Category Archives: afternoon tea

Pumpkin Scones with Caramelized Pepitas

I enjoy the weekend after Thanksgiving more than the day itself. On Thanksgiving Day, I made several trips up and down three flights of stairs and did so much lifting and carrying that my body felt like I had spent the day at the gym instead of the kitchen.  It’s one way to burn calories I guess.    This weekend, I have more time to, relax, spend time with friends and family, binge watch the “Mystery Marathon” on my local PBS station and, of course, eat leftovers.

If you find yourself with extra canned pumpkin, try making these tender pumpkin scones.  The don’t take long to make and will impress weekend houseguests. As a bonus, your kitchen will be fragrant with the autumn spices that flavor the dough.  Serve them at a holiday brunch or split them in half for mini turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches after bargain shopping.  Note: Pepitas are the green kernels of pumpkin seeds.  You can buy them ready hulled.

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Pumpkin Scones with Caramelized Pepitas

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 8 scones

Pumpkin Scones with Caramelized Pepitas


  • Caramelized pepitas:
  • 1/4 cup (15 g) pepitas
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • Scones:
  • 2 cups (260 g) all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (75 g) brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup (113 g) cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup (50 g) dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup (15 g) toasted pepitas, walnuts, or pecans
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) canned pure pumpkin
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Egg Wash:
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. whole milk


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C.)
  2. For the caramelized pepitas:
  3. Melt 1 tbsp. butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  4. Stir in the sugar. Keep stirring until the sugar turns a reddish brown.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 cup (15 g) pepitas to coat with the caramel.
  6. Spread out the caramelized pepitas on a small baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
  8. Scone dough:
  9. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  10. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
  11. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour and spice mixture with a pastry blender, two knives or your fingers until it looks like coarse bread crumbs.
  12. Stir in the dried cranberries and toasted pepitas or nuts.
  13. In a separate bowl, mix together the buttermilk, pumpkin and vanilla. Add this wet mixture to the flour mixture. Mix until the dough comes together.
  14. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough gently with floured hands. Pat it into a circle about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) thick and 7 inches (18 cm) diameter.
  15. Cut the circle in half, then into quarters. Cut each quarter into two triangles to make 8 dough triangles. Place the triangles on the baking sheet.
  16. Whisk together the egg and milk to make an egg wash. Brush the tops of the dough triangles with the egg wash. Sprinkle each triangle with caramelized pepitas.
  17. Place the baking sheet in the pre-heated oven. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.




Barm Brack (Irish Halloween Bread)

Barm Brack is an Irish Halloween bread containing fruit and spices.

Barm Brack is an Irish bread eaten at Halloween. Fortune-telling charms such as a ring or coin are baked in the bread.

Barm Brack is a fruit bread made with yeast and spices eaten in Ireland around Halloween.  Barm is an old word for yeast and brack comes from breac, the Irish word for spotted., Warm autumn spices make it just the thing with a hot cup of tea on a raw October afternoon.  Toasted for breakfast, it’s a richer version of cinnamon raisin toast.

The bread’s popularity at Halloween is due to fortune-telling charms baked in the bread — a ring means marriage, a coin wealth, cloth poverty.  There is great excitement when someone finds the ring in their slice of brack.  Fortune-telling games were an essential part of Irish Halloween traditions because of the old pagan belief that the veil between this life and the next became thin at this time of the year.   The holiday has its roots in a Celtic harvest celebration that marked the end of the year and honored the dead. The Catholic Church turned the three day festival into a Christian holiday, All Saints’ or Hallows’ Day on November 1 and All Soul’s Day on November 2.  October 31 thus became All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. Irish and Scots immigrants brought their holiday to America.  The more ghoulish American version of the holiday has returned to Europe in recent years.  For more about the origins of Halloween, read Edyth Preet’s story in Irish America magazine.

This recipe is adapted from Rachel Allen’s “Irish Family Food”.  I used homemade pumpkin pie spice for a brighter flavor, but you can certainly substitute the store bought spice mix.  My version also includes another American fall flavor — dried cranberries.

Not that it’s ever “safe” to bake tokens in bread, but If you plan to include a charm, be sure it is first well washed in hot soapy water and wrapped in a piece of parchment paper or cheesecloth so it’s easily identified and not accidentally swallowed.

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1 2/3 cups (225 g) white bread flour

2 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice (see note for homemade spice mix)

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. (25 g) unsalted butter

1 (1/4 oz. or 7 g) package of fast-acting yeast

1/4 cup (50 g) superfine (caster) sugar

2/3 cup (150 ml) whole milk, lukewarm

1 egg beaten

1 1/2 cups (200 g) mixed dried fruit such as golden raisins (sultanas), raisins, cranberries, and currants.

1 oz. (25 g) chopped mixed orange and lemon peel (I had to buy them separately at my supermarket and mix them)


Grease the sides and bottom of a 9 by 5 inch (23 by 13 cm) loaf pan.

Sift the flour, spice and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter, yeast and sugar.  Beat together by hand or in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment.

Warm the milk until lukewarm, then add to the flour mixture with the beaten egg. Mix until the dough comes together.  Knead in the stand mixer using the dough hook attachment for 5 minutes or tip out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 8 minutes.  Add the dried fruit and mixed peel and knead for another 2 minutes.   If using charms, add them here.

Put the dough into the prepared tin, cover with a kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius).

Remove the kitchen towel, place loaf in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until deep golden brown.  Insert a toothpick into the center of the loaf, if it comes out clean, the bread is baked through.  If not, bake for another few minutes.   When it is ready, loosen the sides of the loaf from the tin using a spatula.  Tip it out and let cool on a wire rack.

Slice the loaf and serve it fresh or toasted with plenty of butter.

Note: To make homemade pumpkin pie spice, mix together 3 tbsp. ground cinnamon, 2 tbsp. ground ginger, 2 tsps. freshly ground nutmeg, 1 1/2 tsp. ground allspice and 1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves.  You will only need 2 tbsp. for the brack, save the rest in an airtight container for your Thanksgiving pumpkin pies.






Irish Scones

These are the famous Irish scones I bring to work every year at St. Patrick’s Day.  They go so fast, that coworkers have been known to wait at the elevators for my arrival to be sure they snag one. These light as air scones are a far cry from the heavy, dry and glazed versions sold at a popular coffee chain.

My Auntie Anna from Castleisland, Co. Kerry, generously shared this recipe with me. Over the years, I’ve tweaked it, for instance using plain, whole milk yogurt instead of buttermilk for a lighter dough.   I also play around with adding ingredients to  the dough such as sultanas (golden raisins), dried cranberries and orange peel in the winter, apple and cinnamon walnut in the autumn or cheese and onion for cocktail parties.  Feel free to experiment with your favorite flavors, the recipe lends itself to creativity.   Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Irish Scones

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 17 minutes

Yield: 2 dozen scones

Irish Scones


  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda sieved
  • 1/3 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 oz. (1 stick) butter chilled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup plain, whole milk yogurt


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like bread crumbs.
  4. Add the egg.
  5. Fold in the yogurt. At this point add dried fruit or other ingredients if using.
  6. Using an ice-cream scoop, scoop out the scone dough and place on greased baking sheets.
  7. Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Remove from the oven and the baking sheets and let cool on a wire rack.
  9. Serve with butter and jam.

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Victoria Sandwich

Victoria Sponge

My dad’s birthday is June 18 and Father’s Day usually falls close by, if not on his actual birthday.  He loves cakes and sweets and misses Irish cakes.  This year, for his birthday/Father’s Day I decided to make him a Victoria Sandwich —  an old fashioned cake that I don’t think I’ve made since I was 13 or 14. It’s a very light sponge with a filling of fresh cream and jam (my school recipe calls for a chocolate buttercream filling which I remember being good.)  It used to be the classic afternoon tea cake.  Since I made it as a young teen, you know it’s not a complicated recipe.

Although I wrote down the ingredients,  I did not write down the steps involved in actually making the cake and for some mind-boggling reason we were instructed to use margarine —  this was in Ireland, a country awash in possibly the best butter in the world. I definitely wanted a recipe that used butter and needed to confirm that I remembered how to make the cake. And, since June is strawberry season, I also wanted to include fresh berries with the jam.

I found this recipe for Victoria Sponge using butter and fresh strawberries on Irish chef Kevin Dundon’s website.  He included it in his “Back to Basics” cooking series that airs on PBS.  As I’ve noted before, organic cream makes a big difference in the flavor of cream cakes. It’s even a different color than standard whipping cream — more yellow.  Yes, it is more expensive, but how often do you eat cream cakes?   They are meant to be a treat. This is how it turned out.  As my neighbor commented “not shabby” for a cake I haven’t made since I was a young teenager.  I won’t wait that long to make it again, maybe with raspberries next month.  Happy birthday dad!

This is the recipe for Victoria Sandwich I wrote in the back of my secondary school cookery book when I was 13.

This is the recipe for Victoria Sandwich I wrote in the back of my secondary school cookery book when I was 13.

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