We got the most incredible Christmas present from Noah, Robert’s son! It was a day of learning to bake bread at the Firehouse Bakery on Heir (or Hare) Island, about a 20 minutes drive from Ard Glas. While Robert had some experience of baking with yeast, I had none, and considered myself yeast-phobic.
Our day started at 10:00AM with the short ferry ride to the Island. We were picked up by Laura who drove us back to the house/school/bakery and plied us with coffee and brownies to get us in the mood. The baker/instructor is Patrick, who ran his own bakery in Bath, England, and has written the inspirational “The Bread Revolution” with his bakery partner. He plunged us right into the process by introducing his four students to our bowl of sourdough, explaining what is was and how it worked. Then it was all mixing and kneading and scraping until we had a loose ball of dough which was set aside to prove while we got on with the next project – in my case a granary ‘bloomer’ and pull-apart buns and in Robert’s some baguettes.
We moved on from there to muffins, flowerpot bread, orange cake, brownies, cookies and soda bread. I thought I was on more solid ground with whole wheat soda bread but this was soda with a twist – each of us made a different version. We made thyme, mustard and cheddar; apple and cider with caraway; honey, blue cheese and walnuts; and roast butternut squash and cheddar and each version took different shapes, including mini-muffin shapes.
All our bread was baked in Patrick’s custom-built outdoor oven, heated by burning logs inside it. At the end of the day we sat around a table eating Laura’s excellent soup and pasta – she had been cooking away all day as we were baking – with samples of our own bread. We divided all the bread between the four of us and headed back to the ferry. We have a freezer full of bread, a sense of accomplishment, and memories of a warm and friendly learning atmosphere. What I don’t have? Yeast-phobia!