Catholic Diocese of Cleveland

1404 East 9th Street | Cleveland, Ohio 44114

Blessed baking: Prayers rise along with Maire’s bread

Every time Maire Kilbane Leffel bakes a loaf of bread, she marks it with a cross and offers a prayer before putting it in the oven.

“I usually say the intention of the day,” Maire said, adding that she often dedicates the prayer in memory of her mother.

As one of eight children born to Irish immigrant parents Mary and Farrell Kilbane, Maire began cooking and baking at an early age to help her mother. The family lived in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood, where they were members of St. Patrick Parish on Rocky River Drive. The children all attended St. Patrick School.

“There were a lot of us,” Maire said, recalling the bustling Kilbane household. “I was no. 5 of the eight Kilbane kids.”

Her parents were born, raised and married in Achill, County Mayo, Ireland. She said the Catholic faith was – and remains – an important part of her life. She and her husband, Dennis, decided to buy her parents’ West Park home and raised their three children there. They remain active at St. Patrick’s and the three Leffel children — Beth, Daniel and Therese — also graduated from St. Patrick School. The extended family includes John Krey, Beth’s husband; Sarah LaRosa, Daniel’s girlfriend; and William, the Leffels’ 20-month-old grandson.

“And don’t forget my honorary granddaughter, Bella,” Maire said. Bella is a first-grader at Our Lady of Angels School, about a mile north on Rocky River Drive in West Park. Bella’s mother, Grace, is a close friend of Therese Leffel. They attended St. Patrick School and Maire provided support and stability for Grace after her mother’s death.

“She was very young when her mom died,” Maire said.

A graduate of St. Augustine Academy in Lakewood, Maire worked for the city of Cleveland and later for Cuyahoga County. She retired from the county’s office of homeless services and now enjoys helping out with her grandson, as well as travelling to visit her daughter Beth, who lives in Florida.

She’s also very active with the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians and the United Irish Societies, which coordinate the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Cleveland.

A first-generation American, Maire enjoys celebrating her Irish heritage. As a young girl, she started marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Cleveland with the St. Patrick School Drill Team. She also participated in Irish dance and sports, dancing as a youth and adult with the Gaelic Society and the O’Leary Manning School of Irish Dance. She was a player with the Emerald Camogie team and loved to cheer on her family at Gaelic football games and feises (Irish dance competitions).

After graduating from St. Patrick School, she continued marching in the parade with the West Side Irish American Club Ladies Drill Team, carrying the flag in the parade for a dozen years, and then the LAOH Degree Team. She was a co-director of the Ohio State LAOH Degree Team in 2007 and serves as treasurer for the team, which was formed in 1987.

For 19 years, Maire has been the Gaelic Society representative to the UIS. In 2009, she was chosen by fellow delegates as inside co-chairman of the parade in recognition of her many years of support for Celtic activities and her service to the Irish community. She has served on the county board for the LAOH, and is the state appointee for Freedom for All Ireland. Maire has served in every LAOH division office. This year, she is being honored as the Hibernian of the Year for the Our Lady of the Rosary Division of LAOH.

The honorees were recognized on Jan. 22 at the annual LAOH St. Bridget’s Day Mass and lunch at St. Patrick Parish.

Even though she was an honoree, lunch organizers asked her to bring some of her popular Irish bread. She took a family soda bread recipe and tweaked it over the years to develop an Irish wheat bread. She also enjoys baking the more traditional white soda bread that features raisins (and sometimes caraway seeds). Maire agreed to share her bread recipes and a “secret” that she said makes her bread more special.

“You beat the bejesus out of the egg with a little bit of milk, then slowly add the buttermilk to the egg mixture while continuing to whisk it.”  She said this technique provides a slightly golden color to the bread and makes it lighter.

“I’ve never made it with caraway seeds,” Maire said, “but some people like it that way.”

Maire bakes her bread the traditional way, in a cast iron skillet, and always marks the top with a cross, then says a prayer.

“I bake a lot of bread and say a lot of prayers. There are plenty of prayers needed,” she said.

And Maire has one last piece of advice for anyone who bakes bread and takes it to an event or for a meal: “Don’t forget the butter.”

 

 

 

 

Irish Wheat Bread

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

DRY INGREDIENTS

Sift all white dry ingredients together:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 cup of sugar

Whisk 1 cup of wheat flour into the dry ingredients.

 

WET INGREDIENTS

 In a 2-cup measuring cup:

Whisk together 1 egg plus 1 capful of milk (2 percent works well).

Slowly pour buttermilk into the egg mixture, whisking continuously, until it measures 2 cups.

Mix the wet into the dry ingredients:

Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture and slowly incorporate the wet into the dry with a spatula until ¼ cup of the wet remains (you can always put it in, but you can’t take it out). Continue adding the wet into the dry mixture until tacky. Reserve some wet to smooth on top of the batter.

Pour batter into a greased cast iron skillet (about a 10-inch skillet), using remaining wet to smooth out the top.

Make a cross in the center of the bread with a buttered knife and say a prayer.

Bake at 325 degrees for 55 minutes.

Remove from pan and wrap bread in a kitchen towel, then place on a wire rack until cool. Wrap and store in aluminum foil until ready to cut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Soda Bread

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

DRY INGREDIENTS

 Sift together:

 3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup sugar

 

WET INGREDIENTS

In a 2-cup measuring cup:

Whisk together 1 egg plus 1 capful of milk (2 percent works well).

Slowly pour buttermilk into the egg mixture, whisking continuously, until it measures 2 cups.

Mix the wet into the dry ingredients:

Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture and slowly incorporate the wet into the dry with a spatula (you can always put it in, but you can’t take it out). Continue adding the wet into the dry mixture until tacky.

Stir in about ½ cup of raisins – gold or brown – your preference

If desired, a small amount of caraway seeds also can be added to the batter.

Pour batter into a greased cast iron skillet (about a 10-inch skillet), using remaining wet to smooth out the top.

Make a cross in the center of the bread with a buttered knife and say a prayer.

Bake at 325 degrees for 50 minutes.

Remove from pan and wrap bread in a kitchen towel, then place on a wire rack until cool. Wrap and store in aluminum foil until ready to cut.

 

HINTS: Maire said if the rack used to cool the bread isn’t elevated very much, she likes to place a potato underneath to slant it so the steam escaping as the bread cools doesn’t cause it to get wet. Cool the bread at least 1-2 hours. The bread freezes well. Place foil-covered bread in a plastic bag in the freezer.

 

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