‘Mum says the cooking baton has been passed on – but to me, I’m still her sous chef’

The Irish Times: We Love Food – Ciara Woods, advertising department


The kitchen was always the heart of our home and it’s where more often than not you’ll find my Mum. She’s the quintessential homemaker who loves to make everything from scratch. There’s no ready-made pastry in the Woods household and her homemade jam is legendary. It still baffles me how she managed over the years to juggle homemaking, child rearing and running a successful business. It would be remiss of me though not to mention her partner in crime and chief taster, my Dad. He’s a got green fingers so keeps my Mum’s kitchen in a constant supply of fresh fruit and vegetables - the perfect partnership!

My Mum’s cooking really came into its own in the late 1980s through the early 1990s. Taking inspiration from Darina Allen and whatever chef was on Live at 3 at the time, I think she went through a sort of culinary awakening and for a short time there wasn’t a potato in sight (sorry Dad).

It was so exciting not knowing what was going to arrive on the dinner table. The meals she prepared during this time are what I remember most fondly and they are what inspired me to cook. It was an eclectic mix of French, Italian and Indian cuisine.

Of course my Mum now believes that the cooking baton has been passed to me. I am (according to her) chief cook at family gatherings. She checks with me if something tastes right and loves to tell me when she tries out something new. She’s also awed by the fact that my husband loves to cook (not how it was in her time, she loves to say). But to me, I’m still her sous chef and I’ve a long way to go. In the meantime, I’ll continue to experiment and learn from my mistakes, put some passion into what I do and hopefully bring a little joy to those dearest to me.

Thanks for the life lesson Mum.

Here’s one of our favourite cake recipes. It’s made for a variety of family celebrations and also every time I visit my godfather, Philip.


The cake
10oz caster sugar
4 large eggs
10oz plain flour (sifted)
10oz soft butter
1.5 tsp of baking powder
2 tbsp of Irel coffee essence.
Couple of handfuls of toasted chopped walnuts and 10 halves for decoration

The coffee butter icing
6oz soft butter
12oz of icing sugar (sifted)
2-3 tbsp of Irel coffee essence (depending how much you like coffee!)
1 tbsp milk

Method for cake
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees fan/175c non fan and grease and line two nine-inch cake tins. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until it’s pale in colour. This usually takes five minutes.

Whisk your eggs with the coffee essence and the then beat the mixture into the creamed butter and sugar a little at a time. If the mixture curdles add in a little of the sifted flour. Be sure to scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl to ensure all the butter is incorporated (it’s important to do this before you add the flour).

Finally, using a large metal spoon, fold the flour and baking powder into the mixture, being careful not to over-mix.

Divide the mixture as evenly as you can between the two cake tins and if can, place both on the middle shelf.

These cakes shouldn’t take longer than 30-35 minutes to bake but I generally set my timer for 25 minutes and then do the skewer test. If it comes out clear I know they’re done. They should be a nice golden brown colour.

Allow them to cool in their tins for five minutes and then remove to a wire rack.

Method for icing

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and icing sugar at a high speed until it’s light and fluffy. Then add in the milk and beat until incorporated. Finally beat in the coffee essence until incorporated. Refrigerate but allow to come to room temperature before use.

Assembling the cake
When the cakes have fully cooled, cut each in half so you’re left with four thinner layers of cake. Then sandwich each layer with the coffee icing and handful of chopped walnuts. You can keep some frosting for the top layer if you like but I prefer to decorate the top with walnut halves.

You should get at least eight generous slices from this cake.

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