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Posset is a traditional Irish recipe. (Photo credit: Mary Lydon)

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day weekend, Shelter Island Reporter Food for Thought columnist Mary Lydon shares her recipes for Irish brown bread and posset. Click here for her Irish soda bread recipe, too!

Brown bread. (Photo credit: Mary Lydon)

Brown bread


  • 2 1/2 cups stoneground whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats (not instant) plus 1 tsp to sprinkle on top
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1 cup Guinness
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp melted butter


  • Start by pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a loaf pan (9×5 inches) by cutting a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom and 2 sides of the pan, leaving an inch or two extra to act as handles to remove bread from pan. Butter the paper to stick to the pan.
  • Add first four dry ingredients (flour, oats, salt, baking soda) to bowl and blend with a whisk. Then mix in the brown sugar until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Combine wet ingredients (molasses, Guinness, buttermilk and melted butter) and pour into dry ingredients, stirring by hand with a spoon or spatula until blended, but don’t over mix.
  • Spread the dough into the prepared loaf pan with a spatula, pressing carefully into the corners. Cut a line down the middle of the dough with the spatula or a blunt knife to provide a vent to expand. Sprinkle the top of the dough with the reserved oats.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 55-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool. Slice and enjoy.
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I inherited the tradition of making white soda bread with raisins, currants and caraway seeds in a black iron frying pan from my grandmother and aunts, and continued making it.

However, living in Ireland years ago, and on many trips since, we enjoyed the brown bread served in B&Bs, pubs and restaurants — before, during and following a meal.

Although I’ve been cooking all my life, I’ve always been a cautious baker since I was told that measurements matter, and a really good baker follows the rules. Lately, though, I’ve been missing brown bread, and so I decided to give it a try.

There are so many recipes, it was daunting. But I discovered a few basics.

Always use stoneground whole-wheat flour. And, if possible, one from Ireland.

Always use buttermilk. If you don’t, you’ll make good bread but not the genuine article.

Using Guinness is not as much an absolute. Some do and some don’t. Most bakers say it adds a nutty flavor and darker color, but it’s not a bread-breaker. Do use baking soda, not baking powder. Really? Yes, baking soda. In addition to dark brown sugar, treacle (molasses) is the sweetener that adds color, intensifying the color of the Guinness and wheat flour.

The other ingredients are pretty standard. So, after quite a few experiments (and some delicious treats), this is what my beloved co-taster/non-baker and I agreed was most authentic and our favorite. It’s adapted from the recipe at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

We really enjoyed this when it was barely warm with butter. It was rich and almost cake-like. The next day, toasted or not, it was even better.

It stays fresh for several days (ha!) or can be sliced and frozen.

If you prefer not to use Guinness, substitute with the same amount of buttermilk or a combination of buttermilk and water, although you’ll lose the depth of both flavor and color.

Stoneground whole-wheat flour (as opposed to regular whole-wheat) is difficult to find, but it is definitely worth the effort. You can easily find Bob’s Red Mill brand online.

Posset is a traditional Irish dessert drink. (Photo credit: Mary Lydon)



  • 1 lemon
  • 16 ounces heavy whipping cream into saucepan
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • berries
  • mint


  • First, zest one lemon (you should get about 1 Tablespoon).
  • Then, juice the lemon (you need 5 tbsp., so you might need some juice of another lemon).
  • Combine and put aside.
  • Next, pour 16 ounces of heavy whipping cream into saucepan.
  • Add 3/4 cup sugar (less if you prefer a tarter dessert or if you are using sweeter Meyer lemons).
  • Bring the cream and sugar to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and comes to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and boil for 4 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Stir in lemon juice and zest slowly until combined and let sit for 10 minutes to cool.
  • Stir again and divide into four ramekins or cocktail glasses.
  • Cover the surface of each with cling wrap to avoid skin, and chill until set, two-three hours or overnight.
  • When serving, remove cling wrap, and top with a scattering of berries, extra zest, and mint.
  • Another possibility is whipped cream and shaved chocolate.
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In October, we were having dinner in our favorite restaurant (Marconi’s) in our favorite town (Clifden in Connemara) in our favorite country (Ireland). As we were about to order dessert, a tray of glasses was being served to a table near us to a group of people expressing delighted anticipation.

We, of course, ordered it.

Known in England since Tudor times, Posset (also historically spelled possyt, potshots, poshotte, poosay) was originally a popular hot drink made of milk curdled with wine or ale and spices, which was often used as a curative for colds and fevers.

Shakespeare mentions possets several times in his plays. And, by the 17th century, it had become a party drink flavored with nutmeg, brandy and sherry, decorated with clotted cream and ground nutmeg on top. Still more a drink than a pudding.

There are only three ingredients, but many ways of combining them. I asked an Irish friend and I have followed her recipe. I’m a cook, not a baker, and knowing this, she cautioned me to follow exactly and not to experiment with the process.