Happy Saint Patrick’s Day all! Back in Milwaukee where I am from, we have a huge Irish immigrant population that goes crazy during this holiday. The neighboring city of Chicago even adds green dye to the river! So coloring bagels, cakes, and beer should not seem so strange. The color green is everywhere, as is Irish Whiskey and Irish Cream. This week’s recipe features all three!
The word “whiskey” comes from the Gaelic words uisce beatha, which translates as “water of life.” Distillation, the process of boiling and condensing a liquid, has been used since the second century C.E, perhaps starting in ancient Mesopotamia. It was first used to make perfumes and incense. Distillation spread throughout Europe during the centuries that followed. Believe it or not, you may thank monks, who are believed to be the first to use the process to create alcohol from grapes (although theirs was for medicinal purposes). As barley was readily available in Ireland, monks distilled the grain instead of grapes to create the first whiskey.
When King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries as head of the new Church of England (following his separation from the Catholic Church to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn), Irish monks brought their centuries-old whiskey techniques with them. The monks shared their knowledge with the public, and whiskey production expanded throughout the country. Early whiskey was less smooth and more raw, although this changed gradually over time as aging became part of the whiskey-making process.
Early Irish immigrants brought whiskey to the United States, where it played a crucial role in shaping the new nation. The beverage was often used as a form of currency and trade. In 1791, farmers distilling corn and other grains to make whiskey were subject to a new tax implemented by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who was trying to generate revenue to help cover the cost of the Revolutionary War. Farmers in Pennsylvania protested the tax, claiming that it was taxation without representation, just like the Boston Tea Party. The resulting confrontation, known as the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, became one of the first tests of the new democracy’s (and President George Washington’s) ability to enforce its laws.
Please note that the tax was later repealed during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency.
Who knew a bottle contained so much history? And that its contents could be so delicious in baking?
Today’s recipe, as you will see, is a perfect example of how cooking is sometimes unpredictable. We tried a green velvet cake. Red velvet cake actually began as a simple chocolate cake in which the cocoa, buttermilk, and vinegar reacted to produce a red color in the batter. The bright red cake that we think of today has been enhanced with alot of red food coloring. In theory, one could add any color to the batter instead of red. When we tried green, however, we used a bit too much cocoa and not enough green dye. The result was a cake that tastes delicious (as I eat another slice), but is only slightly green in color. We made up for the color in the frosting though!
For further reading
Magee, Malachy. Irish Whiskey: A 1000 Year Tradition, 2nd Edition. Ireland: O’Brien Press, 2001.
Growing up, my dad tried making my lunches more exciting by adding the appropriate food coloring to my cottage cheese on holidays: pink for Valentine’s Day, green for St. Patrick’s Day, blue whenever he felt like it. The only low point came when he tried adding red coloring to my sandwiches…the bread looked like it was bleeding or coming down with chicken pox. Anyway, I digress.
Food coloring should be seen as a bit of an experiment. When I make red velvet cake, I use a full 1 oz bottle of dye. Since the green is darker, I went with closer to half a bottle. I would recommend buying the 1 oz bottle, and then adding in gradually until you find the color you like. A few drops of yellow will also make the color more vibrant.
Green Velvet Cake
3 cups flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup Irish whiskey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 (1-ounce) bottle green food coloring
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
Directions: In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, cream sugar and butter. Add the eggs, one at the time, and continue mixing. Add the buttermilk, whiskey, vanilla, and vinegar. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the mixture. Also begin adding the food coloring in increments to see how much you want. We used about half a bottle for this cake. Bake in a 350 degree oven in 2 round 9inch greased pans for about 30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool before removing from pans.
You were probably wondering why I didn’t mention Bailey’s earlier. As it turns out, Bailey’s Irish Cream wasn’t invented until 1974, so is pretty recent. Irish cream contains cream, and of course, Irish whiskey.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
7 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 pinch table salt
7 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish cream
3 tablespoons Irish Whiskey
1 tablespoon milk or water
Directions: Cream butter, salt, and sugar. Mix other ingredients. You may add more or less liquid based on consistency.
Flatten one of the cakes by slicing off the uneven surface with a breadknife. Place this layer on a plate. Start to frost on top of layer one and on sides.
Add Layer two and continue frosting. Enjoy!