By Caitlyn McGuire
MUNSTER, Ireland – Along a narrow road through the rolling hills of Ireland lies a global culinary destination. Ballymaloe Cookery School attracts students of all ages from around the world. The school opened in 1983 and is located on its own 100 acre organic farm. Fresh ingredients from the farm are used by students daily, and the MU Ireland food journalists used them ourselves.
A cooking demonstration began our culinary adventure. A skilled chef showed us how to make white soda bread and scones, pea and coriander soup, chargrilled chicken paillarge and meringue roulade with strawberries. All in one hour.
After seeing her brilliant presentation, the pressure was on us to perform. We continued to the kitchen and split off into different groups for maximum efficiency. There, other experienced chefs instructed us on how to turn the beautiful ingredients in front of us into the wonderful foods we had just seen.
The white soda bread took my breath away. This simple recipe of all-purpose flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk created perfect pizzas, savory scones, fantastic fococcia-like creations and more, but that’s all we could fit in the ovens.
The recipe goes like this: begin by mixing the dry ingredients – 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda – into a large bowl. Once mixed, being careful not to add too much baking soda, add 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups buttermilk or sour milk. Shaping your hand like a claw, swiftly mix the ingredients until just moist (6 – 8 rotations) to create the delightful and fragile dough. Then, gently move the dough onto a floured surface, and shaped into a round about 1-1/2 inches thick. If you are keeping it as a simple soda bread, be sure to cut a deep cross onto the top to let the fairies out, the Ballymaloe recipe states.
But our important decision was to decide what to form of bread we wanted to make. Personally, I chose a pizza shape and patted the dough out, layered it in tomato fondue and sprinkled a hefty amount of mozzarella over the top before popping it into the oven.
The breads need baking at 450 F for 15 minutes, and then a 400 F oven for an additional 6 to 30 minutes – you can check the bread by turning it over and thumping. It should sound hollow when done.
Within a half hour, my beautiful pizza emerged. The combination of Irish white soda bread and fresh ingredients was utter bliss.
If I don’t come back to the States, you can find me cooking at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.