On The Breadline


In these obsessively gluten-free times, bread and fashion do not mix. There’ll be no room for a buttered baguette or a chocolate croissant between the black coffee and the cigarette in New York, Paris or Milan. If breakfast is to be had at all among the fashion crowd over the next few weeks, it’s no carbs all the way.

Here in Ireland, September also sees National Bread Week celebrating Ireland’s national bread heritage, from barmbrack to Bla. The Love Your Loaf campaign has commissioned some interesting research from Dr Amalia Scannell of UCD’s Institute of Food and Health about why we love the smell of bread so much. Analysing compounds in a typical loaves, they identified twelve key aromas including popcorn butter, green apple, toffee, malty grains, figs, sherry and straw.

Unsurprisingly, our love of the smell of bread (89 per cent of those asked in the survey say it makes them happy) comes from odour-cued memories of childhood and maternal love. And our extreme weather-related stockpiling earlier in the year left us in no doubt about the sliced pan’s place in our subliminal survival kits.

We’ve been warned and warned about over-eating baked goods with extra sugar and super-refined flour, and a compromise which has happily emerged over the past few years is digestion-friendly, minimal and traceable – ingredient sourdough. Now, however, industrial bakeries are cashing in on the marketing power of a supposedly better-for-you loaf and sourfaux production has become as much an unregulated free-for-all as Irish “craft” beers, gins and whiskeys.

Patrick Ryan, from The Firehouse Bakery in Delgany, Co. Wicklow, and Heir Island, West Cork, explains: “The benefit of sourdough comes from the fermentation time involved in creating the bread. The taste and health benefits are achieved through time. It is not something that can speed up. So while many plant bakeries may latch onto the word sourdough and are using powdered sourdough along with 15+ other ingredients, the real question people should be asking is, how long is the dough fermented? When flour is hydrated the gluten bonds within the flour form but as dough is fermented, this gluten is broken down, making the bread much easier to digest. Also, as dough is fermented, more nutrients within the grain become available to the body.”

I asked Patrick how we can spot the real from the fake. “That is one of the struggles we face. If buying from a local bakery, just ask the question, they should have the knowledge to answer you. In a supermarket, look at the list of ingredients. If ingredients go into double figures it’s not looking good. Also, true sourdough will not contain commercial yeast. Simply adding sourdough starter to a dough does not make a bread sourdough.”

If, like me, you are still resisting the Call of the Starter, I’ve included Richard Corrigan’s superlative soda bread opposite, and you can find restaurant Delahunt’s gorgeous version in my recipe archive online. If you are keen to learn by doing, and this time of the year is one for turning over a new leaf, there are bread-making classes in abundance all over the island. The Firehouse Bakery runs regular sourdough courses and in my neck of the woods, Karen Austin from The Lettercollum Project in Clonakilty also welcomes complete beginners in her kitchen. Well established in Bath, French baker and author, Richard Bertinet is a fantastic teacher and his books and videos are simple to follow and encouraging. Happy baking!

Tomato and olive salad in Sourdough

This is a very large and decidedly less soggy version of the wonderful pan bagnat, the famous fishermen’s salade niçoise sandwich. It is a marvellous thing to bring on a picnic, being robust and easily transportable. And if you are in France your hosts will love you for providing a dish in a dish which will always match their tablecloth.

Obviously, the number of people served depends on the size of your loaf. As for the bread, if it’s a day old, it will be easier to empty out to make the croûtons. If it’s fresh, you will be more tempted to eat the crust! Vary the colours of the peppers and cherry tomatoes to make things prettier.

For 6

30 minutes preparation

1 large sourdough loaf

1 garlic clove, peeled and halved

olive oil

fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper

3 peppers, chopped into strips

20 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

3 large ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks

a good handful of anchovies

a couple of handfuls of rocket

3 tbsps black olives, pitted

6 sundried tomatoes in olive oil, cut into 2cm pieces

2 tbsps white wine vinegar

1. Cut a disc from the top of the loaf of bread, wide enough to get a large serving spoon in. Scoop out the soft bread, trying to keep the pieces intact so you will be able to cut regular croutons of 1–2cm.

2. Rub the inside of the loaf with one of the garlic halves.

3. Heat some olive oil in a large pan and fry the croutons with the garlic halves, tossing regularly, until they become golden brown. Sprinkle with some fleur de sel and drain on some kitchen paper.

4. Put all the other salad ingredients in a bowl and toss with the vinegar and some more olive oil. Mix in the croutons and spoon everything into the centre of the loaf.

NB. If you are transporting the salad, don’t add too much oil before a long journey. However, the more oil you use, the more soaked and tasty the bread will be once the salad has gone!

Rye bread and cheese terrine

This terrine is always a great success and an easy way to offer a cheese course. You can make it the evening before, but do not slice it until just before serving. If you want to scale it up, just add a third layer.

For 6-8

20 minutes preparation

2-3 hours chilling

1 ripe Camembert, rind removed

250g Roquefort or ripe blue cheese

100g mixed currants and raisins

100g hazelnuts, toasted

Dark rye bread, cut into 4 slices, crusts removed

250g softened butter

1. In the bowl of a food processor, blend together half the butter with the Roquefort, then add the hazelnuts.

2. Proceed in the same way to make a similar mixture with the Camembert, raisins, and the remaining butter.

3. Line a small, slim loaf/terrine pan with plastic wrap.

4. Use the rye bread to line the base of the tin or pan.

5. Spread a layer of the Roquefort mixture on the bread base.

6. Add a second layer of bread, then spread with the Camembert mixture.

7. Before serving, turn out the terrine, remove the plastic wrap, cut into thin slices, and serve with a salad.

Bentley’s soda bread

Richard Corrigan’s dark, treacly soda bread is on a par with that of Delahunt’s restaurant in Dublin, anointed by Harry and Meghan. Real bread purists can be sniffy about soda bread, particularly when it’s mass-produced, but I defy one of them to resist a slice of this with some good Irish butter.

For 1 large loaf

5 minutes preparation

45 minutes cooking

250g plain flour

2 tsp salt

15g bicarbonate of soda

250g wholemeal flour

140g jumbo oat flakes

1 tbsp clear honey

1 tbsp black treacle

500ml buttermilk

1. Heat the oven to 200oC/gas mark 6. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment or grease and line a large loaf tin.

2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Make a well in the centre, then pour in the honey, treacle and buttermilk, working everything together lightly with your hands until you have a loose, wet dough.

3. With floured hands, shape the dough into a round and lift it onto the lined baking sheet or into the tin. Use a knife to mark a cross in the top (there’s no need to do this if you are using a tin).

4. Put into the oven and bake for around 45 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base.

5. Transfer to a wire rack, drape a slightly damp cloth over the top and
leave to cool.


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