Bronagh Duffin of The Bakehouse in Derry shares her Covid-19 shutdown story and a couple of delicious recipes.
I’M NOT QUITE sure how it happened, but my dream actually came true. After a lifetime of passion for all things food, three years ago I took a career break from my job as a theatre and anaesthetic nurse and opened my own small cookery school.
My desire was to help more people enjoy cooking and baking simple, nourishing, tasty food using our wonderful local produce. My wee business had been growing and my diary was booking up fast with wonderful events and cooking opportunities and then the unprecedented events of Covid-19 put a temporary halt to the business, requiring me to rethink my offering.
The joy of cooking
I have always believed food is medicine and cooking is the ultimate therapy and while I don’t get to work so much as a nurse these days, I do look after my customers the same way as I did my patients. I see food and cooking as a form of healing and am privileged to be in a position to share my skills.
My cookery school is very much an extension of my home, family and myself. I offer an “at-home” cooking experience in my own home, welcoming my clients into a relaxing environment to cook the sort of dishes and bakes that I like to think gives them a hug the minute they taste them. My classes and experiences are a form of escapism and go a little way to taking away the fear which holds many people back from cooking.
When Covid-19 struck the country, I had a huge sense of fear and watching the news and social media didn’t help relieve my fears for my family, friends and community. I turned to what I always turn to in times of stress, which was cooking.
My husband and three teenagers had the most amazing breakfasts, lunches, and suppers from my freezer and store cupboard in those first few weeks of lockdown when food was the only way I knew how to keep us all physically and emotionally safe.
I still remember the pots of soup, stews, cakes and tarts of my childhood which my grandmother cooked for us often, which was her own expression of love for us and as a teenager gave me much comfort. I became vegetarian at 12 years of age and she would make me the most amazing, comforting lentil and vegetable bakes topped with delicious champ and crusting of golden, melted cheddar. A dish like this was just a nourishing, hug on a plate and made everything better.
I had always shopped locally and was even more glad of the connections with local food suppliers in my community, who suddenly became “heroes” overnight as we all returned to a more basic lifestyle. I appreciated their hard work and commitment, even more, to keep supplying us with the best quality food.
In the larger towns and cities, shops were unable to keep up with the demand for flour and baking goods, but my local shop still had a good supply and I just bought what I needed to keep going.
Life during Covid-19
I have been able to manage quite well, though my organic vanilla essence is running low which may require a journey soon to stock up. I think vanilla is essential in baking as it does to sweet dishes what salt and pepper does to savoury, it brings all the flavours together to create a wonderfully warm, familiar sweetness to any sweet bake.
I enjoy social media which allows me to reach my audience with ease and express my food and cooking through pictures and videos. So every day when I’ve been cooking for my family I have made a video of the recipe and chatted away to my followers on my stories about the dishes, techniques and ingredients.
I just make simple, homely food and I really enjoy the connection and the chats with my followers who are really enjoying the recipes too. It really keeps me going and I feel I am still able to make a contribution. I love getting the pictures of the dishes and bakes that they are making and the newfound love of cooking many of them are experiencing in lockdown.
Around the end of April, the weather was beautiful and I was relaxing in the garden with a glass of wine and reminiscing about how I missed my friends and the lovely, indulgent afternoon teas we used to go for in many of the beautiful local locations in our area, with all the excitement of dressing up, chats, bubbles and delicious bites of food elegantly presented. It then occurred to me that I could create my own afternoon tea box and offer them to my followers who were also missing this lovely day out.
So I created a five-course afternoon tea menu featuring my bakes and I also brought in other local suppliers of cheese, jams, chutneys, smoked salmon and oatcakes. The afternoon tea is presented and delivered in a rustic cardboard box with a beautiful gift card to write a message for their loved one. The gift card features a small painting of a local scene and a few inspiring words from Seamus Heaney.
Suddenly I was catapulted into a state of busyness after the initial lull of lockdown. In that first week, I created almost 40-afternoon tea boxes. I baked, delivered and dealt with all the enquiries. Busy wasn’t the word for it. But seeing the joy on the faces of people who received a box from their families or friends, locally or internationally, who missed them so much, made the hard work worthwhile.
The afternoon tea box I had created was more than a box of delicious food, it was the link between these families and friends and while they couldn’t be near one another due to Covid-19, this box of deliciousness did what texts and videos couldn’t.
I am humbled by what it means and am eternally grateful to have this beautiful opportunity to be part of these moments of love between family and friends who could not be together.
Raspberry & White Chocolate Scones
- 1 kg plain flour
- 4 tbsp castor sugar
- 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 4 tsp cream of tartar
- 250g butter, chilled and chopped
- 500ml milk (ideally buttermilk)
- 2 eggs
- 1 punnet frozen raspberries
- 75g white chocolate
- (Makes 15 large or 20 medium scones)
- Set your oven to 220*C
- Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers in a large bowl until it resembles breadcrumbs. Alternatively, this can be done in a food processor and transferred to the bowl.
- Break the eggs into a jug, beat and add the milk.
- Add most of the egg mixture into the dried ingredients, keeping back 3 tbsp, and mix using a palette knife. Don’t make the mixture too sticky.
- Finish off with your hands to catch any remaining crumbs until you have a large ball of dough. Try not to overwork it.
- Press or roll the dough out flat to a thickness of about one inch.
- Insert raspberries into one half.
- Flip the other half over, press or roll with a rolling pin, keeping a thickness of about 3cm.
- Cut out the scones using a scone cutters.
- Brush the scones with the egg wash and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden.
- Drizzle white chocolate on top and enjoy!
No news is bad news
Support The Journal
Your contributions will help us continue
to deliver the stories that are important to you
Support us now
Bakehouse Bellaghy Guinness Bread
- 250g wholemeal flour
- 100g self-raising flour
- 75g porridge oats
- 50g dark brown soft sugar
- 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 50g melted butter
- Half tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 230ml buttermilk
- 330ml Guinness beer
- Preheat oven to 220*C.
- Mix the oats, flours, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
- In another large bowl, mix together the butter, vanilla, buttermilk and Guinness.
- Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix well.
- Pour the mixture into a buttered lined baking tin.
- Bake for one hour.
Bronagh Duffin runs The Bakehouse in Bellaghy in County Derry.