Cookery Feature - The New Ballymaloe Bread Book

Destined to become the go-to bread-making reference for a new generation of cooks and bakers in Ireland and beyond, Darina Allen’s new book is just what’s needed post-pandemic, and will be a reassuring panacea for many of the world’s ills for many a year to come.

Ireland’s cookery teacher and food ambassador par excellence, Darina has always had a special place in her heart for bread – especially soda bread – and, four decades after she and her brother Rory O’Connell established the incomparable Ballymaloe Cookery School, her fiery enthusiasm is undimmed. As she says in the Introduction, ‘Anyone – and I mean anyone – can make a simple loaf of soda bread: just mix, pour (or, if you don’t have a bread tin, shape it into a floury round and transfer to a baking tray) and pop it into the oven. You wouldn’t have found your car keys and be back from the shops by the time it’s baked. When you share the joy of how to make a loaf of bread, you give a gift for life. So if I could teach only one thing it would be how to make a loaf of soda bread.”

And, of course, there is much more than soda bread in this extraordinary reference, which includes over 180 tried and tested recipes – including yeast bread, the sourdough that kept so many of us going through the pandemic, pizza and focaccia, flatbreads, sweet breads and breads from around the world. There’s a full section on gluten-free bread recipes, as well as a seriously delicious one on what to do with leftover bread (some of the most irresistible recipes, including Queen of Puddings and Brown Bread Ice Cream, are in this section…) and a wide range of sweet and savoury extrasincluding jams, flavoured butters, salsas and tapenades.

Being the teacher that she is, no instructive or useful detail has been overlooked by Darina – everything you need to know about is here, ranging from basic equipment and ingredients (including a list of Irish Artisan Millers), techniques and the reasons for them (such as ‘How To Knead Bread and Why We Do It’), a list of Breads To Make With The Kids and useful websites, including Real Bread Ireland. 

And then of course there’s the positivity attached to bread making, not to mention the benefits of eating simple, healthy foods – so, when feeling a bit down, it mightn’t be a bad idea think about these words from Darina: ‘I’ve been making bread all my adult life and most of my childhood, but I still get a thrill every time I take a loaf of crusty bread out of the oven. How wonderful is that?’ And then go and bake some bread.

The New Ballymaloe Bread Book by Darina Allen, with illustrations by Lydia Hugh-Jones. Hardback, €26.99.
ISBN 978 07171 9585

SAMPLE RECIPES: With Christmas on the horizon, we start with a wonderfully festive recipe for Stollen bread – and, as it is quite a lengthy process, we’ll balance that with one of Darina’s quickest and easiest recipes, the Shanagarry Brown Soda Bread.

My lovely American friend and legendary baker, Mary Jo McMillin, shared this delicious stollen recipe with me. It’s a three-day process, but really worth it. Stollen is a fruit bread of nuts, spices and dried or candied fruit, coated with icing sugar and often containing marzipan. It’s a traditional German Christmas bread. Apparently, it was baked for the first time at the Council of Trent in 1545.
Makes 2 × 700g cakes

Brandied Fruit:
250g mixed fruit (sultanas, currants, candied peel - a recipe for preparing your own is given in the book - and/or diced glacé cherries)
2 tablespoons brandy
Yeast Sponge Starter:
15g fresh yeast (or 1 × 7g sachet of dried yeast)
115ml tepid milk
115g strong white flour
55g caster sugar
grated rind of ½ lemon
110g butter, softened
2 eggs
5g salt
250g strong white flour
To Finish:
175g marzipan (preferably homemade, a recipe for preparing your own is given in the book)
2 tablespoons melted butter
3–4 tablespoons icing sugar

Day 1
Mix the dried fruit with the brandy in a bowl. Cover with cling film and allow the fruit to macerate overnight.

Day 2
To make the yeast sponge starter, crumble the fresh or dried yeast into the tepid milk in a medium bowl. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place. After about 5 minutes, it should be creamy and slightly frothy on top. Mix in the flour and beat well with a wooden spoon. Cover with cling film and allow to rest in a warm, draught-free place for 30–45 minutes, until light and well risen.
Meanwhile, put the caster sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the lemon rind and rub it into the sugar with your fingertips. Add the butter and beat with the paddle attachment until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add the salt, scrape down the edges of the bowl with a spatula and continue to beat for 1–2 minutes, until soft.
Add the risen yeast sponge to the creamed mixture along with the 250g strong white flour. Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead on a medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough is silky and soft. It should not stick to your fingers.
Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 2–2½ hours, until doubled in size.
Knock back the dough and scrape it out onto a clean flour-dusted surface. Flatten to 1cm and sprinkle the brandy-soaked fruit on top. Roll up like a Swiss roll and knead the fruit into the dough. The dough may growsticky, but avoid adding more flour. Scrape the fruited dough into a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Day 3
Remove the dough from the fridge and scrape it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half. Shape each half into an oval and roll to about 2cm thick. Make an indentation lengthways along the centre of the dough and lay a 75g long sausage-shaped piece of marzipan on it. Fold over and press to seal. Place each oval approx. 5cm apart on a parchment-lined baking tray. Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise in a warm, draught-free place for 4–5 hours, until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
Spray the loaves with a water mister. Bake in the preheated oven for 30–35 minutes, until deep golden and fully cooked. While still hot, brush with melted butter, then sieve some icing sugar thickly over the top.
Cool well on wire racks before slicing. The stollen will keep wrapped for four or five days and may be frozen.

Shanagarry Brown Soda Bread 
This is a more modern version of soda bread. It couldn’t be simpler – just mix and pour into a well-greased tin. This bread keeps very well for several days and is also great toasted.
Makes 1 loaf or 3 small loaves

400g stone-ground wholemeal flour
75g plain flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, finely sieved
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
425ml buttermilk or sour milk (approx.)
1 tablespoon sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
1 teaspoon honey or treacle
sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Grease a 13cm × 20cm (450g) loaf tin or three small loaf tins (14.6cm × 7.6cm).
Put all the dry ingredients, including the sieved bicarb, in a large bowl and mix well. Whisk the egg, buttermilk, oil and honey or treacle together. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in all the liquid.
Mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy.
Pour into the oiled tin or tins. Using a butter knife, draw a slit down the middle. Sprinkle some sunflower or sesame seeds on the top (if using).
Bake in the preheated oven for approx. 60 minutes for a large loaf or 45–50 minutes for the small loaf tins, until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.

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