Curnie cake conjures up childhood memories of Sunday drives to visit my grand-aunt, Mrs Tobin, and her husband, Uncle Mick, on their dairy farm in Kilbride, Co Carlow.

She was an amazing baker and had a huge Aga in her kitchen where she would make soda breads, apple tarts, coffee cake and of course curnie cake. With all the baked goodies and the fresh-from-the-cow milk taken straight from the churn, it’s no wonder I have great memories of our visits there.

This bake seems to have lots of regional names (fruit soda bread, spotted dog or railway cake) and lots of people have their own name for it, like nanny bread, or it’s even named after the person who made it, like Mrs O’Donnell Bread. But to me, it will always be curnie cake.

Curnie cake

Serves 8

450g plain flour

25g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on top

1 tsp salt

1 tsp bread soda

25g butter, chilled and diced

100g dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, currants or a mix)

350ml buttermilk

1 medium egg, beaten

1 Preheat the oven to 180°C fan. Prepare a baking sheet by lightly dusting it with a little plain flour.

2 Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

3 Add the butter and rub it together with your fingertips until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Gently mix in the dried fruit.

4 Add the buttermilk and use a table knife to mix together to form a rough dough, then use your hands to gently bring the dough together and shape into a 20cm round.

5 Put the loaf on the baking sheet and cut a deep cross on the top. Brush the top with the beaten egg, but try not to get any into the cut lines.

6 Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, then turn the bread upside down and cook for a further 10 minutes.

7 To check it’s baked, tap the bottom of the bread – it should sound hollow when fully cooked.

8 Wrap in a clean tea towel while it’s cooling to stop the crust getting too hard.

Variations: current (not currant!) cake

The previous recipe for curnie cake gets its name (I think!) from the currants that would have traditionally been in it. Here are some of my ideas for modern twists that simply replace the dried fruit in the previous recipe.

Apricot, almond and dark chocolate

Add 20g cocoa powder to the dry ingredients. Replace the dried fruit with 75g sliced dried apricots, 75g dark chocolate chips and 20g flaked almonds. Add ½ teaspoon almond extract to the wet ingredients and sprinkle some extra flaked almonds on top before baking.

Cheddar and marmalade

The sweet bitterness of marmalade is such a good contrast to a strong mature Cheddar cheese. Leave out the sugar from the currant cake recipe, then add 80g grated mature cheddar and the zest of one orange before adding the wet ingredients. Stir two large tablespoons of marmalade into the wet ingredients before adding them to the dry.

Roast squash and maple syrup

Peel a butternut squash and cut it into 2cm dice. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with two tablespoons maple syrup and one teaspoon mixed spice, tossing to coat. Place the squash on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and roast in a hot oven (200°C) for 15 minutes. Allow to cool before adding to the dry ingredients just before you add the buttermilk. Sprinkle some pumpkin seeds on top of the bread just before baking.

Green olive, white chocolate and lemon

I know this combination sounds completely out there, but think about it – you often see dark chocolate and sea salt paired together. In that same vein, the slightly savoury, salty taste of the olives works so well with the sweet floral notes of the white chocolate. Don’t use the butter in the original curnie cake recipe and instead add 25ml olive oil with the wet ingredients.

Use 75g sliced green olives, 75g white chocolate chips and the zest of one lemon instead of the dried fruit.

Bake by Graham Herterich recipes

Recipes from Bake: Traditional Irish Baking with Modern Twists by Graham Herterich. Available from 8 September, €25, at all good bookshops and many independent

retailers as well as online at

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