Monday, December 10, 2012

Firehouse Bread - A Piece of Heaven

I really really want one of those
It is not very often that I am impressed with a cookery/baking course but wow - what a day I had recently at Firehouse Bread Bakery in Heir Island. A beautiful spot in the depth of West Cork - 27 people are living on Heir Island and you are happy about the low number as that is the charm of this heavenly place.

The ferry arrived bang on time at 10 o'clock on Cunnamore Pier - it was a frosty but calm morning and the view from Cunnamore made the almost 2 hour trip worth the while. No sound other than what nature intended and I enjoyed the peace for the few moments until the ferry arrived.

I was joined by a mother/son/girlfriend team and together we boarded the ferry. The short trip (about 5-7 minutes) took us to Heir (or Hare) Island where Laura waited already with her jeep to pick us up. It was as if we all had been friends for years and just met again. The short spin took us to the Firehouse Bakery with views over the bay. We were greeted by warm tea, homemade mince pies and wonderful shortbread biscuits. We were chatting away until Patrick Ryan joined us and took us out to the clay oven that gave the name to the bakery. A beautiful constructed outdoor oven, wood fired and perfectly crafted by Hendrik Lepel who runs regular workshops on how to build a clay oven. Wood blocks were burning away and you almost forgot the chill on the air.

Back inside, we were shown into the workroom and our stations. I was introduced to my new friend, Sourdough (mine had died previously and I was happy to see a future for my sourdough plans). Patrick is not only a damn talented baker but also a natural teacher - generous with his knowledge, easy to follow his instructions and always there to help when one of us struggled. After we made out sourdough bread - we left it to rise and got on with our other tasks. Patrick had a few recipes laid out upside down and we had to choose one recipe each (so that we could cover several different recipes) and I ended up with Brioche. This is normally thought of as a sweet bread but I learned now that this is actually not the case (unless you buy the industrial prepared ones). Brioche is meant to be rich and indulgent - either way, it was the first time that I tried my hands on Brioche. Again, the instructions were easy to follow and the result was a beautiful rich, almost flaky bread. I will make mini Brioches for my Christmas Party on Saturday. It will go perfectly with my liver pate. From the rest of the dough, I made cinnamon rolls with mincemeat.  The others were making Baguettes, Flower Pot Breads and Focaccia.

After all that kneading, we worked up an appetite and Laura served us a wonderful lunch with sourdough bread that was slightly toasted, crisp bread, beetroot dip, hummus - again, it felt as longtime friends were sitting together.

The View
After the break, it went back onto the work stations were we tried our hands on soda bread. I am making my own soda bread for years, sometimes mixing in fruit and sometimes herbs - but Patrick showed us how many versions you can make with this one dough. Again, we had to pick a recipe out of a pack and I ended up with apple & cider bread, while the others were doing a beetroot, tomato & feta muffins and walnut & honey loaf.

In the middle of all that - we returned to our sourdough bread and knocked it back and placed it on the lovely proofing baskets that creates the wonderful patterns on the bread (and I finally got 2 for myself). We left it to proof again and turned our attention to cakes....

Fresh bread & mulled Cider
I am a very good baker but I am not really bothered about cakes but Patrick had some tricks up his sleeve for us. I got the recipe for Chocolate & Guinness Cakes which I spooned into mini muffin tins. The batter was silky and rich and turned out amazing muffins which I then topped with a cream cheese toppings to make it look like mini pints of Guinness - guess I will make these also for the Christmas Party.

The kitchen was a hive of activity with us four bringing our goods to the ovens and Laura preparing dinner for us - bliss for any serious cook or baker.

Finally we brought our sourdough out to the clay oven and marked them with the razor - for us to recognise our bread when it came out again. These type of clay ovens were very common in earlier times where a village would have one of these ovens and every family would bring their bread to be baked and everyone was responsible to maintain the oven and keep the heat going. I can see this tradition being revived by Patrick & Laura and that the people of Heir Island are bringing their loaves to the Firehouse Bakery.
Lovely dinner - perfect ending to a prefect day

After all that baking and cleaning up, we worked up quite an appetite and sat down at the dinner table were Laura served up a scrumptious dinner. Hearty vegetable soup, chickpeas & bacon, red cabbage slow, roast and of course our own bread - I could have stayed so much longer and I wasn't the only one. It felt like home or at least at home with close friends. But the ferry was waiting for us and it meant to say goodbye. We were all given a goodie bag with a dough scraper and a razor cutter, recipes and some reading material. I bought the book which Patrick signed for me and I persuaded him to sell me also 2 of the proofing baskets and a portion of his sourdough (which got fed straight away when I got home).

The Team
Firehouse Bakery is also a B & B and I am planning to take Mr T for a relaxed weekend away during spring. Heir Island has no shop or pub and you would have time to just relax and enjoy life - while being surrounded by the smells of homebaked bread. A piece of Heaven on Earth.

Breadmaking courses run throughout the year and I can only recommend the course. Even if you think you are a good baker, I bet Patrick will still be able to teach you a trick or two.
All recipes are structured for use in a home kitchen - and they work

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