by MAIREAD HOLLAND
I HAVE my hands deep in a mixing bowl, in my first-ever attempt at making soda farls, and am starting to give the mixture a good pummeling.
Step in Mary Anne Mackle, owner of the Wee Buns Cookery School in Moy, with some timely advice and a deft demonstration on how to knead the mixture gently.
Culinary disaster is avoided and in no time at all I have four very presentable farls baked and ready to take home.
Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating but I am quietly confident.
The traditional Irish bakery class is one of just a number of cookery and baking classes held by Mary Anne in the purpose-built kitchen at her Drumgrannon Road home.
A professional chef, she set up the cookery school three years ago and combines it with caring for her two-year-old twin boys.
Mary Anne has an impressive CV. After a degree in business she decided to pursue a long-held passion for cooking and attended the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in Co Cork.
She then worked at Roscoff, Northern Ireland’s first Michelin-starred restaurant, for almost three years after ‘stalking’ owner Paul Rankin and phoning his restaurant every day asking for a job.
From there she moved to London, securing a position at the world-famous River Café where she worked for the next two years, realising a lifelong ambition.
On returning to Northern Ireland, Mary Anne ran a busy and successful stall, ‘Wee Buns’, selling baked goods, jams and jellies at St George’s market in Belfast.
Today, her workplace overlooks the rolling countryside not far from Collegeland where she was brought up and where she first acquired her love of cooking.
Said Mary Anne: “My mum (Veronica) was always baking and cooking so I was brought up with it. The Irish baking recipes are ones she used when we were growing up.
“She would have made apple potato bread and given it to us for dinner. And she used to go to cookery classes, including one I remember being taken by Mary Berry!”
The class I am attending is the aforementioned traditional Irish baking – soda farls, wheaten bread, buttermilk scones, potato apple bread and tea cake – once made by women on a daily basis when buttermilk and flour were the staples in every kitchen.
Influenced by her home background and by River Café philosophies, Mary Anne keeps to a ‘fresh first’ philosophy and always uses seasonal ingredients, sourced locally and often grown in her parents’ garden.
The cookery classes, which she runs on Saturdays, are suitable for both novice and experienced cooks and range from vegetarian cooking to baking and cake decorating as well as the ever-popular kids’ classes.
They are a combination of demonstration and hands-on experience and the small number in each group ensures everyone receives individual attention.
It’s a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere with no pressure on non-bakers like myself and there’s a welcome break mid-morning for tea and scones with a bit of ‘craic’ thrown in.
Our whole group is amazed at how easy the recipes are and we all trundle off home after the session with a warm paper bag of soda farls – and a new-found knowledge and confidence to try something new.
Anyone interested in finding out more about classes at the Wee Buns Cookery School should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07739 556 408.