When I get a few days off from my own small bakery I still enjoy baking but prefer to do it with the most amazing backdrops. West Cork has some of the most stunning views Ireland has to offer. When the weather cooperates nothing compares to baking bread on Heir Island.
About a year ago I decided to put my name on a waiting list for the Firebakery’s Bread School . It is ran by Patrick Ryan and his partner Laura Moore.They also have a place in Delgany, Co Wicklow. If you want more info on their fantastic business and passion for real bread baking here’s a link to their website.
I finally received a message last November to say that 2017 class dates had been released and would I like to book a date. Of course I jumped at this and decided that this would make a lovely birthday present for myself but convinced my husband that this would make a great gift from him. Naturally he loved the idea of not having to worry about what to get me in 4 months time. I am quite certain he was losing sleep worrying about my fast approaching birthday. He was fairly reluctant to join me as he has no interest in baking but decided it was a good opportunity to meet up with some work/ friend colleagues. We drove up the night before the class and met with his lovely business associate who showed us some of the area . He collected us at our Hotel and drove us to Lough Hyne where he went for a swim around Castle island. It was about 9 degrees outside and it was about 2.5 km swim around the island. My husband and I were just wimpy spectators. What a cool man. After his swim he took us for a drink at Bushes Bar and a bite to eat at Jacob’s Bar both in Baltimore Island. The fish and chips were beautiful. No batter in sight just grilled with butter and seasoning. Pity I was feeling under the weather as I would have lingered longer but we also had an early start to catch the ferry to Heir Island for our full day of bread baking.
We drove to Cunnamore Pier for the ferry to Heir Island. It would have been a beautiful scenic drive had I not fibbed to my husband and told him the ferry was half an hour earlier than it actually was, so it was like a scene from The Dukes of Hazard. Needless to say my plan backfired for getting me there in plenty of time in order to not becoming stressed by our habitual tardiness.
Once you arrive to the island you are driven up to the house which at different times of the year doubles as a sailing school. We were greeted by Laura and were then showed the wood burning clay oven by Patrick Ryan… head chef and baker of Firehouse Bakery. Many of the breads that will be made on the day are baked outside here in this oven.
From there you start making “the king of breads” sourdough loaf. Your sourdough starter has been made for you but everything else is made by you. Once you’ve made your sourdough it goes for it’s first proof and you begin on your next bread, a yeast bread. Each student chooses a different variation of a yeast bread so we made 7 different breads. I picked a courgette, cherry tomato, red onion and feta focaccia. My husband made a potato & rosemary flowerpot bread, which was baked in those inexpensive terracotta pots. I was fairly certain that his wouldn’t turn out as he struggled with a mess of wet dough trying to get his bread to come together. Much to my amazement his bread turned out beautifully baked. We then moved on to different Irish soda breads. I made a honey, walnut, blue cheese, soda. Some of the other varieties we turned out on the day included; thyme,mustard and cheese soda bread, apple and cider soda, Guinness,treacle,oats,walnuts soda and last but not least, traditional buttermilk soda.
We took a short break and we then knocked back our sourdough loaves and shaped them to fit our proving baskets. We also gave them a second prove and then did the same to our yeast breads. We selected new recipes and everyone began making some desserts. This was the only let down for me. I felt this made the end of day feel quite rushed and it was a lot to take in, there was also not as much direction in this portion of the class. I would have preferred to discuss the bread making a bit more at this stage than try and squeeze in a dessert. I was probably just disgruntled because I ended up with making chocolate chip cookies, which I make almost every week. It was still great fun and they gave us the recipes for everything everyone made so I can’t complain too much. During the preparation of the dessert section we also nipped outside to have our sourdoughs put in the oven. We all personalized our with individual scoring on top of the loaf. I wasn’t very original as I just put my initial on mine.
Finally we sat down to eat our breads and a light lunch made by Laura. We were running a bit late so it was a bit rushed hence why I would have preferred the dessert section scrapped. We then divided up all the breads and headed for the ferry. We blew a tire on the way to the ferry which was terrible luck for them but weirdly added to the whole day.
This class has to be added to any baker’s bucket list as it is up there on mine and didn’t fail to surpass my expectations.
Out of all the recipes we learned, the one I will be certain to recreate is semi- sourdough baquette and the honey, walnut , blue cheese soda bread.
I’m still unconvinced if I will be making more sourdough as the commitment to maintain and feed the starter is one I just can not fathom in my current situation. My husband is still a non-convert to baking but I think one baker in the family is enough for the moment. It has definitely converted him into buying more artisan bread for the family even if not made by us.