Darina Allen: Gourmet Parlour Praline Cake

THE National Organic Centre in Co Leitrim is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

The original concept was the vision of Rod Alston, one of Ireland’s organic pioneers who still lives close by. 

It was he who asked me to join the board of the Organic Centre in 1995, which I did for a number of years and I’ve been a patron ever since.

Recently, we packed up the van and drove north to Rossinver, passing through Cork, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, Longford, Westmeath, Leitrim, Cavan and home via Sligo.

Over the years, The Organic Centre has built up the fertility of the soil in a 19-acre block of very marginal land close to Rossinver.

There are extensive herb and vegetable gardens, as well as fruit orchards with 50 native Irish apples, pears, plums and cherries specially selected to thrive in the north-east. 

There’s a brilliant horticultural community garden scheme where locals can use the facilities, both raised bed and tunnels and tap into the considerable expertise of the Organic Centre team to grow some of their own vegetables, fruit and fresh herbs. 

For every hour they spend in the garden they donate an hour’s work to the Organic Centre and help to pot up and plant seedlings for sale, a brilliant and mutually beneficial concept.

They run a year-long Organic Horticulture Full-time Fetac Level 5 course and regular short courses on a variety of topics including: willow workshop; home preserving; first aid from the garden; fermented and cultured food; grow your own fruit; building a cob oven; foraging for wild herbs and plants. Hans’s wife Gaby also runs courses on fermentation, cheesemaking and sourdough. ( www.theorganiccentre.ie)

We were close to Blacklion so we couldn’t pass up Neven Maguire’s kind invitation to dine in his restaurant. It was packed with glamorous diners in celebratory mood. 

Many had booked months ahead to celebrate a birthday or anniversary and weren’t disappointed by the highly skilled and exotic food that Neven’s chef Glen Wheeler and his talented young team prepared for dinner.

Many stayed overnight in MacNean House and the Neven’s lovely cookery School is next door. ( www.nevenmaguire.com)

In Sligo three of our former students have cafes, and bakeries. Catherine Farrell and Annette Burke at Gourmet Parlour in Bridge Street are celebrating 25 years in business. 

The shelves and display case were packed with delicious cakes, bread and plump sandwiches and there was a queue. ( www.gourmetparlour.com)

David Dunne of Café Knox in O’Connell Street also gets great reviews but doesn’t open on Mondays so we headed for Sweet Beat on Bridge Street. 

Carolanne Rushe, sister Deirdre and Simon the barista, were all beavering away in the cafe. The salads and drinks are wooing vegetarians and everyone else besides. ( www.sweetbeat.ie)

We also picked up a pot of Wildwood honey from Tir na Nóg health food shop. Sligo is a buzzy town with lots of small shops. 

I was delighted to find that Cosgrove’s grocery shop was the same as ever, packed with sausages and salami.

Gourmet Parlour Praline Cake

Serves 10 approximately

6oz (175g) flour

5½oz (160g) sugar

3 eggs

5oz (150g) butter

1 tbsp milk

1 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp praline powder (see below)


6oz (175g) sugar

6oz (175g) skinned hazelnuts or unskinned almonds

Praline Butter Icing

7 tbsp water

8 tbsp sugar

5 egg yolks

½ lb (225g) unsalted butter (softened and creamed)

½ tsp pure vanilla extract

4 tbsp praline powder (sieved praline)


2 x 7 (18cm) inch cake tins

First make the praline.

Combine the sugar and nuts in a heavy saucepan. Put over a low heat until the sugar turns caramel colour. Do not stir, carefully rotate the pan until the nuts are covered with caramel. 

When the nuts go ‘pop’ pour the mixture on to an oiled marble slab, cool. Crush to a coarse gritty texture.

Brush the cake tins with melted butter and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper. 

Brush the paper with melted butter also and dust the base and edges with flour.

Cream the sugar and butter and add in the eggs one by one. Beat well between each addition. Sieve the flour and baking powder and stir in gradually. 

Add two tablespoons of praline powder. Mix lightly adding milk to moisten if the mixture is a little stiff.

Divide equally between two prepared tins. Bake for 25 minutes at 190C/350F/regulo 5. 

Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out and cooling on a wire rack. Reinvert after a few moments so as not to mark the top of the cake.

Meanwhile, make the butter cream.

Bring the water and sugar to the boil stirring only until the sugar dissolves. Let the syrup boil to the thread stage (115C/238F). 

Beat the yolks for one minute with an electric beater, add hot syrup very gradually. Continue beating until the syrup has all been added. The mousse should be stiff and hold a “figure of eight”. Let the mousse cool.

Beat the butter to a creamy consistency. Gradually add the cooled mousse to the creamed butter and finally fold in the four tablespoons of powdered praline.

To assemble: Split each cake in half. Spread with praline butter icing. Sandwich together. Ice the top and sides with the remaining icing. Sprinkle crushed praline all over the top surface of the cake.

Praline Gateau

Alternatively for a wider gateau-style cake, bake in a 2in x 8in x 2.5in deep (20.5cm x 6.5cm deep) tin. Decorate with caramel shards or pieces of almond brittle.

Neven’s Chicken Tikka Masala

Serves 4

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

Knob of butter

2 onions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

5cm (2 inch) piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated

100g (4oz) tikka masala curry paste

200g (7oz) canned chopped tomatoes

250ml (9 fl oz) coconut cream

150ml (¼ pint) chicken stock or water

12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or 4 skinless chicken breast fillets, cut into thick strips

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

200g (7oz) natural yoghurt, extra to garnish

Fresh coriander leaves, to garnish

Saffron Rice

1 tsp saffron threads

Knob of butter

350g (12oz) basmati rice

6 green cardamom pods, cracked

Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy-based pan with a lid. 

Add the onions, garlic, chilli and ginger and cook for 10 minutes over a medium heat, until soft and lightly golden. Stir in the tikka masala paste and cook for 1 minute. Season to taste. 

Add the tomatoes, coconut cream and chicken stock or water. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until reduced by half and thickened.

Tip in the chicken strips and yoghurt and stir well to combine. Bring back to a gentle simmer, then cover with a lid and cook for another 15-20 minutes, until the sauce is nicely reduced and the chicken is tender.

To prepare the saffron rice, place the saffron threads into a small bowl and pour over a little boiling water and leave to infuse. Melt the butter in a large heavy based pan with a lid. When it’s just starting to foam, tip in the rice and cardamom. 

Stir the rice for two minutes over a medium heat and season with a little salt. Pour over enough boiling water to cover the rice by 2.5 cm (1in), bring to a simmer and put on the lid. 

Allow to cook for five minutes, then pour in the saffron, including the water that it’s been soaking in. Cover the pot again and continue to cook for a further five minutes, or until the rice is just cooked but retains some bite.

To serve, spoon the chicken tikka masala into warmed serving bowls and put the saffron rice into separate bowls. 

Add dollops of yoghurt into each bowl of chicken tikka masala and a good scattering of coriander leaves to garnish.

The Nation’s Favourite Food by Neven Maguire

Gaby Wieland’s Meadowsweet Lemonade-Champagne

3½ litres of water

100g of honey

7 dstsp of cider vinegar

40-50 Hawthorn flower tops (or 100 dandelion flowers or 8-9 elderflower heads in full bloom, 100 red clover flowers, 9 meadowsweet flowers)

2-3 organic or unwaxed lemons

Pour the water in a large jug or pot (ideally earthenware), add the honey and vinegar. Squeeze the juice from one or one-and-a-half lemons. 

Cut the lemons in pieces and add both to the mixture. Then put the flowers into the jug. Stir well. Cover and leave in a warm place for 24 hours.

The lemonade is ready after one day. Just strain and serve ice cool.

Note: To make champagne, leave flowers to ferment in the liquid for another 2-3 days. 

Then strain and bottle in champagne bottles with secure corks or use other strong bottles. Leave for a minimum of 4 weeks. The taste even improves after a longer period. Best before 1-2 years.

You can mix the champagne with apple juice, mineral water or add orange juice ice cubes.

Tip: You can reduce the amount of honey when you make red clover lemonade. Adjust to your taste.

Neven’s Prawn and Avocado Wrap

Serves 4

100g (4oz) mayonnaise

1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce

1 tbsp shredded fresh basil

½ lemon, pips removed

1 large ripe Hass avocado

4 large deli wraps or soft flour tortillas

50g (2oz) wild rocket

200g (7oz) large cooked, peeled prawns

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the mayonnaise in a bowl and add the chilli sauce, basil and a good squeeze of the lemon juice. Season to taste and mix until well combined.

Cut the avocado in half and remove the stone, then cut into slices and place in a bowl. Drizzle in a squeeze of the lemon juice to prevent it from discolouring. Heat a heavy-based frying pan. 

Heat each deli wrap or soft flour tortilla for 30 seconds on the frying pan, turning once.

Spread the flavoured mayonnaise all over each of the heated wraps or tortillas and stack the rocket, avocado slices and prawns down the centre. Season to taste and roll up to enclose the filling.

To serve, cut each one on the diagonal and arrange on plates or wrap in greaseproof paper to pack for lunch boxes.

From The Nation’s Favourite Food by Neven Maguire


In response to many requests we’ve scheduled a week-long ‘total immersion’ course at Ballymaloe Cookery School from July 27, to July 31, for those who would like to explore the organic farm and gardens as well as participate in demonstration and hands-on classes.

You will learn how to cook dishes and also how to sow a seed, the basics of organic growing and how to make compost. You’ll learn how to make your own homemade butter, cheese and yoghurt from the milk of our small Jersey herd. 

We’ll make sourdough and several other breads, pickles, jams and preserves. We’ll spend lots of time in the kitchen but you’ll also help to pick vegetables. Check out the details at cookingisfun.ie

Not to be missed: Belleek Castle in conjunction with Slow Food Mayo is hosting a Seashore Foraging Day on Wednesday, July 15, at 11am. Phone 096 22400 or email info@belleekcastle.com.

How about this for a great idea: Book-ears is a uniquely designed range of ‘book ears’ that save you from having to fold over the corners of a page. Orla Kerr, Bobby’s sister, came up with this brilliant concept.

Each cardboard sleeve is kept in place by a magnetic strip with enough space to write recipe notes or comments. See www.book-ears.com and amazon.co.uk.

How to Cook Well with Rory O’ Connell: Rory’s TV programme created lots of excitement, so why not come and meet him in person from July 29-31. In this two-and-a-half day course Rory will teach you simple but essential skills. At the heart of his approach are good ingredients. See the website www.cookingisfun.ie for the details.

A Slow Food Pop Up Dinner at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on July 12. Drinks reception at 6.30pm, dinner at 7pm. Our 12-week certificate students will cook a ‘dream feast’. 

Proceeds from the evening will go towards the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project. Tickets €45; booking essential. Phone 021 464 6785 or email sharon@cookingisfun.ie for the details.


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