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'People realise what it should taste like': How bread's bad rep is fading - and the Irish bakeries leading the way

Bye-bye white deli rolls, hello crusty sourdough.

Image: Facebook/Bread and Roses

REWIND A FEW YEARS, and a sliced pan or a white roll from a deli counters was about the best bread you could find in Ireland without seeking out a long-established bakery. These days, however, we find ourselves in the midst of a bread revolution.

Small bakeries are opening up at a rapid clip around the country and consumers are increasingly more savvy and educated about the types of bread they are eating. Even larger commercial outfits are beginning to cotton on and improve their offering, eschewing standard white loaves in favour of crusty sourdough.

It’s all part of the shift towards ‘real bread,’ a term that refers to bread made without any processing aids or additives. That means flour, water, and fermentation. The movement has been partly spearheaded by bakers around the country who want to remind people what bread tastes like.

Moray Bresnihan is the owner of Bread & Roses, a bakery in Cork City. He supplies bread and pastries to cafés like Rocket Man and Tabletop Café, and sells his own wares at the Coal Quay Market every Saturday morning. In a previous life, he worked in the arts, but has long harboured a passion for food. Bread, however, was always somewhat of a mystery to him.

“I never understood how you could get something to rise or how that would work,” he recalls. “It seemed really complicated.”

Another day selling our #breads at the market get down before we sell out

A post shared by Bread & Roses (@corkbread) on

In an effort to get to grips with bread, he decided to throw himself into learning everything he could about it. This meant reading up on the science behind it and baking every night after his daughter went to sleep. His cupboards were soon filled with jars of water and flour fermenting as he discovered what did and didn’t work.

“The smell was overpowering and things were dropping and making a mess,” he says. “But it started happening slowly.”

“Why don’t I start selling this stuff?”

Within a year and a half, he had managed to wrap his head around it and decided to start his own bakery.

“I was making bread and I thought, ‘Sure, I’m getting tired of the arts scene. Why don’t I start selling this stuff?’” he explains. “So I started selling bread and people really liked it… and now that’s what I do.”

Bresnihan prides himself on making slow bread with many of his loaves taking around fifteen or sixteen hours to make. Time and patience, he says, are the most essential ingredients.

“Good bread takes time to make,” he says. “That’s the one thing for me. Bread forces me to slow down. It’s not that much time or work, but it’s just slow. The fastest bread I make is fifteen hours. But in terms of hands-on work it’s only maybe half an hour. I just have to sit around and it does its own thing.”

Patrick Ryan of Firehouse Bakery concurs. “That’s what gives bread its flavour and its digestibility,” he says of taking things slow.

Ryan set up Firehouse five years ago, having returned to Ireland from the UK. A trained chef, he had been running his own bakery in Bath when he decided to come back to Ireland with his girlfriend and now wife, Lisa. They decided to run a bread making class in Heir Island, Cork, where Lisa’s family ran a sailing school.

“It was never really a long term plan,” he says. “It was more, let’s do it for the summer and see how it goes, maybe make a bit of money and travel again. That was six years ago and I still haven’t gone travelling.”

The GBBO effect

Since then, they have established a bread school on Heir Island and their own bakery/café in Delgany, Co. Wicklow. They have also branched into wholesale and now supply bread for various cafés and restaurants across Dublin.

Ryan says that the bakery’s success can at least be partly attributed to good timing as Irish consumers became more educated and developed an appetite for ‘real bread’.

“There have been big improvements. It’s nowhere near where it needs to be, but it has improved drastically over the last five years with the emergence of new bakeries and more people getting into it. Social media helps. TV has helped.

Even the likes of Great British Bake Off have gotten people into baking. It became fashionable and that’s definitely helped because people have developed an interest in it.

I do enjoy an experimental day #spelt #stoneground #baguette #irish

A post shared by Firehouse bakery (@firehousebread) on

Such is the demand and interest in real bread that many towns are able to sustain their own local bakeries. Take Seagull Bakery in Tramore, Co. Waterford, for instance. The small open plan bakery specialises in sourdough bread and pastries, and has been operating in the town centre since 2016.

“We have been blown away by the response from customers,” says Conor Naughton, whose wife Sarah Richards founded the bakery.

“We could see from queues forming at our stall at the local farmers’ market that there was an appetite for real bread but we were still taken aback by the response when we opened our bakery in the town centre.”

He says that while consumers may have briefly been put off bread thanks to gluten intolerances, he believes that they are beginning to come around again.

Gluten has a bad rep these days which is unwarranted. With sourdough the gluten is more broken down due to the fermentation process, meaning it is easier to digest.

“I think people are now more educated and realise that they can eat real bread and will pay a higher price for it as they appreciate the time and craft involved.”

Bresnihan agrees.

What people don’t realise is that they get bloated from too much yeast. You get tons of yeast in crap bread. If you want to make loads of money, you need to have bread rising fast so you need to put loads of yeast in it.

This approach goes against everything these bakers stand for.

“They’re trying to speed everything up,” says Ryan. “‘How can we do it quicker, how can we do it faster, how can we do it cheaper?’ We’re trying to slow everything down.”

As far as these bakers are concerned, there’s no other way of doing it.

“It frustrates me sometimes that it’s called real bread,” says Ryan. “It’s just bread.”

“A lot of people had forgotten – and still have – what bread actually tastes like,” says Ryan. “That’s one of the biggest reactions we get. ‘Oh wow, that’s what bread tastes like.’”

We don’t really see there being anything special about what we do. It’s just done in the right way.

“If you give someone a bag of flour, a bit of salt and a bit of water, and you tell them to make a beautiful bread, it’s a bit mad,” says Bresnihan.

“But it’s possible. People do it every day and people eat it everyday and have been for 10,000 years. It’s a pretty fundamental part of civilisation.”

Slowly but surely, these bakeries are reminding people of the goodness of bread.

More:  How burritos and doughnuts took over Dublin – and what you’ll be eating next>

About the author:

Amy O'Connor

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