Michelle Darmody: Baking with raisins

Rum and raisin ice cream always seemed to be the perfect combination of sweet and boozy, the soft raisins bringing a delicate delight in each bite. Raisins, like any other dried fruit, are far sweeter than their juicer, pre-dried counterparts.

A raisin has a greater amount of fruit sugar than the grape from which it hails. This makes them interesting additions to recipes both savoury and sweet. At times raisins can taste gritty when eaten on their own. This simply means that the sugars inside have crystallised, it does not affect the end result in baking.

I still sometimes get confused between currants, sultanas, and raisins.

Sultanas are generally larger than raisins, they come from a generously sized grape. Currants come from different varieties of vine-grown grapes, which are smaller to begin with, hence currants are much smaller than either a sultana or raisin.

Some biscuits, like the Garibaldi, make use of the raisin’s chewy texture and without them the biscuit would be very plain.

Raisins can also be more subtle, like when they are kneaded through some white soda bread.

You could substitute the raisins with chocolate chips in the bread, or even make use of some leftover Easter chocolate.

Raisin soda bread

340g of plain flour

1 tsp of bread soda, sieved

1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg

Generous pinch of fine sea salt

290ml of buttermilk

120g of raisins

Preheat your oven to 220 degrees and lightly flour a flat baking tray.

Mix the flour, bread soda, nutmeg, and salt well in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and stir in the egg, mixing it completely with the flour. Add in the raisins and knead them through the dough with lightly floured hands.

Form into a round and tip it onto the prepared tray. Shape it into a round again and make a cross on the top with a long knife. Prick each corner if you wish (to let the fairies out).

Place into the oven and turn it down to 200C as soon as you place the dough into it. Bake for about 30 minutes or until it sounds hollow if you tap the base.

Garibaldi biscuits

110g of soft butter

100g of golden caster sugar

1 egg, separated

225g of plain flour

1 tsp of cake spice

3 tbsp of milk

70g of raisins

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees and line two flat baking trays with parchment.

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and add the yolk of the egg until combined. Add in the flour and cake spice until a dough is formed. Add the milk as needed so that the dough is stiff but will be easy enough to roll. Knead in the raisins and tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface.

Roll the dough out so that it is about 2mm in thickness. Cut into rectangles and lay them on the prepared baking trays.

Mix the egg white with the rest of the milk. Brush the biscuits with the mixture. Prick some holes in each one with a fork and bake for about 15 minutes until golden on top. Allow to cool on the tray until they are easy to handle then place onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Baked rum and raisin cheesecake

The raisins

150g of raisins

90mls of dark rum

The base

120g of dark chocolate digestive biscuits, crushed

80g of digestive biscuits, crushed

80g of butter, melted

½ tbsp of golden caster sugar

Melted butter for brushing

The topping

900g of cream cheese

3 tbsp of plain flour

220g of golden caster sugar

3 eggs and 1 extra yolk

200mls of sour cream

To decorate

100g of mixed nuts, roasted and chopped

20g of digestive biscuits crushed

Soak the raisins in the rum for at least an hour until they are soft and puffed up.

Line a 9 inch spring form cake tin and preheat your oven to 170 degrees.

Stir the chocolate and regular digestive biscuits with the melted butter and sugar and press into the base of the tin. Bake for ten minutes then remove and set aside. Once it has cooled brush the inside of the tin with melted butter.

Whisk the cream cheese with the flour, caster sugar and eggs. Add in the sour cream and once combined stir in the rum and raisins. Scoop the mixture into the tin and smooth out the top.

Turn up the oven to 200 degrees and bake you cheesecake for ten minutes. Reduce the temperature to 90 degrees and continue baking for a further 30 minutes, depending on your oven. The top should be almost solid with a very slight wobble in the centre. Allow to cool in the tin then gently remove.

Mix the roasted nuts and biscuits together and sprinkle them around the top of the cake before serving.

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