Double Chocolate Cupcakes and a Raspberry on Top

MIDWAY through every 12-week certificate course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, we all pile onto a bus and go on a foodie tour.

It’s not just a gastronomic skite, the object of the exercise is to introduce the students (11 nationalities this time) to as many inspirational food producers, restaurateurs, artisan brewers, cheese makers and great ideas as possible in one fun and action-packed day.

This time we began at 8am sharp with a short foraging walk through the farm down to Bill Casey’s Shanagarry Smokehouse. Bill started to smoke fish almost 30 years ago when he was made redundant from Cork Marts. Ever since he’s been concentrating on smoking salmon.

“Keep it simple, do one thing and do it right” was Bill’s advice to the students. Originally he sourced wild salmon from Ballycotton but nowadays he uses Irish organic farmed salmon which he smokes with a mixture of beech and oak chippings.

Over the years he has built up a loyal clientele of local and overseas customers. The students tucked enthusiastically into slivers of salmon, fresh from the smoker before they piled on to the bus en route to Mahon Point Farmer’s Market.

There are plenty of ideas here, with over 40 entrepreneurs selling a fantastic selection of fresh locally produced foods — home-grown vegetables, fresh herbs and plants, farmhouse cheese, a variety of breads and home baking to make your mouth water.

Then there was Glan Gluten for Coeliacs and those who have wheat intolerance, fresh fish from Ballycotton and Schull being filleted at the speed of light, organic and free-range chickens both fresh and roasted, heritage pork, plus cured meats, sausages and salamis.

Meat pies were flying off the stall, along with smoked fish and fish cakes, local honey, handmade butter, cheese and thick unctuous yoghurt, beautiful fresh milk (unhomogenised), cake pops, cupcakes, macaroons and on and on.

The smell of freshly ground coffee pervades the market. My multi-ethnic batch of students was very impressed, there’s also lots of tasty ready to eat food so I gave them a meal ticket to present to the stall of their choice.

If they fancied a steak sandwich with rocket and mushroom on crusty Arbutus bread, they headed to Boeuf A Lolo. Alternatively, they could order a wood-fired pizza from Volcano Pizzas or a selection of curries from Green Saffron.

Later I found two new arrivals since my last visit — Jack Crotty, the Rocket Man with a selection of gorgeous salad and raita and a tantalising drink called Rocket Fuel, and Ian Browne with irresistible tiramisu and gooey chocolate fudge or sticky toffee pudding.

It was pretty hard to entice everyone back on the bus but we needed to be at Fermoy Farmhouse Cheese by 12 noon. Here Frank Shinnick and his Swiss wife Gudrun have been making exceptional raw milk cheeses for over 15 years.

Slow Food created a presidia around St Gall in 1992 and it was one of the most sought after of the Irish farmhouse cheese at the Salone del Gusto in Turin recently. Frank and Gudrun and their team continue to innovate and now make six different cheeses and a small quantity of yoghurt. Their natural yoghurt with elderberry puree is one of the most delicious new products I’ve tasted this year.

Next stop was the Eight Degrees Brewing Company. As mass-produced beers have become more and more dull in recent years, craft brewing has really taken off in response to the deep craving for beers with character. The boys from Eight Degrees on the outskirts of Mitchelstown are producing some terrific bottles.

It was difficult to decide which we liked best — Sunburnt Irishman, Howling Gale or Knockmealdown Porter. These are made by an Aussie and a Kiwi, Cameron Wallace and Scott Baigent who are having the best fun producing some really terrific beer and they can scarcely keep up with the demand — ask your local pub to stock it.

From there, our jolly bunch went over the Knockmealdown mountains to visit the Old Convent in Clogheen, where Dermot and Christine Gannon have created a romantic retreat with just seven bedrooms and a restaurant where they serve a seven-course dinner menu made up almost entirely of locally produced foods.

Christine had sweetly invited three of their suppliers, Kitty Colchester from Urlingford who makes my favourite organic rape seed oil; Julie Finke from Ballybrado Organic Farm who gave us a taste of her new organic spelt brown bread mix and her ‘Little Bakers’ kid’s cake mix; and Alan of Baldwin’s ice cream who had no difficulty encouraging people to taste.

I particularly loved the caramel fudge ice cream and still feel guilty that I finished a whole tub. Finally we whizzed over to the Apple Farm just outside Cahir owned by another young entrepreneur and second-generation farmer, Con Traas.

In the 18 years since he took over from his Dad, Con has built up a brilliant apple juice business and farm shop.

Visitors can also camp under the apple trees and local people can have their surplus apples juiced and bottled for the winter. We send ours up to be pressed by Con every year — that’s when we have a good harvest.

This year was an exception, we barely had enough apples to make an apple tart. Look out for Apple Farm sparkling apple juice – light, bubbly and non-alcoholic.

Then it was time to head for home with our heads swirling with ideas and full of hope for the future of artisan food and drink in Ireland.

Double Chocolate Cupcakes and a Raspberry on Top

Makes 18 cupcakes

8oz (225g) soft butter

8oz (225g) caster sugar

3 large free-range, organic eggs

8oz (225g) self-raising flour

1 dstsp honey or golden syrup

1 tbsp milk

18 pieces chopped chocolate or chocolate buttons

Chocolate Icing

5 ozs (140g) icing sugar

2 ozs (55g) soft butter

2 tsp unsweetened cocoa

2 cupcake trays, lined with paper cupcake cases

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.

Cream the butter well, add the caster sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, adding a teaspoon of flour with each addition. (Beat the mixture well before adding the next egg.) Beat in the honey or golden syrup, and then gently stir in the remaining flour. Stir in the milk and mix thoroughly.

Divide ½ the mixture between the cupcake cases. Pop a piece of chocolate or a good quality chocolate button on top. Divide the remainder of the mixture between the cases. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 20-25 mins, or until cooked and lightly golden. Remove cupcakes from the tray and place on a cooling rack.

Meanwhile, make the icing. Cream the soft butter with the icing sugar and cocoa. Add a little hot milk or water to achieve spreading consistency.

Spoon the icing onto the cupcakes and decorate with a juicy raspberry and a fresh mint leaf.

Cabbage Salad with Raisins and Mint

Serves 8 approx.

If you are tiring of the ubiquitous coleslaw, then you might like to try this fresh-tasting cabbage salad with rape seed oil and honey.

½ white cabbage with a good heart

2-3 large dessert apples, grated — we like

Cox’s orange pippin

2 tbsp raisins

4 tbsp freshly chopped mint

1 tbsp freshly chopped chives

4 tbsp pure Irish honey

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

2 tbsp Second Nature Rape Seed Oil

Cut the cabbage into quarters. Wash it well and discard the coarse outer leaves. Cut away the stalks and shred the heart very finely with a very sharp knife. Put it into a bowl with the grated apple, raisins, freshly chopped mint and chives. Mix the honey, vinegar and rape seed oil together. Toss the salad in the dressing until well-coated. Taste and correct seasoning and serve soon.

Jane’s Brown Bread with Knockmealdown Porter and Walnuts

Jane Hodson, who loves to bake and loved Knockmeal-down Porter, devised this recipe which got an enthusiastic response from everyone who tasted it.

400g (14oz) strong wholemeal flour

50g (2oz) strong white flour

60g (2½oz) walnuts (roughly chopped)

330ml (11fl oz) Knockmealdown Porter brewed by 8 Degrees

100ml (3 ½ fl oz) water

1 tsp honey

1 tsp salt

20g (¾oz) fresh yeast

Sesame seeds

Sunflower oil

Loaf Tin 13cm x 20cm (5” x 8”)

Preheat oven to 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8

Sift the flours and salt into a large mixing bowl, adding in the wholemeal chaff left in the sieve. Add in the walnuts and mix well. In a bowl/Pyrex jug put the water and honey and crumble in the yeast. While the yeast is working, grease the tin with the oil and sprinkle lightly with sesame seeds.

The yeast is working when a creamy and slight froth rises to the surface. If this is not happening after a few minutes, put your ear to the jug and you should be able to hear it fizzing.

When ready, pour the yeast mixture and the warmed porter into the flours and mix to form loose wet dough. Pour the dough into the tin, sprinkle to top with sesame seeds and leave, covered with a tea towel (to prevent drying out), in a warmish place until the dough has risen to the top of the tin.

Place in the middle of the oven at 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8 for 20 minutes. Then turn it down to 200c/300F/Gas Mark 6 for another 40 minutes.

Remove from tin and if the sides and base are still soft, return the loaf to the oven for another 10 minutes until it looks nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the base.

Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Hot tips

Where do I find a well-reared bird? They are scarce so it’s never too early to get your order in. We’ve been hearing good things about Mary Walsh’s free range geese from Shellumsrath, Kilkenny, tel: 056–7763426 – www.kilkennyfreerange.com

Find of the Week: Kilree Goats Cheese is another superb goat cheese from Helen Finnegan of Knockdrinna in Stoneyford Village, Co Kilkenny, 056-7728446, www.knockdrinna.com

There’s an Arbutus Night in Isaacs Restaurant, MacCurtain Street, Cork on Friday, Nov 30, the tasting menu is €70. Booking is essential at 021-4503805. Proceeds to Penny Dinners — www.corkpennydinners.ie

The Slow Food Dinner at Sage Restaurant Midleton is a celebration of local food producers. Kevin Ahern will create a 12-mile dinner menu, so come and enjoy the food and meet the producers on Monday, Nov 19, €30 Slow Food members and €35 non-members. Booking is essential, phone 021-4639682.

Darina’s Book of the Week: Clarissa’s Comfort Food. People are becoming increasingly aware of the advantages of simple homemade food that will nourish friends and family instead of buying takeaways or ready meals. This book goes back to basics with food that is delicious and comforting as well as inexpensive and easy to make.

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