Should We Give Them Cake?

Location: Cork, Ireland
Person: Susan Rita
Recipe: Gur or Chester Cake

Once upon a time, there was a food blogger who wanted to go on the gur. To be “on the gur” is Irish slang for playing hookey.

She’d been blogging every week since January, while also working two jobs, and she was tired.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t take a break because, as they say, “The blog must go on…”

One day, to cheer her up, her friend Susan Rita stopped by to sing her a song she’d written. It was a blues song about cellphones, and how people are talking on them all the time.

The song reminded the food blogger of Twitter and Facebook, and all the other ways people today are always blathering on all the time. Sometimes, it did seem to her as if people really were just talking to themselves!

The food blogger sometimes felt this way about her own “talking.” She couldn’t figure out how to stop the nagging feeling she had that talking (in the form of a blog) was meaningless, when all was said and done.

She thought about the people in Japan who had lost their homes, and didn’t even know where their next meal was coming from. They were scared and cold and hungry. How could writing a food blog help them?

She thought about the post she was writing for St. Patrick’s Day about Gur cake, an Irish dessert made with stale bread soaked in tea to make it soft again. Susan Rita had told her about it after she went to Ireland to research her roots there.

At the Cork Butter Museum, Susan Rita had offered a piece of Gur cake to the man at the entrance, Mr. Humphreys. He was so excited when he saw it, because it reminded him of his childhood, when he’d skip school and buy it for a tuppence at the local bakery.

The food blogger thought about the Irish people. They were resilient too, just like the people in Japan who had survived the earthquake. She thought about giving someone in Japan a piece of Gur cake, as a symbol of transforming tragedy, the way the Irish people had turned stale bread into sweet cake.

The Gur cake reminded the food blogger of a Buddhist story too.

The story was about a woman whose child dies. Inconsolable, she goes to the Buddha to ask him to relieve her suffering. He agrees to help, but says first she must collect a mustard seed from every person in the village who has not experienced suffering. The bereaved woman agrees, but at each home, the person she visits relates their own story of suffering and, in that moment, she realizes she actually isn’t alone, and her suffering disappears.

Gur cake may not be the answer to life’s pain. But perhaps it can serve as a small reminder that, when all seems lost, we have the capacity to create beauty from nothingness.

Gur or Chester Cake.

With special thanks to Paul and Derek from Jim Brady’s Restaurant and Lara from Moran’s Restaurant and Bar in New York City who vetted the Gur cake.

Hear Susan Rita and her Ruel String Band sing her original blues song: ““.


Recipe: Gur Cake, adapted from a recipe by Sheila O’Donoghue-Baratizadeh posted on Traditional Irish Foods
Prep Time: 1 1/2 hours
Cook Time: 1 hour
Servings: 14-16 squares


Bread Stuffing Part I:

6-ounce loaf ciabatta or Brennan’s bread (allowed to sit for two days wrapped in paper towel to dry) – 170 grams
3 cups hot (not boiling) water – 660 grams
2 tea bags (Irish Breakfast or black)

1. Place ciabatta bread in a five-pound aluminum loaf pan (29.8 cm. x 14.3 cm. x 8.1 cm.).
2. Cover bread with tea water that’s been allowed to steep 2 minutes and cooled slightly.
3. Press the bread down and turn it a few times to make sure both sides are wet.
4. Cut ciabatta in half and allow to soak in tea water for an hour until fully soft.

Shortcrust Pastry:

8 ounces all-purpose flour – 228 grams
1 ounce sugar – 29 grams
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces cold, unsalted Kerrygold Irish butter or regular butter, cut into small squares – 114 grams
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon ice water

1. While bread is soaking, begin making shortcrust pastry by mixing flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.
2. Add butter to flour, using fingers to mix, until flour resembles small bread crumbs.
3. Make a well in center, and add well-beaten egg yolks. Use a knife to combine eggs into flour.
4. Dust table surface with 1-2 tablespoons flour. Turn dough onto floured surface; dough will still be crumbly. Slowly add ice water to dough by teaspoons to help it stick together.
5. Knead dough with hands, adding ice water in small amounts as needed until dough forms a smooth ball.
6. Divide in two, wrap each in plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Bread Stuffing Part II:

4 ounces currants – 114 grams
1 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour – 42 grams
4 ounces brown sugar – 114 grams
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ounce butter – 28 grams
2 tablespoons Pumpkin Pie Spice or British Mixed Spice
(alternatively, you can use 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon cardamon)
1 large egg, well beaten
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 lemon rind, finely grated

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit – 190 degrees Celsius.
2. Use hands to squeeze tea water from bread and return to loaf pan.
3. In a separate, clean bowl, mix flour and baking powder. Add sugar, rub in butter with fingers, and add spices.
4. Add currants to bread and mix well with hands to combine.
5. Add bread mixture to flour and mix to combine.
6. Whisk egg into milk, add grated lemon rind. Set aside.
7. Remove dough from refrigerator. Place on table lightly dusted with flour.
8. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll each ball into rectangular shape, same size as aluminum loaf pan.
9. Grease bottom and sides of pan with butter.
10. Place one rectangle of dough on bottom, trim to fit, and press into pan bottom. Use fork to prick holes in dough.
11. Add milk, eggs, and lemon rind to bread mixture. Stir to combine.
12. Fill loaf pan with bread mixture. Distribute evenly to cover pastry bottom.
13. Place second rectangle of dough on top. Trim ends to fit. Prick top evenly with fork.
14. Place in middle rack of oven and cook for approximately one hour until golden brown on top.
15. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you’re not making royal icing for the top, whip cream makes a nice accompaniment.


7 thoughts on “Should We Give Them Cake?

  1. Sometimes, a little bit of sweetness is just what you need in a dark, bitter time.

    From the Dhammapada, 9.7
    Do not discount small acts of goodness, thinking, “This does not make me good.” Every drop of falling water helps fill the jar. Little by little, the wise store up goodness.

    And Susan’s song is great, too!

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