Monday 30 January 2017

In Praise of Real Bread

A freshly baked loaf of Ballymaloe Cookery School sourdough bread

I’m totally 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 certainly 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 all have to be put on the labels as ‘processing aids’ are exempt, so much for transparency….
The good news however is that in pockets here and there 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.

Declan Ryan of Arbutus Bread with some of his beautiful loaves

Declan sells his Arbutus Bread at Farmers Markets and specialist shops as far away as Dublin. He, like many others who were inspired by him can scarcely keep up with demand.

ABC Bread (Image: Tom's Foodie Blog)
Also in the Cork area – ABC Breads in the English Market and Pavel Piatrousky from Pana Bread in Midleton have their loyal devotees.
Seagull Bakery

Another of the pioneers, Sarah Richards who established Seagull Bakery in Tramore in 2013 was also inspired by Declan Ryan.
In January 2015, Real Bread Ireland 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.

And we sell our own homemade breads here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School Farm Shop.

Our Ballymaloe Cookery School sour dough bread

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.  And buyer beware, much of the bread that’s sold as ‘sourdough’ contains yeast which is not at all the same as a natural sourdough.

Making bread at the Ballymaloe Cookery School

The good news is there’s a quiet revolution going on at grass roots level, small craft bakers are popping up here and there around the country, the use of organic and heirloom flours is increasing significantly, the general 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 both as a herbicide and before harvesting on our health and the environment.
Ellie Kisyombe from Malawi kneading dough at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Making a long and slowly fermented sourdough is certainly a mission’ but a loaf of soda bread, the traditional breads of our country is literally mixed in minutes. A few scones will be out of the oven in 10 or 12 minutes while a crusty loaf will be ready in 35 or 40. 
Few things we do, give so much pleasure and nourishment for so little effort. A truly nourishing, wholesome national loaf would do much to enhance the health of the nation. This was done in Norway in the 1970’s with remarkable results.
Check out the Real Bread website
Many bakers including the Ballymaloe Cookery School will share some of their sourdough starter free with keen beginners. (Please telephone ahead - 021 4646785).