I’m in despair at the quality of our squishy sliced bread and deeply concerned about the effects on our health and waistline.
Many, not least the Bakers Association of Ireland, would disagree with me and I hope they are right.
I myself can’t seem to find out what exactly is in the bread, an enormously important staple for many people.
Flour, yeast, salt, water, so far so good but what else to speed up the process and produce a loaf at this price.
The term ‘processing aids’ seems to cover a multitude of enzymes, improvers and preservatives which don’t have to be put on the labels as ‘processing aids’ are exempt, so much for transparency...
The good news is that in pockets around the country, artisan bakeries are bubbling up in response to the craving for real bread.
In Cork city, Declan Ryan came out of retirement in 1999 and started to bake real bread in his garage which morphed into a large bakery employing eight full-time bakers in Mayfield.
He sells at farmers markets and specialist shops as far as Dublin. He can scarcely keep up with demand.
Also in the Cork area, ABC Breads in the English Market and Pavel Piatrousky from Pana Bread in Midleton have their loyal devotees.
Another of the pioneers, Sarah Richards who established Seagull Bakery in Tramore, Co Waterford, in 2013 was also inspired by Declan Ryan.
In January 2015, Real Bread Ireland, wwwrealbreadireland.org, was started by a small group of craft bakers as a support network for those who wished to learn how to make real bread either professional or at home.
So what exactly is real bread? Well, in its purest form, it is bread without the use of processing aids or any other artificial additives.
Real bread is made without improvers, dough conditioners, preservatives, chemical leavening (baking powder or bicarbonate of soda) any other artificial additives or the use of pre-mixed ingredients.
That pretty much rules out 90% of the bread on our supermarket shelves but the good news is the quiet revolution at grass roots level.
The use of organic and heirloom flours is increasing significantly, the public is becoming aware that something is amiss as the number of people with a gluten intolerance continues to sky rocket.
A growing body of disquieting research is emerging on the effects of the random use of glyphosate on wheat as a herbicide and before harvesting on our health and the environment.
Making a long and slowly fermented sourdough is certainly a mission but a loaf of soda bread, the traditional bread of our country, is literally mixed in minutes.
Here are several recipes for a variety of breads.
For those who would like to get started on sourdough check out the real bread website.
Many bakers including the Ballymaloe Cookery School will share some of their sourdough starter free with beginners. (Please telephone).
There are a few resting periods in this recipe. This is to ensure you are working with a relaxed dough that is properly developed and able to retain the shape and texture required for an authentic focaccia.
This Italian flatbread is thought to have originated from the Etruscans, and was a staple part of the diet in ancient Rome.
Emmer was commonly used to make focaccia, but I’ve created a recipe using our ciabatta flour, which gives it a fantastic structure. If you can’t get hold of ciabatta flour, a strong white bread flour will also work well.
Popular to this day, focaccia is delicious with all sorts of toppings — rosemary and rock salt are the classic but you can easily adapt this recipe to vary the flavours.
In the spirit of being as authentic as possible, be generous with your olive oil when drizzling it on the top, as the bread will soak this up and it will add extra flavour and moisture.
Whether you’re making this by hand or by machine, put some time and effort into the kneading at the beginning to get the gluten working.
After this kneading, handle the dough as gently as possible to allow the bubbles to develop.
- Makes 1 focaccia, around 800g
- 336ml water
- 12g olive oil, plus extra for brushing
- 5g fresh yeast
- 444g ciabatta flour
- 7g salt
- semolina, for dusting for toppings
- 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves stripped from the stalk
- rock salt
- olive oil, for drizzling
Weigh your water into a large mixing bowl and mix in the olive oil and yeast. Add the flour and mix, then add the salt.
The dough will be sticky and wet, as focaccia is relatively high-hydration dough.
Once combined, transfer your dough to a mixer fitted with a dough hook and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, or knead by hand on a work surface very lightly oiled with olive oil.
Transfer the dough to a lightly-oiled bowl.
Knock it back by drawing the sides up and then folding them into the centre, cover with a cloth, and leave to rest for one hour at room temperature, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Knock the dough back a second time. Don’t overwork it, however, as you want an open crumb that’s not too tight.
Leave the dough to rest for another hour, and then repeat the knocking back. Be very gentle with the dough while doing this, to preserve the bubbles that are developing. Leave it to rest for another hour.
Heat your oven to 240C/gas 9. Generously brush a baking tray with olive oil. Turn the dough out on to the tray and prod it outwards into a round.
It will expand a bit when baking, so leave some room at the sides of the tray. Drizzle with oil, then add your toppings. Prod holes into the dough with your fingers.
You can make these deep, as even though this is a ‘flatbread’, it will rise a bit due to the yeast. If any bubbles form on the surface, poke them with a knife to prevent them developing crispy crusts.
Bake in the oven for 20–25 minutes. Check it after 10 minutes, and if it is colouring too quickly turn the oven down to 220C/gas 7 for the remaining time.
Once baked, the bottom should sound hollow when tapped. Drizzle more olive oil on top before serving (be generous!), and allow the focaccia to cool before slicing.
* A Handful of Flour Recipes from Shipton Mill
There is something rather delicious about potato and pastry, which is prevented from being stodgy here by very thinly slicing the potatoes, while the green and red of the courgettes and chilli will liven up any table with their bright colours. Ideal for a late summer or early autumn lunch, serve this with a glass of crisp white wine and a zingy salad.
- 1 quantity rough-puff pastry
- 1 medium egg, beaten (to glaze) for the topping
- 200g (roughly 4) new potatoes cut into 1mm – 2mm slices
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
- 100g herb cream cheese (you can buy brands such as Boursin, or make your own with a handful of finely chopped chives and a garlic clove mashed into a light cream cheese)
- 1 courgette, cut into 1–2mm slices
- Half a red chilli, finely chopped (adjust to personal taste and the strength of chilli)
- 2 mint sprigs, finely chopped
- salt and black pepper
Heat your oven to 180C/gas 4. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.
On a lightly floured work surface roll out your pastry to a square roughly 30cm x 30cm. Score a line where you want the borders to be, around 1.5cm from the edges. Transfer your pastry on to the baking tray.
Prick the base of your tart using a fork, and brush the borders with a little beaten egg. Bake the pastry for 10–15 minutes, until you can see it has started to cook.
While your pastry is baking, prepare the filling. In a large non-stick frying pan, fry the potatoes over a medium heat in 2 teaspoons of the olive oil for 2 minutes, until they turn translucent. Remove the pastry base from the oven.
If it has puffed up too much, gently push it down in the centre with the back of a fork. The weight of the filling will also push it back down.
Crumble the cream cheese over it evenly, and then arrange the potatoes and courgettes on top. These will shrink slightly as they cook, so be generous.
Sprinkle the chilli over the top, drizzle with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Return the tart to the oven and bake for a further 15 minutes or so, keeping an eye on it. Remove from the oven once the pastry has cooked through, and leave it to cool for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the mint over the top, and serve warm.
A Handful of Flour Recipes from Shipton Mill
These buns are perfect for a variety of barbecued meats, not just burgers. They taste great with pulled pork, or slow cooked beef with relish. You need a bun light enough not to be overly heavy once packed with its filling, but substantial enough to keep its shape and not fall to pieces in your hands.
If you want to add seeds to the top, lightly spray water on top of the buns just before they are about to go in the oven and sprinkle over onion, sesame or poppy seeds. The dough is subtly enriched, to make the bun more luxurious than a standard floury burger bap.
- 190g water
- 70g Wheat sourdough starter for flavour, not for fermentation purposes (if you don’t want to use this you can add 35g more flour and 35g more water instead)
- 10g fresh yeast
- 500g strong white flour (ciabatta flour also works well)
- 1 small egg, beaten
- 60g rapeseed oil (or sunflower oil), plus a little extra for the bowl
- 30g sugar
- 10g salt
- semolina, for dusting
Mix the water and starter together in a mixing bowl and add the yeast. Slowly stir until combined then add the flour.
Place the egg, rapeseed oil, sugar and salt in a separate bowl and combine by hand using a fork. Add this to the flour mix and slowly stir to create a dough, until the ingredients are evenly incorporated.
Knead the dough (either by hand or using an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook) until it is elastic and smooth, with a lovely shine.Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a cloth, and rest at room temperature for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Place your semolina in a large wide plate. Divide your dough into ten 80–90g lumps.
Roll these by hand into round roll shapes, then roll them all over in the semolina, and place them on a baking tray. (If you want to sprinkle the tops with seeds, just roll the base in the semolina and keep the top clear.)
Keep them at least 8cm apart to allow them to rise. Cover, and leave them at room temperature for a further 2 hours, or until doubled in size. Towards the end of this time preheat your oven to 180ºC/gas 4.
Place around 12 ice cubes in an ovenproof dish in the bottom of your oven to create steam. Remove the ice cubes just before you want to bake your buns.
Place your buns in the oven, and bake for 14–17 minutes, until golden. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
A Handful of Flour Recipes from Shipton Mill
John Lister was only 20 when he and a few friends chanced upon the ruined Shipton Mill in the Cotswolds. They restored the building and the millwheel and started to stonegrind organic flour in the 1980s.
Shipton Mill developed a cult following among the growing number who were anxious to source organic flour milled in the time-honoured way.
In recent years the demand for ancient grains has gathered momentum, kamut, einkorn, spelt, durum, amaranth, buckwheat, chestnut, teff, sorghum, quinoa.
Now the next generation is happily and passionately involved. John’s daughter Tess recently wrote a Handful of Flour Recipes from Shipton Mill published by Headline which shares the knowledge and tells the story of the bread revolution. www.shipton-mill.com
Another ‘must have’ for ‘wannabe’ breadmakers is Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters published by Fourth Estate.
A Rediscovery of Forgotten Flavours and Foraged Foods hosted by the Autumn certificate students on November 19, 7pm. Booking essential on 021 464 6785 or email@example.com
Tickets €45. Proceeds go towards the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project.
Cake decorating is an art form. Pam is a senior tutor at the Cookery School for many years now and on November 26, from 2pm to 5pm will wow you with her magic as she pipes, drizzles and adorns cakes into edible masterpieces.
She will share piping tips and tricks and use all manner of icings from marzipan, to buttercreams, ganaches and glaces and show how to use edible flowers and fruits for the ultimate stylish presentation. This is a demonstration course, but there will be an opportunity to taste some of the cakes.