Last Thursday week I went to an evening bread making class, held at the artisan Firehouse Bakery, in Delgany a pretty north Wicklow heritage village. The Firehouse Bakery is part of a foodie complex called ‘The Delgany’ and said complex has: a food hall; a restaurant; a flower and gift shop; and the aforementioned Firehouse Bakery which is a bakery cum café.
Once upon a not so long time ago I lived a short drive away from the Firehouse Bakery and, before I moved, it became one of my favourite spots to stop for coffee which I invariably had with either a divine pastry or a slice of delectable cake. I also had lunch there a few times: they serve the most excellent sandwiches and pizzas with properly crisp bases which are cooked in the bakery’s wood burning oven. Everything is made on the premises and no additives, preservatives, or flour treatment agents are added to what they bake. As soon as it opened it became my go to place for bread and indeed since I moved, if I am anywhere nearby, I will make a detour to stock up on their superb spelt sourdough.
I suspect that Patrick Ryan, the owner of The Firehouse Bakery, didn’t foresee, when he was leaving school, that baking would be his future métier because he enrolled in University College Galway to do a corporate law degree: he qualified but never practised. Instead he trained as a chef and went on to work in a Michelin-starred establishment. He also traveled to far-flung destinations and on his travels he met Duncan Glendinning who persuaded him to move to Bath in the UK where he set up, with Duncan, ‘The Thoughtful Bread Company’ an award-winning artisan bakery. During his time in Bath he co-authored with Duncan a book called the Bread revolution (Rise up & Bake) which was published in 2012. Patrick returned to Ireland in 2012 to establish the Firehouse Bread School and Bakery on Heir Island in Cork, the Delgany outpost opened in May 2013.
The class I went to was excellent, we were a group of eight and we worked hard for three and a half-hours, kneading dough is a great work-out for the arms! Patrick is extraordinarily passionate about food in general and bread making in particular: he places great stress on the importance of using top quality ingredients. He is a good communicator and we learnt a bit about the science behind bread making and a little of its history. I didn’t know, for example, that in times gone by villages had their own communal ovens and that each household scored their breads with a distinctive mark so that they would recognize them when they came out of the oven.
We all made a plain white loaf and then half the class made focaccia and the other half made tear and share rolls and lastly we each made a different type of soda bread, my soda bread was an apple and cider with caraway loaf. We all ended up with a mountain of bread to take away and Patrick gave us each a sourdough loaf from the bakery and a cloth bread bag to carry it all home in.
There are regular classes at the Firehouse Delgany and Heir Island: they book out very quickly. The three-hour evening class in Delgany is €75 – when I signed up and paid I thought it sound a lot but having been I now declare it excellent value. Even if you never get to a class if you are anywhere close to Delgany it’s so worth stopping by the Firehouse Bakery to buy a loaf or two of real bread.
Note: the web address for the Firehouse Bakery is: www.thefirehouse.ie