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Friday, July 12, 2024

A Simple Irish Bread Recipe for Everyone to Enjoy

Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork, Ireland, exudes a sense of culinary heritage and simplicity that captivates all who step through its doors. It was here, at a welcome lunch for students, that I first encountered the humble yet extraordinary brown bread that has become synonymous with the school’s ethos of farm-to-table goodness.

The setting was unpretentious: freshly baked loaves of brown bread paired with succulent Poole prawns from Ballycotton Bay, just a short stroll away from the school’s farm. Darina Allen, the school’s co-founder, presided over the gathering, urging us to savor the nutty, slightly sweet warmth of the bread, generously spread with mayonnaise or butter, and topped with plump prawns. It was a simple yet luxurious feast that left a lasting impression.

Ms. Allen, ever the culinary matriarch, shared the recipe for this bread, emphasizing its simplicity and the joy it brings. Mixing yeast with warm water and treacle syrup, she demystified the art of yeast breadmaking, turning it into an accessible gift for all.

The origins of this bread can be traced back to the Grant loaf, devised by Doris Grant, a nutritionist during World War II, to make the most of rationed ingredients. Unlike fluffy sandwich bread or dense soda bread, Ballymaloe’s brown bread strikes a perfect balance, offering a hearty texture without the chewiness of sourdough.

The recipe found its way to Ballymaloe through Myrtle Allen, Darina’s mother-in-law and the esteemed chef of Ballymaloe House. Although Myrtle Allen has since passed away, her legacy lives on in the kitchens of Ballymaloe, where 20 loaves of this beloved bread are baked daily.

JR Ryall, a pastry chef at Ballymaloe, attests to the bread’s simplicity and universal appeal. Its straightforward method yields a loaf that delights both seasoned bakers and novices alike. Indeed, students and guests have taken the recipe far and wide, sharing it with communities around the globe.

Lily Starbuck, a former student turned café owner, proudly serves Ballymaloe brown bread at her establishment, the West End, in Fishers Island, N.Y. She plans to spread the joy of baking by teaching a cooking class centered around this beloved recipe, aiming to inspire others to rediscover the pleasure of homemade bread.

The recipe provided here allows anyone to recreate the magic of Ballymaloe brown bread in less than two hours. With its minimal skill requirement and maximum flavor payoff, it transcends the traditional divide between bakers and non-bakers, inviting everyone to experience the joy of baking.

Today, Ballymaloe continues to honor its culinary heritage by using wheat grown on the farm and serving the bread with homemade butter and Camembert. For Darina Allen, luxury is not defined by material possessions but by the simple pleasures of wholesome, homemade food shared with loved ones.

In a world often defined by excess and extravagance, Ballymaloe brown bread serves as a reminder of the beauty found in simplicity. It is a testament to the enduring appeal of recipes passed down through generations, nourishing both body and soul with every slice. As we savor each bite, we are reminded that true luxury lies not in opulence, but in the warmth and comfort of a well-made loaf of bread.

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