Georgina Campbell's Cookery Feature - Love Your Loaf

Declan Ryan of Arbutus BreadsThere’s never a bad time to think about the quality of staple food, but this is one of the best when it comes to bread and baking.

With the new school year comes the challenge of the daily lunch box, for a start - and one of the best ways to keep it wholesome and interesting is by varying the types of breads that inevitably play an important part in the mix.

Mindful of the squashed sandwiches that so often come back home in school bags, and perfectly timed to help parents to put together healthy and appealing lunches that children will actually eat, Irish Food Writers’ Guild members Lizzie Gore-Grimes and Caroline Hennessy have put together a brilliant piece on school lunch boxes - What’s In Your Lunchbox is available on the Guild website. It’s a fantastic resource with lots of ideas, including a wide selection of online recipes and plenty of things that kids can have fun doing themselves.

It’s not all about bread of course - far from it - but it ties in nicely with National Bread Week which runs from 4th to 10th October; visit for information all about bread as well as details of participating bakers.

This celebration of our daily loaf is a timely reminder of how good ordinary everyday Irish foods can be, and especially our great baking tradition with its wide variety of breads - some say it’s the best in the world and, with the growing popularity of breads that are new to Ireland, like sourdough, it’s becoming more interesting all the time.

Waterford BlaaWho would have thought even twenty years ago that the Waterford Blaa would gain European recognition with PGI designation (protected geographical indication), that yeast bread (not part of our own mainstream baking tradition at all) would become part of every home cook’s repertoire, or that sourdough would become the bread of choice in smart cafés and restaurants up and down the country. Declan Ryan of Arbutus Breads in Cork was one of the first to work with sourdoughs, now he’s renowned for his fantastic range of breads - and many other have followed his lead.

National Bread Week is organised by FCBA (Flour Confectionery and Bakers Association) and it’s designed to remind us of the versatility of bread and to dispel some of the health myths about bread.

For example, according to dietitian Dr Mary McCreery, “…. many of the facts quoted about bread are based on American bread which is completely different in its composition, particularly its sugar content, to the healthier style Irish bread. Contrary to popular belief bread is good for us – providing protein, folic acid and many nutrients such as dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals.”

So this is a great opportunity to support your local craft baker, enjoy the wonderful simple foods that they produce - and to get into the kitchen and let the therapeutic power of baking do its thing!


Granny Nixon's Wheaten LoafNational Bread Week is sponsored by Bord Bia and supported by Rachel Allen, who is urging us all to celebrate Irish bread at home with the whole family. There is a strong tradition of breadmaking in Ireland and, as she says, its versatility makes it ideal for any meal – be it breakfast, lunch or dinner - and it has a firm place as part of a healthy balanced diet. [Follow @loveyourloaf on Twitter/Like us at]

Baking is my favourite side of cooking and it’s always been the most enjoyable section of any book that I’ve been involved in - and Granny Nixon's Wheaten Loaf is the most popular of all the variations on brown bread that I’ve come across.

It’s a light brown loaf from the North of Ireland made regularly by my mother-in-law, who handed it on to me. It features in The Best of Irish Breads & Baking (the image was sent by a reader, Jennifer Buscher, who bought it last year and baked the loaf as soon as the book arrived!) and I often find it in restaurants around the country, sometimes credited, sometimes not - it’s very recognisable.

It makes an unusual even-textured loaf with a thin, crisp crust and is one of the quickest to prepare as the wet mixture is simply poured into the tins for baking. It's dead easy and a good loaf by any standards: it's moist, cuts well and keeps surprisingly well for a fat-free soda bread.

Makes two 7"/18 cm round loaves.

12 oz/350g fairly fine wholemeal flour
12 oz/350g plain flour
1 level tablespoonful sugar
2 level teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pint/600 ml buttermilk.

Preheat a fairly hot oven, 400'F/200'C/Gas mark 6. Grease two 7"/18 cm sandwich tins. Weigh the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix well, then add the buttermilk and mix thoroughly to make a very wet mixture. Pour the mixture into the prepared tins and bake near the top of the oven for about half an hour. When cooked the loaves will shrink slightly from their tins, turn out easily and be crisp on the base. Cool on a wire rack, wrapping lightly in a clean tea towel if you like a softer crust.


Rathsallagh Tomato & Cheese BreadRathsallagh Tomato & Cheese Bread from Rathsallagh House, Co Wicklow is another recipe given in The Best of Irish Breads & Baking.

Kay O’Flynn's variation on yeast bread is baked in loaf tins and is distinctly Mediterranean in character. Interestingly, ‘easy-blend' yeast is used and the mixture is only kneaded once, but when the dough is in the tins they are put into oiled polythene bags and left at ordinary room temperature.

This much slower method of rising the dough compensates for a reduced amount of kneading (and realtively small quantity of yeast for the weight of flour) and allows the gluten in the flour longer to develop, so producing a better texture. The more slowly yeast works on dough, the better the bread will be.

Makes two 1 lb/450g loaves.

1½ lb/700g strong white flour
1 dessertspoon salt
1 sachet easy-blend dried yeast
5 oz/150g hard cheese, grated
9tbsp/135ml olive oil
13 fl oz/ 375ml warm water
3 tbsp/45ml tomato purée
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 oz/50g black olives, stoned and chopped.

Sift the flour into a large bowl and mix in the salt and yeast, then add the grated cheese. Mix the olive oil, water, tomato puree, crushed garlic and cayenne together and add to the flour mixture.

Mix with a wooden spoon to make a firm dough, then turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes until the dough feels elastic.

Oil two 1 lb/450g loaf tins, divide the dough between the two tins, put them into polythene bags and leave to rise in a draught-free place at room temperature for about 4 hours.

Preheat a hot oven, 450'F/220'C/Gas mark 8. When the dough has doubled in size, stud the tops of the loaves gently with the chopped olives.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 400'F/200'C/Gas mark 6 for another 20 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack to cool.

Variation: Top the loaves with 2 thinly sliced tomatoes and reserve a little of the grated cheese to sprinkle over.


Rachel Allen’s Bread and Butter PuddingRachel Allen’s Bread and Butter Pudding

Rachel Allen has plenty of bread recipes at her fingertips, but she points out that bread can also be an excellent ingredient (think brown bread ice cream perhaps…)

“This is one of the older nursery puddings that has enjoyed a terrific revival, but initially it was just a way of using up leftover bread, made with just milk and a scattering of dried fruit,” she says. “But there’s nothing frugal about this recipe – it’s got lots of fruit in it and a generous proportion of cream to milk. When people taste it, they just go ‘Wow!’

I know it has a lot of cream in it, but don’t skimp – just don’t eat it every day! We play around with this formula and continue to come up with more and more delicious combinations, depending on what’s in season and what we have around; see below for some of them.”

Serves 6-8

Ingredients and equipment

• 12 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed
• 50g butter, preferably unsalted
• 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon or mixed spice
• 200g plump raisins or sultanas
• 450ml cream
• 225ml milk
• 4 large organic eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 110g sugar plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
• Pinch of salt

1 x 20.5cm square ovenproof pottery or china dish


1. Butter the bread and arrange 4 slices, buttered side down, in one layer in the buttered dish.

2. Sprinkle the bread with half the spice and half the raisins, then arrange another layer of bread, buttered side down, over the raisins, and sprinkle the remaining nutmeg and raisins on top.

3. Cover the raisins with the remaining bread, again, buttered side down.

4. In a bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla extract, sugar and the pinch of salt.

5. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the bread.

6. Sprinkle the tablespoonful of sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, loosely covered, at room temperature for at least 1 hour or chill overnight.

7. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

8. Place the pudding in a bain-marie and pour in enough water to come half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve the pudding warm with some softly whipped cream.

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