OVER, by Lisa Rogak. It is an interesting collection of recipes and customs surrounding feasts for funerals and for the dead themselves from 75 different cultures and religions. As a taphophile, I am fascinated by the many various practices of mourning the dead. Sharing food is just one way to ease the burden of those survive the loss of loved ones. Another interesting fact, pointed out in this book, is that most people eat a lot more food at funerals than they do at weddings.
 
So rather than talk about catering, instead, we return to a simple wake and the idea of bringing a dish over to visit, reminisce, and share a life and a meal together. This “Irish Wake Cake” is a fine variation of an Irish cream cheese pound cake. It is is simple, rich, and delicious.
 
ANALYSIS
Serves: 10
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3 oz cream cheese
1 3/4 cups cake flour, sifted (roughly 6 oz by weight)
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup dried currants or raisins
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp lemon juice

Apparatus
Electric mixer with mixing bowl
9 inch loaf pan
Small bowl
Cooling rack
 
Procedure
  1. Preheat your oven to 325 F degrees.
  2. In the mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla together.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the cream cheese, mixing until thoroughly combined.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, mixing until thoroughly combined.
  5. Gradually add buttermilk and mix until you have a smooth batter with no lumps, then fold in the currants.
  6. Pour the batter into a greased 9-inch loaf pan.
  7. Place the pan on the center rack in your oven and bake for about 1 hour 20-25 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean for a test.
  8. Remove to a cooling rack and let the cake cool down for 15 minutes.
  9. In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice, then drizzle that icing over the cake while it is still warm. Let the cake cool down however before serving it.
  10. Slice the cake and serve with a dollop of clotted cream or whipped cream.
 
DISSECTION
There is a lot of dairy and fat, but substitutions will probably not work as well. You may be able to use margarine instead of butter and soy milk instead of buttermilk. There’s even vegan “cream cheese”. The ratios for everything might need a little tweak here and there if you go that route.
 
If you can’t find cake flour, you could use all-purpose flour. The difference is that cake flour is milled to be finer and it also has less gluten, which means your cake will be light and fluffy, instead of dense like bread. If you are going the gluten-free route, use a 2:1 mix of flour to starch (like 4 oz superfine rice flour and 2 oz tapioca starch).
 
I did have trouble finding currants but I didn’t want to use raisins. Instead, I found these incredible blueberry-infused dried cranberries. Those were very tasty and worked well with the tangy, lemony glaze.
 
I discovered that other recipes for Irish pound cake use Irish cream liqueur instead of the buttermilk, also instead of the lemon juice for the icing. Depending on who you are baking the cake for, that might be a welcome change to the recipe.
 
POST-MORTEM
This recipe came together so fast, I didn’t really have time to take photos of the steps. That’s how easy it is to make this cake. The hardest part was waiting for it to bake.
 
I served it with a little homemade whipped cream. Clotted cream would have been better, but that stuff takes forever to make.
 
This cake is so good, trust me, you will be finding reasons to bake it. People die all the time, after all. Good food is a beautiful way to honor the dead and celebrate life.
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