Super Sourdough!

Sourdough is the holy grail of breads and one I have been battling with for quite some time. After we did the bread course in the firehouse bakery back in August, I made my own starter and started playing around with different sourdough recipes. None have proven that successful! So in an effort to finally succeed at sourdough, I have been taking advice from the sourdough sage of Ballymaloe, Tim.

Tim doing his thing!

I have been eagerly anticipating our introduction to sourdough and last week, Tim took a group of us for an after hours demo and talked us through his hard earned “do’s and don’ts” of this wonderful bread. 

It really is incredible to think that just using some water, flour and yeasts in the air around us, you can produce a spectacular loaf of bread. 

Ronan and Alfred and their baby sourdough starter AJ

So over the last week, I have been attending kitchen three after hours with a group of other bread nerds. Sourdough is a slow process and requires a number of steps in 24hour increments. 

First you make your starter, or steal a smidge of the school’s starter! After 6-7 days, your starter will be ready to make a loaf with it.

On Tuesday, I made and kneaded my dough. Then it needed to rest for 24 hours. After 24 hours I needed to bench rest the dough, folding it occasionally.

My dough, just chillin’

I then put the dough into a proving basket to ensure it kept its shape.It then needed to rest again overnight.

All tucked up

Finally, on Friday evening it was time to bake it! It was baked in a Dutch oven or casserole dish, which helps regulate the heat and ensure the loaf bakes evenly.

After 40 mins, my baby was ready!


I love Tim looking amused behind me in this picture!

So that’s it, sourdough. It is a long process for sure, but it actually isn’t that much work. I will definitely be making sourdough again after this course and I think the way to do it is to establish a routine of loaves! 


And there it is, the labour of love!

There we have it! Have any of you tried making sourdough? If there are any sourdough newbies out there struggling and frustrated, please feel free to ask questions and I’ll try and be of help in any way I can!

From the very first day we started here at Ballymaoe, one thing has been very clear: if you are going to partake in the world of food, you should not settle for any less than the best. Darina and her team are so passionate about sourcing the most incredible ingredients and working with the best people.

Fast forward to this week and we had the privilege of meeting Martin, Noreen and Matthew Conroy who run Woodside farm, a pig farm that started as a hobby but is now a thriving business that can’t keep up with demand.

Martin and Noreen are adamant that the pigs they raise must have the best life possible. They are completely free range on a farm of 30 acres, are not put anywhere near artificial feeds or antibiotics and are raised slowly. Martin was so passionate in his beliefs and really has a problem with the way meat and food in general is produced in our society today. 

Woodside farm products are only sold at farmers markets here in Cork. They do not supply supermarkets and in this way, they can retain complete autonomy over their produce. People flock from far and wide to buy the nitrate free pork sausages which has a shelf life of only 4 days, as opposed to a couple of weeks and is much healthier. My favourite quote from Martin: “it’s not what goes into our products that is special, it’s want doesn’t go in to them.” Why in this day and age do we feel the need to tamper with everything that is usually better left alone! It is unfortunately uncommon today to find food producers so filled with integrity that they are willing to turn down big supermarket contracts to ensure their ethics at adhered to. I cannot express how impressed I was with Martin and Noreen in words, you will have to Go and visit them at Midleton, Mahon, Douglas and Wilton farmers markets. 

Yesterday, we were privileged to cook with Woodside produce while making full Irish breakfast and it was spectacular.

Darina correctly says regularly that there is no such thing as cheap food. Low priced meats and all that is added to them  will bring the cost of damage to our health and pressures on our health system in the long run. She says “we are sleepwalking into a crisis” when it comes to our food system and we need to wake up!


Although I felt clued in before this course, I will never buy cheap meat again and if there is one lesson I can pass on, it is that investing in your ingredients is investing in your health. With beautiful ingredients, it’s difficult not to cook a beautiful meal. 

Gorgeous dogs and Game birds

This week had a particular focus on fowl and in particular, game birds. We were introduced to a beautiful array of birds shot by Tom, a local guard with a passion for shooting.

Tom and Rachel discussing the birds

Tom introduced us to pheasant, ducks, woodcock and snipe and explained about driven shoots vs wild shooting. He spoke with such passion about seasons of each game bird and how necessary it is for sustainability of the birds as well as the sport.

Tom then introduced us to his lovely dog Benny, a black lab and shoot dog. He talk about using dogs to flush out birds in a driven shoot or to retrieve shot birds and we got a lovely demo of how well trained Benny is. 

All of this was due to the fact that pheasant and Guinea fowl were on the menu the following day. I was not scheduled to cook either but Darina was insistent that each of us needs to know how to pluck and clean the birds. In aid of this, we had a group plucking session later that evening.


Graham and his pheasant


Some slightly dubious faces

I’ll be honest and say it wasn’t the most pleasant experience of my life, but I’m so glad I did it. I truly believe if we eat meat, we should be this connected to our food, or at least understand how it is produced. There are so many people eating chickens every day and they have no idea about the way those birds are raised or treated. I would rather buy one organic bird a week and make it go further than mindlessly shop, an oblivious consumer. Sorry, preachy part over!

Until next time,




Gluten free gorgeousness!

Food intolerances are an ever increasing part of food production and something that every chef has to be able to accomodate. Gluten intolerances and coeliac disease are some of the most common food issues arising today and as such, having a few gluten free recipes in your arsenal is vital.

Pam getting geared up for demo

Often on a Saturday, extra curricular classes are run here at the school and the fabulous Pam hosted gluten free cooking with a smaller group of us on Saturday afternoon this week. Pam is so charismatic and a born demo host. She demystified the perceived challenges of gluten free baking and cooking and made sure we all came away confident we can easily accomodate people who cannot use wheat, oats and other flour based allergies.

Extolling the virtues of the new ovens!


Foccacia, banana breads and soda breads – who says you have to miss out!


Gluten free scones- not the exact texture of scones but very tasty

This was one of my favourite recipes of the day. It’s rich, chocolatey and although it is gluten free, it is delicious for anyone who likes chocolate!

Gluten-free Chocolate Almond Cake:

(Ballymaloe Cookery School)

Serves 10

  • 150g dark chocolate 70-85% (green and blacks is the only certified gluten free but others can be used.)
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 150g butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 large eggs, separated into yolks and whites
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g ground almonds (be careful with ground almonds, sometimes they can be bulked out with breadcrumbs)
  • 1 tsp baking powder/ gluten free baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons rum (or another spirit)

For the icing:

  • 50g dark chocolate
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 25g butter.
  1. Preheat a conventional oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Grease a 9in springform cake tin with butter and then dust with flour. This is very important to prevent the cake from sticking.
  2. Place water and chocolate in a Pyrex bowl and sit over a pan of simmering water and melt slowly. When almost melted, add the butter.
  3. In a seperate bowl, mix the egg yolks, sugar, ground almonds, baking powder and rum until well combined. Add the melted chocolate mixture and stir vigorously.
  4. Beat the egg whites until stiff and then fold into the chocolate mixture.
  5. Pour in the cake mixture to the tin and bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 mins. 
  6. When baked, allow to cool in the tin. Make the frosting in the meantime.
  7. Melt the chocolate with the water in a small bowl over a pan of boiling water. Add the caster sugar and the butter and let them melt. Mix well, cool slightly and spread over the cake. Decorate the cake however you wish, I love the raspberries Pam has used!

Organic Gardening Classes

One of the best things for me here at Ballymaloe is the breadth of knowledge that is passed along to us from each and every member of the team. 

Last Wednesday morning at 7:30am, a motley crew of us gathered to have a whirlwind tour of the herbs, vegetables and salads that are grown in the gardens here and to obtain advice from the wonderful Eileen about planting ourselves.


What a morning for a walk around the farm!

Eileen talked us through salad and herb identification based on look and taste, making it all sound very straightforward! Not sure I will feel the same on exam day!


Jars of herbs which we will identify in the exams! some are tricky

She walked is around the raised beds that were planted by students in the last course which were very pretty in the rising sun, and gave us tips on making raised beds, soil content and anything that may effect the growing of your plants.


Pretty raised beds planted by previous students

We had a walk around the greenhouse, discussing predators that can be a major help or hindrance, especially in organic gardening where no pesticides are used. Bees are often introduced into organic greenhouses, to keep the predators under control.


Stunning morning in the greenhouses

Last but not least, we visited the organic calves bred here on the farm. There were three breeds, a jersey, a Dexter and the third I cannot remember! Suffice to say they were adorable and it so reinforces the farm to table ethos to know they will provide milk, butter, yoghurt, cream and eventually, meat for the school here. This is the way good should be produced.


How cute is that beautiful Jersey cow

Using organic milk, you can make so many wonderful products. This week, I made paneer which is a cheese used commonly in India and is similar to Halloumi. It is so straightforward and really worth trying, it’s a great flavour carries so is lovely in a curry. The recipe is below. I haven’t given you many savoury recipes yet so this one is really easy and means that everyone can make cheese in their kitchen! Something sweet next maybe?




Paneer is a cheese much like Halloumi which is great sliced and fried in a pan or stirred into a curry.

Here we served it with a spicy tomato salsa and this makes a great starter!


  •  1.8 litres milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
  1. Place a sieve over a large bowl to catch the whey. Line the sieve with cheese cloth or muslin. This is available in most cook shops and baby goods shops and has so many uses.
  2. In a large high sided saucepan, bring the milk to a boil.
  3. When it looks like it might boil over, turn the heat off under the milk and stir in some of the lemon juice.
  4. It may curdle straight away but you might need a little more lemon.
  5. When the curds do seperate, pour the mixture into the lined sieve.
  6. Bring the curds together into a ball and squeeze gently. At this point you can either hang the cheese ball in the muslin to allow more whey to drain and it will stay in the ball shape, or you can buy little moulds with draining holes. 
  7. Allow to drain for 1 hour and then either serve as is, with a chutney or salsa or fry like Halloumi.

Tomato Salsa:

  • 4 medium tomatoes, very ripe
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 – 1 chilli, depending on heat preference
  • 1 clove of garlic crushed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh coriander
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Salt, sugar and pepper to taste
  1. Mix all ingredients together, taste and adjust seasoning.
  2. Keeps for a day or two in the fridge but best used fresh.

Bloomin’ Brilliant Butchery!

Viewers of a sensitive disposition should look away now, this post contains all the gory details of our fabulous butchery lesson last week!

Philip Denhart runs the pizza cafe Saturday Pizzas here at Ballymaloe which runs every Saturday afternoon. It is really worth checking out, delish pizzas made with organic ingredients. But Philip is a man of many talents and it turns out he is also a master butcher. Last Wednesday, a group of ten of us were treated to an after hours butchery lesson where we were taught how to divide up a lamb into the various cuts that are familiar to us all.


Philip arriving with the animals

I was worried that I would initially be a bit squeamish but I just approached the animal as if it was a joint of meat being prepared for the oven. It was fantastic to take the mystery out of the various joints and really helped me understand why different cuts are cooked in certain ways, depending on how tender they are.


…and enthusiastically demonstrating how to butcher it!

I would not be put off from buying a half animal in the future. It’s so much more economical and sustainable to butcher your own meats. It’s not something I’ll do often but I do feel it’s very important for cooks to appreciate where their food comes from and be connected to it, not assuming good simply comes from the supermarket as so many do.


Check us out, Emer and I getting stuck in!

Stay tuned for some recipes later in the week,



Wednesday’s here are mad, in such a good way. It is the one day that we don’t actually cook and is for the most part theory based. Topics can vary from health and safety to an overview of local artisan producers and everything in between. Afternoons generally centre around wine.


This week was no exception to the madness! We started in the demo room at 8:30 where Darina and her wonderful assistant Emer whipped up at least 6 different traybake style cakes in about 30 minutes using the same basic Madeira cake recipe. We sampled these at coffee break. 

Delicous bites in the Garden Cafe

We then had a visit from Eddie O’Neill from Teagasc who gave us an incredibly detailed insight into the world of dairy processing in Ireland and cheesemaking. We saw everything being made from yoghurt and soft cheese such as cottage cheese, to Gouda style hard cheese and paneer. Many of these are so straightforward you would be surprised!

Never met anyone as passionate about dairy!

Darina passionately interjected at regular intervals to extol the virtues of raw milk. Milk is so highly processed now that all of the goodness is pretty much removed. It really is worth seeking out raw milk or at the very least, milk that has not been homogenised. Raw milk has been proven to aid with respiratory diseases and even reduce the effects of skin issues such as eczema. There is a massive movement in the US towards seeking out raw milk and people are even resorting to buying a share in a cow to access it!

We really are so blessed here in Cork and Ireland to be surrounded by people making the most of our lush green pastures and producing incredible dairy products that fill our supermarket shelves. From Glenilen farm who make divine yoghurt and cheese to the farmhouse cheese makers all over the country such as Gubbeen and Coolea. If anything, this course is making me more passionate about local Irish food.

Butter making made easy by Darina

This afternoon was Wine Wednesday, a lecture I’m beginning to really look forward to every week. I love the attitude of people here that wine should be accessible to all. Peter Corr, one of our teachers and a drinks consultant, gave us a lovely line: “One should never become a wine snob. There is always more to learn and wine should always be fun.” I love that, I really knew very little about wine and I almost feel knowing a tiny bit is dangerous but it’s so fun learning and trying.​

Cheers to another week of adventures,




Beautiful Alison enjoying wine Wednesday!


I am so enjoying learning about French wines



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