Countryside escape – Ballymaloe
Travelling around the Irish countryside there was one destination on my list that was a must, Ballymaloe Cookery School – the country’s most prestigious cooking school and one of best run family businesses.
When you enter Ballymaloe reality begins to slip away and you enter into a magical world, the centre of it revolving around food. Situated on a 100 acre farm in the Irish country side just outside Cork, Ballymaloe cookery school is surrounded by vegetable gardens, chickens, cows and amazingly green fields.
Welcomed with wide arms by Darina Allen, her Irish charm and character instantly rubs off. Darina runs the cookery school with her husband Tim, teaching everything from how to make the perfect cup of tea to homemade puff pastry vol au vents. She is the matriarch of this business and an iconic figure within the food industry.
At the heart of her philosophy is that in order to make something taste good, you need to use seasonal and the best ingredients possible. In the cooking school, the students cook with the organic produce from the farm. In the early hours of the morning students get up and pick herbs, vegetables and start milking cows to use in their daily cooking classes. You can’t get much fresher than that!
During my visit, Darina taught me how to make her famous spotted dog recipe. It is such a simple and easy bread to make, based on the basic soda bread recipe. The key to the spotted dog recipe is to ‘let the fairies’ out, as Darina puts it, by placing a cross on top of the bread. This creates air and gives lightness to the bread. Soda breads are such a popular type of bread in Ireland and traditionally were a staple part of the diet. If you want to give this recipe a little twist substitute chocolate for sultanas and you will have a whole new bread, or as Darina so aptly named it, a stripy cat.
Recipe by Darina Allen from Ballymaloe Cookery School
Makes 1 loaf
Preparation 15 minutes
Cooking 35-40 minutes
2 2/3 cup (450g) plain white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 level teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
½ cup (75g) sultanas (or more if you’d like)
350-425ml (1½-1¾ cups) buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 220°C (200°C fan-forced).
2. In a large mixing bowl, sieve in the flour and bicarbonate of soda; then add the salt, sugar and sultanas. Mix well by lifting the flour and fruit up in to your hands and then letting them fall back into the bowl through your fingers. This adds more air and therefore more lightness to your finished bread.
3. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Break the egg into the base of a measuring jug and add the buttermilk to the 425ml (14 fl oz/1¾ cup) line (the egg is part of the liquid measurement). Pour most of this milk and egg mixture into the flour.
3. Using one hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle drawing in the flour mixture from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, but not too wet and sticky.
4. The trick with Spotted Dog, like all soda breads, is not to over mix the dough. Mix it as quickly and gently as possible, thus keeping it light and airy. When the dough all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Wash and dry your hands. With floured fingers, roll the dough lightly for a few seconds – just enough to tidy it up. Then pat the dough into a round about 6cm (2 ½ inches) deep. Transfer to a baking tray dusted lightly with flour. Use a sharp knife to cut a deep cross on it, letting the cuts go over the sides of the bread. Prick with knife at the four triangles. Put into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 200°C (180°C fan-forced). Cook for 35-40 minutes. If you are in doubt about the bread being cooked, tap the bottom. If it is cooked it will sound hollow. This bread is cooked at a lower temperature than soda bread because the egg browns faster at a higher heat.
5. Serve freshly baked, cut into thick slices and smeared with butter and jam. Spotted Dog is also really good eaten with Cheddar cheese.
Cook’s tip: Wholemeal flour can be used in place of the plain white flour for a brown spotted dog
Lydney Milan’s Taste of Ireland on Lifestyle FOOD
Dates and times:
Monday 27 May at 7:30pm and 11:30pm
Saturday 1 June at 11:00am
Sunday 2 June at 11:30pm
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Lyndey Milan, Australian home cook hero, combines a thirst for life and a sense of fun with a love of good food and sparkling shiraz. A familiar face on television and in print, she been instrumental in changing the way Australians think and feel about food and wine for over thirty years.