A thin golden brown glossy crust:

Steam will help you there. Place the cake tin on the base of your oven and heat it for 5 minutes before carefully pouring hot water into it to create steam.

A soft topping:

Brush first with oil and then egg wash turns the crust a beautiful golden and soft.

A rustic artisan look:

A dusting of flour and semolina with giving that look

The best slash:

Use a very sharp knife and lightly slash 20 minutes before baking. Or I pinch with the tip of scissors.

A good crust and oven spring:

Use a baking stone, it gives an even temperature and good oven spring – that is the final burst of rising after the bread is placed in the oven.


That said, Christmas dinner is the most anticipated meal of the year, so it is worth spending some time, planning for the festive season not only for the dinner, leaving you time to relax and enjoy the festivities which shouldn’t be an enormous challenge.
It is always a plus to choose favourite dishes that your family and friends love and that you feel confident making. At the same time, there are many items that can be made ahead of time. So here’s a list to “get ahead”:

  • The brandy butter and the cranberry sauce keep well in the fridge for 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Salad dressings are another and can be made 4 to 5 days in advance.
  • Salad leaves and herbs can be washed and kept for up to 3 days.
  • If you’re serving a soup this can be made and frozen weeks ahead.
  • Soak your ham for up to 24hours before cooking and I cook mine on Christmas Eve so it has soaked all day and saves me time on Christmas day and that means I can have a sneak tasting as well!
  • Peel and steam the potatoes the day before, keep in the fridge – on the day, dust with seasoned flour or polenta and roast in goose fat – yum! If you prefer, simply peel and leave in cold water in the fridge overnight.
  • Blanch the Brussels sprouts, carrots, broccoli the day before and keep them in a little water, covered in the fridge ready for you to use.
  • Lastly, have the garnishes ready, toasted nuts and lemon zest, the rosemary, bay leaves and fennel in water in the kitchen and slices of citrus for the drinks.
  • For sweet garnishes, making little homemade chocolate trees and swirls is a simple and those can be kept in a sealed cake tin in a cool place for up to a week
  • Sugared cranberries and rosemary will keep for a day or two.
  • Oven dry orange slices keep for 2 days

And finally, take the time to enjoy the moments with your family and friends, a glass of wine and happy memories with loved ones is more important than anything else!

Wishing you all a very happy and relaxing Christmas!


Mummy Wrap
There is a very simply Halloween effect and that is the “Mummy” wrap. It can be done by wrapping pastry around grilled sausages or even strips of cooked chicken as well as using cucumber ribbons wrapped around thin pieces of toast, spread with cottage cheese or mashed avocado and adding a cherry tomato cut in half or slices of olives for the eyes for a healthier option.

Mummy Brie
For a grown-up version try a Mummy Brie ………. For your Halloween party. You’ll need a medium-size round of brie. Ready roll pastry, cut into 2cm strips, 1 cherry tomato, sliced in half for the eyes. Carrot, apples or celery slices, cracker biscuits to serve. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C. wrap the pastry strips (you will need about 5 to 6 strips randomly wrapped around the cheese. Place this on a parchment-lined shallow baking dish (one that you can serve). Add the cherry tomato eyes and bake for about 12 to 14 minutes until the pastry is golden and cooked. Serve warm, arrange the carrots, apples, celery and crackers around so everyone can dig in.

Witches finger biscuits
Try witches finger biscuits dipped into chocolate sauce and raspberry dip. Use your favourite biscuit dough (or try mine below) and shape into fingers (use your own finger as a guideline). You can buy a cutter or even just use a knife to shape them. Maybe get a cutter if children are creating them. Stick whole almonds on with egg wash for nails and push them into the dough so they don’t fall off when baking. Bake for about 13 to 15 depending on the size of the fingers. For the dipping sauces – pureed 200g raspberries with 3 tbsp icing sugar for a fruit dipping bowl and for the chocolate one, you’ll need 120g good quality chocolate drops and 120ml cream, heat together over low heat until melted. Grate in a little orange zest and there you have 2 dipping sauces for the fingers.

Cheesy dough bones with green oil and chilli tomato dip are another option. Use your favourite yeast dough recipe (or mine below) to shape bones. Add 4 tbsp grated cheese and 2tbsp grated parmesan before shaping.

Depending on the size, I like to make mine about 4 to 5cm in length and bake them for 18 to 20 minutes or until cooked and golden. The green oil is easy – place a handful of parsley and some chives into a blender and add about 100ml olive oil, blend until smooth. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

For the chilli tomato sauce, 1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes, 50ml water, 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary, 1 red chilli, finely chopped, 1tbsp chopped chives, 2 garlic cloves, chopped, 1 tsp sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. The quickest way is to add, everything into the saucepan and bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add a little vegetable stock if needed.

To serve, spoon some chilli tomato sauce into a bowl, place on a board and arrange the warm dough bones around it. Spoon over a little green oil and sprinkle some sea salt over the top.

A ghostly cheese platter, starting with a white or greyboard, a spider web, which is easily bought, add green melon eyeballs, tiny pumpkins, cut bats from tortilla wraps, almonds, slices of figs drizzled with honey, blackberries, red grapes and make your own mini “bones” from yeast dough or even add some cheesy pastry fingers or twists.

A vegetable soup served in scooped out little pumpkins with bat-shaped toasts.

Popcorn mix – salted popcorn, chocolate drops, dried cranberries, and mini white marshmallows and black sprinkles in orange and black paper homemade cones with spiders stuck on the side.

Green wraps, crepe style pancakes coloured with pureed spinach. Filled with whatever filling you like – ham, soft cheese and roll up and cut in slices. Looks pretty cool.

Spooky Sweet Treats!

Ghost chocolates
Here’s how to make ghost chocolates. You’ll need melted white chocolate, some raisins and a piece of parchment. The chocolate must be at the correct temperature – warm so that it is thick. Dip a spatula generously into the melted chocolate and then dab it onto the parchment, pulling down to form the tail of the ghost. Do it a second time if it is too thin. Add 2 raisins for eyes and leave them to dry completely before carefully peeling them off the parchment. Use to decorate cakes or have a piece of fruit.

Now for truffles, makes about 12. You’ll need 10 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped. ½ tsp vanilla extract, 1 tbsp nut butter, 60 to 70g ground almonds (this depends on the size of the dates)
Mix all together very well and add more ground almonds if the mix is too sticky. Shape the mix into a ghost shape (standing up ghosts – a little like a witch’s hat!). Leave to set in the fridge for 10 minutes.
Melt some white chocolate slowly and this must be warm so that it can coat the ghosts completely.
Sit these on a piece of parchment, leave to dry before dotting the eyes with an edible black pen or using black fondant. So there it is a little healthy and a little sweetness!

Ghostly skewers, you’ll need white marshmallows, pieces of melon and pieces of kiwi fruit. Use short skewers, thread a piece of melon on and then the kiwi fruit and lastly marshmallow. Using a black edible pen, make the eyes of the ghost on each skewer. Very easy for younger children to prepare.

Spooky forest, chocolate mousse in small glass jars, with finely crushed oreo biscuits (remove the white filling) for the “dirt” on top. Melt dark chocolate and draw trees on the parchment – ensure the branches are fairly thick as you don’t want them to break off. Once completely set and you’re ready to serve, place one tree into each choc mousse jar. Place all the jars together on a board and there you have a forest!

Or how about a family project – like the gingerbread house you do for Christmas, you can easily make a haunted house.

Basic Dough Recipe


  • 1½ tsp quick action dried yeast
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 300g bread / strong flour
  • 150 to 170ml lukewarm water, you may need a little more

Egg wash, 1 egg beaten with 3 tbsp water

 To make the dough, place the yeast, sugar, salt and flour into the large bowl of a mixer – attach the dough hook.

While the machine is slowly running, add sufficient warm water into the dry ingredients and keep mixing until a soft dough forms. Increase the speed to medium and “knead” with the dough hook for about 5 to 6 minutes until your dough becomes very smooth.
Remove from the bowl and transfer to a large oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in a warmer to rise and double in size. This could take about 1½ hours.
Add in the grated cheddar and parmesan cheese.
Divide the dough into small even rounds, shape into bones. Place on baking prepared baking tray and leave to rise for about 30 minutes.
Brush with egg wash and bake in the preheated oven for about 16 to 18 minutes or until baked. You will have to keep an eye on it.

 Basic Biscuit Dough

Makes 350g

  • 200g plain flour
  • 90g softened butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp milk

Icing sugar, for dusting

To make the biscuits, preheat oven to 180˚C/Fan160°C/gas 4.

Line a baking tray with parchment.
Place the flour and butter into a bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles “breadcrumbs”.
Stir in the caster sugar.
Add the vanilla extract.
Pour in enough milk to form a dough and very lightly knead it together.
Wrap the dough up in parchment and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough out thinly on a clean floured surface and shape by hand with a knife or with a cutter.
Place them onto the pre-lined baking tray.
Bake them in a preheated oven for 13 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the biscuit.
Leave on the tray for 15 minutes to set before transferring to a cooling rack.

Meringue Ghosts

Makes 24 depending on the size

  • 3 egg whites
  • 180g caster sugar
  • Piping bag with plain nozzle fitter

Edible black colour paste or pen

Preheat the oven to 120°C/fan 100°C/gas 1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the egg whites in a spotlessly clean, dry mixer bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gradually whisk in half of the caster sugar, spooning in a tablespoon at a time.
Fold in the remaining caster sugar.
Spoon the meringue mixture into a piping bag with a plain nozzle. Secure the parchment paper to the baking sheet with a little meringue mixture to ensure the paper doesn’t lift in the oven.
Pipe swirls of meringue, lifting at the end to create a ghost shape.
Bake immediately for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until set. When done, leave them in the oven with the oven door slightly open so that the meringues can cool.
When cold, add the eyes on with black colour paste or an edible pen.


Catherine is looking forward to the important job of Judging at this year’s Irish Cheese Awards where she will have the very important job of sampling some of the best Irish Farmhouse Cheese on the 9th of October in the Bord Bia offices in Dublin.

For the first time, CAIS is inviting the public to cast their vote for their FAVOURITE Irish Farmhouse Cheese.

Deadline is 9th October with the winner being presented with the Public Vote Award at the Irish Cheese Award Ceremony, 7th November.

Votes can only be cast for cheeses made in Ireland.

VOTE NOW by visiting


The 46th Daytime Emmy Awards, presented by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, will honour the best in U.S. daytime television programming in 2018. The ceremony will be held on May 5, 2019, at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California.

I have been nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for A Taste of Ireland.

The excitement is unreal and the nerves are too!

It’s an absolute honour to be nominated alongside the other best-in-field chefs and I cannot wait to experience all that is THE EMMYS.
Fingers crossed for me and Ballyknocken House xx


Chocolate Beetroot Cake

Serves 12

  • 200g softened butter
  • 250g soft brown sugar
  • 3 eggs, beaten together with a whisk
  • 350g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 100g pureed beetroot
  • 200ml Guinness (you may need a little more)
  • 200ml whipped cream
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar
    1 orange, zest only
 For the ganache topping
  • 300ml cream
  • 300g dark chocolate
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Cocoa powder, to dust
  • 150g fresh raspberries, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 180°C/ Fan 160°C / gas 4. Line the base with parchment and brush the sides with melted butter of a 23cm springform tin.

To prepare the cake, cream the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy.
Slowly beat in the eggs, a little at a time.
Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cocoa and a pinch of salt into a medium bowl.
Carefully fold the flour and beetroot into the egg mixture until smooth and creamy.
Slowly add enough Guinness, whisking the mixture to form a cake batter that is lump-free. Be careful not to whisk too much.
Using a spatula, pour into the prepared tin and place into the preheated oven and bake for about 40 to 45 minutes until well risen and firm on top and the skewer comes out clean.

Leave in the tin to cool for 15 minutes.
Turn cake out onto a cooling rack to cool completely before decorating.

To make the ganache, place the cream into a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate and honey, whisk until smooth and shiny.
Leave to cool – this could take an hour or two.
For the filling, combine all the ingredients and set aside.
Using a breadknife slice the cake lengthways in two.
Place on a cake stand. Spoon 4 tablespoons of ganache into a small saucepan and then spread the rest of the ganache over the cake followed by the whipped cream. Sandwich the other layer on top.
Gently heat the ganache in the saucepan so that it can be drizzled over the top.
Dust the top of the cake. Drizzle over the ganache.
Arrange the raspberries on top.


Well, January was certainly a fast month for us here at Ballyknocken House & Cookery School!
We were busy with Private parties and Hen parties and delighted to see a full house at our classes.

It’s coming up to Valentine’s Day and what better way to be in the good books than to treat that special someone to a romantic break to Ballyknocken House.
We have fabulous romantic packages at Ballyknocken House including a Mountain Top Picnic with overnight stay and why not take in our Delicious Italy class too! Log onto for more info.


Speaking of romance we had a great time at The Bride of the Year Show at the RDS. Speaking to all the brides-to-be about our Hen Party & Activity packages. The idea of being able to book Ballyknocken exclusively really appealed to everyone and taking part in Sheep Herding as an activity really turned a few heads!!!!

So as it is Valentine’s Day in a couple of weeks I’d like to share my recipe for Orange Caramel Drip Cake. It is delicious and sinful but totally acceptable for this romantic time of year! Find it in my ‘Recipes’.

I hope you all have a great month and a lovely Valentine’s Day. Keep an eye on both my website and for more tips and recipes.