At 9.55am on a Saturday morning, myself and four other people boarded a tiny boat bound for Heir Island off Cork’s west coast. Are we mad? No, we are all carb addicts and we were very excited to be spending the day with Patrick Ryan in his artisan bread making school in Firehouse Bakery.
Whilst enjoying the coffee and brownies waiting for us on arrival, we bonded over our shared love of bread and our lack of confidence in baking our own. Patrick instantly put us at ease by giving us some great tips about bread making and made it all sound so easy, instilling us with confidence before we even cracked an egg. A promising start.
Over the course of the day, we were going to make three types of bread each using a different type of raising agent, a sourdough loaf using naturally fermented yeast, a loaf using fresh yeast, and a bread using the chemical raising agent bi-carbonate of soda.
Patrick demonstrated how to make each type of dough. He made everything seem manageable, even the dreaded kneading of the dough. This was the bit that I was most worried about doing. Patrick showed us his technique and was very encouraging telling us to relax and just stretch the dough out whatever way we could. Ten minutes in, after a messy start, feeling like my dough was never going to come together, my dough suddenly began to take shape and I was delighted. I was making bread and doing a good job of it too, my mammy would be so proud.
When properly kneaded, dough should be able to stretch so much that when you hold it up you can see light through it without it tearing; this is the windowpane effect. If the dough tears, it kneads (see what I did there) a few more minutes of stretching. By thoroughly kneading the dough, bread will rise better and have a soft even texture. Once kneaded, we put our dough in a container and left it to prove. The only dough that didn’t need proving was the soda bread.
After a quick clean-up and bite to eat, we headed back into the kitchen for the second part of bread making, the knocking back, and shaping. After the dough had doubled in size, we knocked back all the gas that had built up during the proving. Patrick then showed us how to fold the dough and how to shape it. We then left the dough to prove for a second time.
Whilst our dough proved, we each chose another recipe and tried our hands at making cake. I got a Guinness and chocolate cake. The great thing about this course was trying out recipes that I’d never usually make at home. I have never baked with alcohol before and here I was making bread with cider (see recipe below) and cake with stout.
When everything was in the oven, we sat back and chatted about the course. We sang Patrick’s praises, discussed our favourite recipes and newfound appreciation for bread making. Patrick then called us into the kitchen where he had laid out our bounty of baked goods. We took a moment to admire the fruits of our labour before tucking into a delicious lunch served with our very own bread.
Before leaving, we shared out all the breads and cakes so that we each got a sample of everything made on the day. I had so much bread in my bag that I could have floated back to the mainland, no knead (see what I did there again?) for the boat.
The Firehouse Bakery bread-making course was such an enjoyable experience. I can happily say I am now a confident bread maker and I am looking forward to trying out the inspiring recipes in the goodie bag that Patrick gave us as a parting gift.
Patrick’s top five tips for perfect bread making every time:
- Use strong bread flour as this has a higher protein content than regular flour, which means it develops more gluten during the kneading process giving you a better-textured loaf.
- Salt is an essential ingredient as it regulates the yeast activity in the dough but avoid direct contact between yeast and salt at all costs as the salt will kill off the yeast, so it is best to blend the salt into your flour beforehand.
- Follow the ingredients and quantities exactly. Invest in a digital scales as getting your quantities right in bread making is essential.
- As everybody has different kneading techniques, or may use a mixer and a dough hook, check the stretch of your dough using the windowpane effect rather than simply following the time suggested in the recipe.
- You don’t have to put the bread in a warm place, if a room is warm enough for you it is warm enough for the bread. If you put the bread in a warm place, it just quickens the proving time. However, the longer you prove your dough the more flavour it absorbs.
Apple & Cider Soda Bread
Everything we made during the day was delicious but one bread in particular stood above the rest in terms of flavour and ease and speed of creation, Patrick’s Apple and Cider Soda Bread. The flavour combination is a perfect match and the bread goes great with all manner of things from strong cheddar cheese to pulled pork to jams and preserves. Follow this simple recipe for perfect soda bread every time:
- 375g white flour
- 150g oats
- 1 tsp salt
- 15g bi-carbonate of soda
- 150g peeled and roughly chopped apple (about two apples, I used Pink Ladies)
- 450ml cider
Sift the flour, salt and bi-carbonate of soda in a bowl. Add the oats and mix together before adding the chopped apple. Pour in the cider and gently combine to make a wet, loose dough. Lightly grease and flour two small cake tins and divide the mixture equally between the two. Bake in a pre-heated oven (gas mark 7, 200°C) for 15 minutes, and then reduce the temperature to 180°C and bake for a further 10 minutes. This bread is delicious served warm or cold and tastes extra flavoursome the next day.
You can check out Patrick’s sourdough masterclass below
You can check out more masterclasses with Patrick Ryan on our YouTube channel here.
Patrick Ryan is the face behind the Firehouse Bakery. Having swapped laws books for chef knives Patrick now spends his days returning bread to its rightful place as King of the table. Having worked throughout Ireland, Australia and the UK Patrick returned home to set up the Firehouse Bakery. Despite the ongoing recession at the time Patrick choose to stage his bread revolution with the opening of his bread school on Heir island off the coast of West Cork.
His message was simple “bread is king” He wanted everyone to have good bread, all the time. And not just good bread, but bread that is good for you, bread that does you and your body good and he will even show you how to make your own.
5 years on from what began on an island of 27 people the Firehouse Bakery has grown from strength to strength. Patrick operates an award winning bakery and cafe in Delgany Wicklow where you will find an open plan bakery, a bustling cafe and wood fired oven, His bread can be found in cafe and restaurants throughout Dublin and the bread school on Heir island appears to be always fully booked. Patrick is a founding member of realbread Ireland and is also a Failte Ireland Food Champion and with plans for new and exciting projects Patrick’s bread revolution is only getting started.
This review was written in March 2014.