Ballymaloe – Week 5: Breakfast and Bread

This was the week that my sourdough finally flew the nest. I’ve been nurturing the starter for a while now, and it was about time I made some bread! Before I came to Ballymaloe, I had attempted to make a starter once or twice but had always failed miserably. Making sourdough is a fascinating business. It starts with the starter; the simple combination of flour and water, which you feed regularly (with more flour and water). After a while, this simple two ingredient combo starts to create natural yeast. This yeast is formed by bacteria from the environment, so every starter is different, depending on what flour is used, the natural chemicals in the water, the temperature of the room and the natural bacteria present. Which means that even if I take my starter with me at the end of the course, it could create a totally different loaf if I make it in Wicklow or Zurich. By the beginning of this week, my starter was bubbling nicely, was quite thick and had a faint beery smell, all of which are signs that it’s calling out to be baked. So I whizzed it up with flour and water in a Kenwood machine, rested it in a basket for 2 days and then cooked it in a dutch oven! Here are the pictures of my living creation…


My happy, bubbly starter



Kneading the sour dough



Dough ready to rest in its basket


Final sour dough loaf

I was one of the lucky ones this week. I was cooking in the demo kitchen. This is one of the most sought after spots in the school and not to be sniffed at. In most of the kitchens, there are between 15 and 20 people cooking at any one time. They get loud, sweaty and hot. You also have to share a lot, whether it’s ovens, blenders or magimixes. Demo is the opposite. In demo, there are only six students. It is a zen paradise, with unlimited pyrex bowls and an oven each. You never have to wait, you can hear yourself think and you can gaze out the window onto the pretty little water garden. I happened to be in demo with five other lovely, friendly, chatty ladies, and it may have gone to our heads. We were in such a state of tranquility and comfort, that we took our foot off the pedal, and chilled out. That didn’t last long, when we got a proper lecture about how we needed to be quicker, ruthless (no worrying about whether everyone else has a le creuset pot) more organised and above all… less chatty. It was a bit of an eye opener for all us, and although it made is feel properly guilty, we were in bright and early the next morning with detailed orders of work and sellotape on our lips. It was a necessary reminder that we need to be quick and efficient, and I have definitely been more prepared since!!

bread on window sill

Some white yeast bread resting on the windowsill in the demo kitchen

My other drama this week was pastry related (no surprises there). I’m sure most of you have had blisters from shoes in the past. Well, this week I got two massive blisters from choux! I was down to make eclairs, and was actually pretty excited. I had heard that there was a lot of arm strength that went into making choux, but I grew up in the countryside, mucking out stables and chopping wood. I would be well able to beat that choux into submission. I was so convinced that my lemon curd eclairs would be a winner, that I went off and crystallised some beautiful edible, yellow flowers, which I was going to use to adorn my lemony pastries. The main thing I had gleaned from Rory’s choux demo the evening before, was that you beat your pastry really, really hard before adding an egg, and another egg, and so on… So I used that wooden spoon like a weapon and took out the dough. I tried every stirring method you can imagine, and settled on what I named “the cauldron method”… Not the most glamorous, but definitely effective, and then I felt a little pop on the inside of my thumb. I had just burst a blister and there was another one on the palm of my hand. It was gross. They still look gross. Anyway, my choux worked out very well despite my life threatening injuries, so I piped the beauties onto the tray and put them in the oven. At that stage, I was way behind time (too much time I imagine) and realised the curd would not be made. Whilst pondering over what an earth I was going to fill my eclairs with, I forgot about my eclairs, and they burnt, and I wasn’t allowed to fill them with anything.


What my choux aspired to

So… Our first exam is coming up at the end of this week, and panic has started to set in. We are required to identify a selection of salad leaves and herbs. I should manage the herbs (apart from differentiating chervil from sweet cicely) but the salad leaves are mighty tricky. Since I’ve been here, I’ve fleetingly come across all sorts of leafy greens, such as mibuna, mizuna, tatsoi and salad burnet, none of which I had ever encountered before coming here?! I think I’ll be skulking around the greenhouses over the next few days sniffing and tasting leaves. The other part of the exam is techniques. We will be asked to do three techniques under time pressure. These could be anything from segmenting a citrus fruit to filleting a round fish. I have found myself having conversations with people about exactly what angle a cucumber should be cut and whether a courgette would benefit from being cut on a deeper or shallower slant (shallower it would seem). I’d better pop off now and learn the difference between red lollo rosso and green lollo rosso.


My crystalised flowers


Darina’s sample breakfast


My attempt at a breakfast. Note how the streaky bacon is quite brown. That’s how bacon should look if it doesn’t contain nitrates

class photo

Class photo time


Rose water marshmallows, made by JR, the pastry chef in Ballymaloe house


Some apples grown at the school


Just a few of the chillies grown here


My chilli (very neglected on choux day)

goat cheese

My salad with goat cheese croquettes. These were made using Ardsallagh goat cheese. A fantastic product by Jane Murphy


View from dining room 3 at 7am


My birchermuesli – proper Swiss




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