castle breakfast – smitten kitchen

Every Saturday morning, which is blissfully later each year that my children have grown old enough to fend for themselves for a couple hours, we stumble out of bed and do these exact things in this exact order: Make Americanos in the Moka pot. Hard-boil several eggs and plunge them in very ice water so they’re not warm-centered (shudder) by the time we sit down. And then I mix up a simple wholegrain soda bread but bake it as scones, so it can be done in 15 minutes. We use these minutes to pull out all the fruit left in the fridge and cut it up; fanning it out on a platter makes us feel fancy, and not like it’s the dregs that were left at the bottom of the produce drawer. If we’re feeling ambitious, we juice a couple oranges. If we have grapefruits, I loosen the sections of a few (I’m team grapefruit knife, not spoon, not that you asked) halves. I’ve been known to slice up pears and blue cheese with walnuts when the craving hits in the winter, and or apples with sharp cheddar in the fall. In the summer, it’s an abundance of berries or stone fruit or melon, sometimes with homemade ricotta if I have it. If we have avocados, I like to slice them.* Then we nudge the kids to set the table, which always includes salted butter and apricot jam (my favorite), and, because I do not have any argument left in me by Saturday, Nutella and raspberry jam (everyone else’s).

We call it Castle Breakfast and we started this weekend ritual a few years ago when we stayed at a couple castles-turned-hotels in Ireland. I love fancy hotel breakfasts; the teapots and civility, the sunny rooms, the little jars of jam, the fresh fruit, so ideal for grazers like me. And I realized I wanted this very much to be part of every weekend, something to look forward to after the cold cereal and rushed mornings during the week. But only if I could do it in, like, 30 minutes tops. I’m neither a domestic goddess nor a morning person, although I bet they often come in the same package.

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When we came back from Ireland, I began my soda bread studies and I could go on and on but suffice it to say that some are darker, some are lighter, some are poured into loaf pans, some are baked as boule/rounds and I love them all. But when it came to my weekend breakfasts, the simplicity of the traditional formula* we’d learned taking a class at Ballymaloe Cookery School best suited my needs. It’s just flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. I swap half the white flour with coarse wholemeal (whole wheat) flour (more about this in a moment). I like that we’re getting a dose of whole grains in the morning and don’t need it to be sweet since they’re going to slather it with sweet stuff regardless. It’s also absolutely perfect with a pat of salted butter. We do not make these in advance. They’re fine the next day, I guess, if rewarmed. But they’re best right out of the oven, so why deny ourselves?

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If we’re not making brown bread scones, I’m making pancakes, crepes, dutch babies, or one of two recipes I owe you: popovers or a new waffle. This is because Castle Breakfast isn’t as much a recipe as it’s a philosophy. It’s about making days off feel special, about feeling as calm and doted on at home as you would in a fancy tearoom. It’s about feeling a tiny bit royalty, regardless of budget. I hope it feels good.

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A few things:

Ukraine I do not need to tell you how devastating the news is out of Ukraine right now. I’m forever inspired by the work of World Central Kitchen, who gets on the ground as soon as possible when there are humanitarian or environmental catastrophes anywhere in the world, set up mobile kitchens, and make sure people get hot meals, which we all understand the essentialness of. They’ve been on the ground at different border border points feeding those fleeing Ukraine for the last week and I wish it wasn’t necessary, but I am proud to support their work. [They also have a Charity Navigator rating of 100.] I set up fundraisers last weekend through the Smitten Kitchen Facebook and Instagram pages [who charge no processing fees and do not hold the money before dispersing it], hoping we might raise $5000 but I magnificently underestimated the kindness and generosity of SK readers. We’ve currently raised a combined $343K, and I am humbled and overwhelmed, watching this climb. These SK fundraisers run for another 3 weeks, should this sound like the kind of charity you, too, would like to support, but you can give through their website indefinitely, of course. [Donate to World Central Kitchen directly through their website, through the SK Facebook fundraiser, or through the SK Instagram fundraiser (you’ll need to open this post in the app to do so).]

Where else have I been? London! We did not, alas, stay at any castles but we sure did a lot. You can read about our week here.

Newsletter subscribers: If you are a subscriber to the Monday newsletter — and oh, I think you’d love it — I need to extend the hiatus by one more week (i.e. two weeks total) while I make some adjustments. Bear with me; these long-overdue changes are good ones.


6 months ago: Baked Farro with Summer Vegetables
1 year ago: Rigatoni alla Vodka
2 year ago: Perfect Vegetable Lasagna
3 year ago: Bodega-Style Egg and Cheese Sandwich and Chocolate Puddle Cakes
4 years ago: Slow-Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Korean-Braised Short Ribs
5 years ago: Small-Batch Tiramisu
6 years ago: Miso Black Sesame Caramel Corn and Hot and Sour Soup
7 years ago: Oven-Braised Beef with Tomatoes and Garlic and Pecan Sticky Buns
8 years ago: Chocolate Hazelnut Linzer Hearts and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake
9 years ago: Italian Stuffed Cabbage
10 years ago: Lasagna Bolognese
11 years ago: Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
12 years ago: Best Cocoa Brownies and Chana Masala
13 years ago: Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes and Crispy Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Slaw
14 years ago: Seven-Yolk Pasta Dough and Best Chocolate Pudding
15 years ago: For Beaming, Bewitching Breads

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Brown Soda Bread Scones

Here is my replacement formula the Irish flour: 1 cup coarse wholemeal flour = 3/4 cup wheat germ + 1/4 cup wheat bran + 1/2 cup regular whole wheat flour. Yes, this appears to add up to more than 1 cup but germ weights much less the flour. This will weigh 145 grams total. See Note at end of recipe for more coarse wholemeal flour information.

  • 1 cup (145 grams) Irish coarse wholemeal flour (see Note up top for swap; see Note at end for description)
  • 1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (225 grams) buttermilk, plus another splash if needed
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) unsalted butter, cold
Heat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine wholemeal flour (see Note up top for swap; see Note at end for description), all-purpose flour, salt and baking soda in a large bowl, whisking to combine. Pour buttermilk over dry ingredients, then coarsely grate butter over the buttermilk. Stir to combine into a thick, somewhat gloppy mass, slightly damper than your average scone dough. If it doesn’t come together, add more buttermilk, 1 tablespoon at time, until . (I need at least 2 extra tablespoons when using a thick brand of buttermilk.)

Dollop dough in four big mounds on prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until just lightly golden brown at edges and dry to the touch. Eat right away, split in half and spread with butter, jam, or chocolate.

Sleepy Deb Method: Use a 1/2-cup measure (twice) to measure the 1 cup each of wholemeal and all-purpose flour. Use it again (twice) to measure 1 cup buttermilk. Use it again, still wet from the buttermilk, as a scoop to loosely shape the four scones into pucks. The leftover buttermilk in the cup makes it easier to shake out the scone. 😉

Let’s talk about coarse wholemeal (whole wheat) flour: The magic ingredient in most wholegrain or brown soda breads is Irish wholemeal flour. Irish wholemeal flour is coarse and gritty, high in fiber, and has a wonderful nutty flavor. It is not the same as our whole wheat flours here, which are milled fine and smooth, and I do not like the result when I use them as a full swap. Although I think I’ve come up with a solid copycat, it requires extra ingredients, which likely takes this out of the running for an easy breakfast baked good for others. Here’s my advice: If you find you like these scones and want to make them more often, you could mix up a jar of my Irish flour swap and have it at the ready for your weekend mornings. Or, you could splurge on a bag of the imported flour. Prices range significantly (blame a supply chain crisis) but even when it’s overpriced, it is amortized over 56 scones, i.e. my favorite way to justify things. Here are some places you can find the Odlums brand I use online: Amazon, Food Ireland, Mercato. It comes in Coarse and Extra-Coarse; both work. Note: I know that King Arthur Flour also makes an Irish-style flour but it was out of stock when I was working on this recipe so I wasn’t able to test it. If it’s coarsely milled, you’ll be set.

[* Want to add butter, sugar, raisins, or caraway seeds? Technically you should it “tea cake” or The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread might come after you.]

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