Monday, 8 December 2014

Guinness, Walnut & Raisin Rye Bread - and baking bread at the Firehouse Bakery

In the past year, I have clocked up quite a few miles driving around the country going to different food fairs and events and in broad sense, discovering more about food culture here in Ireland. I have met so many people who are passionate about Irish food and have made some great new friends along the way. Sometimes I moan about the fact that there are not enough hours in the day to fit it all in, but every moment has been filled full of fun AND loads of delicious things to eat.

At a very fundamental level I think that, here in Ireland, we have one of the best food industries in the world. We are all far more educated about the food we eat and where it comes from and thankfully increasing numbers of us prefer to buy food locally and in season. We also seem to be becoming more experimental in what we cook at home and as far as I’m concerned this is to be welcomed. I’m a competent amateur cook, ready to give anything a go but I’ve never really baked much homemade bread and was keen to learn more about it.


The Firehouse Bakery located on Heir Island in Cork and also in Delgany, County Wicklow runs day-long and evening-courses on bread making. I have wanted to go on one of these courses for ages, but as they book up incredibly quickly, you have to get in early to secure a place. I finally managed to get a spot on one of the evening courses run up in Delgany, so I left work early, hopped into my car and headed off along the motorway (within the speed limit of course) to Wicklow. I arrived just as the class was starting and quickly donned my apron and rolled up my sleeves ready for an evening’s bread making.
 
Oh what fun it was!
 
The classes are run by Firehouse founder Patrick Ryan, whose passion for artisan bread making is palpable. Class numbers are deliberately kept small with no more than eight people on each course. The other participants were extremely nice and very friendly and we all enjoyed the evening tremendously. We were shown how to make a simple white loaf, tear-and-share bread rolls, focaccia plus 8 different variations on the soda-bread theme. Words cannot express the sense of achievement I felt when I saw my first loaf emerging from the oven! There is something so fundamentally satisfying about baking your own bread; kneading it and feeling it come alive in your hands.
 
Patrick’s enthusiasm is infectious and during the evening he taught us a lot about technique and the science behind bread-making. Perhaps the very best piece of advice Patrick gave us was not to overthink it… and really, when you think about it, this is good advice for so much more than just bread-making.
 
I would strongly recommend the course to anyone and I am now determined to book one of the day-long courses down on Heir Island. The four hours went by in a flash because we were having so much fun and I thought it was well worth doing. I travelled home armed with a large quantity of bread, all of which I had baked during the evening – the smell of the freshly baked bread in my car as I drove was heavenly.
 
Inspired by what I learnt on the course, I decided to experiment with different flours and flavour combinations at home. This is the first loaf I baked in my own oven and I was delighted with the results. I used the trick that Patrick gave us whereby you throw some icy water into a roasting tin placed on the bottom of the hot oven, just before you bake it, to create steam and thus produce a better and more even crust on your bread.
 
Patrick’s first book Bread Revolution is a great read with loads of bread recipes and suggestions for using the bread that you bake. It has a lot of practical advice on achieving the best results and would make a great gift for anyone who’s keen to start baking their own bread at home.
 

Ingredients:

400g strong white flour
100g rye flour
7g fine sea salt
10g fresh yeast or 1 x 7g packet of fast-action yeast
300ml Guinness
75g whole walnuts, lightly broken
50g raisins
 

Method:

1. Place both flours and the salt in a bowl and agitate everything together with your hands so that everything is well distributed. Crumble in the yeast or sprinkle in the dried yeast. Pour in the Guinness and start mixing either with your hands, which I find easiest, or using a plastic dough scraper. After a couple of minutes, everything should come together into a dough.
2. Turn the dough out onto a clean work-surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes until you reach the windowpane stage. To do this take a lump of the dough and stretch it between your hands, easing it gently. You should be able to stretch it enough so that you can see light through it, without the dough tearing when you hold it up to a window or light source.
3. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowled and cover with cling film or a clean damp tea towel. Leave to prove for about 1 hour or a little longer until doubled in size.
4. Turn the dough out onto a clean work-surface and knock it back by gently punching the air out. Knead in the walnuts and raisins until they are evenly distributed. Shape the dough into a loaf and place it (with the underside uppermost) into a proving basket dusted with flour or a lightly oiled 900g loaf tin. Allow to prove for a further 1 hour until the dough has risen just below the rim of the tin.
5. Preheat the oven to 230C/Fan Oven 210C/Gas Mark 9 and put an empty roasting tray in the bottom of the oven. When the oven has heated up, place the bread in the oven. If using a proving basket tip upend the dough onto a parchment-lined baking tray and if using a loaf tin, just place the whole tin in the oven. Pour some iced water into the roasting tray to create steam. After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 20-25 minutes. When ready the bread should be deep golden brown and should sound hollow when tapped on the base. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Makes 1 large loaf.