The baker boy: Recipes from Great Irish Bake Off finalist Shane Murray
A finalist in the Great Irish Bake Off, Shane Murray has now turned his cake-making into a business - all built on his love of gooey chocolate brownies, as he tells us
When it comes to naming a bakery business, Mud seems like something of an unusual choice. After all, you don't want to suggest to potential customers that your produce might, well, taste like mud.
Shane Murray laughs at the suggestion. "I chose the name Mud because I love brownies and I believe the perfect consistency looks a little like mud - gooey and soft," he says. "Most of the ones I bought in Dublin were dry and tasteless. I wanted to make brownies my speciality because they can be so delicious when made properly - so Mud was born.
"Also, I thought it was a short, snappy name which would stand out because it is an unusual name for a bakery, so hopefully it will stick - like mud! - in people's minds."
Shane might well have stuck in people's minds himself - the 30-year-old was the runner-up in the 2014 series of The Great Irish Bake Off, with Killarney's Tracey Coyne pipping him to the post in the afternoon tea-themed technical challenge in the final.
Two years on, and he has just launched his own bakery business in Dublin. Mud produces cakes and traybakes as well as special occasion and wedding cakes. The brownies are every bit as gooey and gorgeous as promised, while the chocolate biscuit cake has a hint of what might be chilli heating up the flavour.
While most of his friends were obsessed with football and climbing trees growing up, Shane, from Fingal in Dublin, says that he was always more interested in baking cakes.
"When I was a kid I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, Jean, who was always baking," he says. "She ran a Montessori school and did a lot of cooking with the children so whenever I was there I would get stuck in with making fruit cakes, pies and buns.
"My mum, Liz, is also a great baker and ran art and cookery classes when I was growing up so I definitely get my creative streak from her side of the family. Whenever she was baking, I was right there helping out and I still remember the first thing she ever let me make by myself was chocolate muffins - they turned out great and I was delighted with myself.
"She has often said that I was constantly looking for something to make or do when I was young, in fact, she said she found coming up with new ideas fairly exhausting, particularly as my older brother Seamus was happy to lie on the sofa and watch TV."
Shane says that at primary level his pastime wasn't deemed unusual, but once in secondary school, his passion for cooking stuck out like a sore thumb. "When I started secondary school, I did get a bit of stick for it," he admits. "Firstly, it was unusual for a boy to take up Home Economics as a subject but aside from that, it was pretty obvious that I actually really enjoyed the subject whereas the few other boys who took it on saw it as easy to pass.
"Also, between the ages of 12 and 16 I had a stall at a local weekly market in Rush where I sold fairy cakes, and I suppose this drew more attention to me. So I did get bullied for a while, but that was probably more to do with the fact that I stood out for not being into football and being more creative than others rather than simply because I liked to cook."
After he finished school, Shane stepped away from the kitchen for a few years when he went to college to study interior design and then did a master's in digital media. He also took a year out in Australia and now he believes that these diversions have given added weight to his culinary career.
"Between the ages of 18 and 24, I sort of turned my back on baking because I was busy in college and then spent a year in Australia. After I came home I moved into an apartment in the city centre, and while I loved eating out, I would often invite friends over and cook dinner and, of course, a dessert for them.
"I started getting requests to make wedding cakes for friends and things sort of grew from there. My time abroad had given me a broader slant and different ideas for baking. My qualifications enabled me to be much more creative and to eventually design and set up my own website and marketing - so all my experiences came together to create my business."
Of course being a finalist on TV3's Irish version of the cult Bake Off programme has given his business a boost, too.
"I had never planned to take part in the show but one night after cooking dinner for friends at my apartment, someone suggested that I should apply and I thought 'Why not?'
"I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the camaraderie of being on set, the incentive to come up with great ideas and of course, the friendly competition. Then being voted as a runner-up was just brilliant and it really confirmed to me that I wanted to make a career out of baking."
Shane believes the show, and its parent The Great British Bake Off, to which he was "hooked", has done wonders to encourage more men and boys into the kitchen - particularly as the male presenters, master baker Paul Hollywood in the UK and Paul Kelly, executive pastry chef at The Merrion Hotel in Dublin, offer a different perspective to their female counterparts.
"I definitely think that the show sparked a renaissance in baking both here and in the UK. While Mary Berry in England and Biddy White Lennon in Ireland tend to promote wholesome and rustic recipes, both Pauls are more technical and precise, which appeals more to men.
"I definitely relate more to the male presenters as they favour professional rather than domestic recipes which I, for one, find more interesting. I think this has encouraged other men to become involved."
Who else does he count among his culinary heroes? "When I was looking for ideas for the Great Irish Bake Off, I turned to Heston Blumenthal's work as he has loads of really cool ideas.
"Whenever I am doing a dinner party, I will usually prepare something from either Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver's recipe books as both have lots of easy dishes which can be prepared in advance - and when I'm entertaining, I want to be able to relax with my friends and not be stressing in the kitchen trying to cook to order.
"The same applies to desserts - I will always do a traybake to plonk in the middle of the table. They're both easier to prepare in advance and much more social because everyone digs in. For these recipes I often look to Eric Lanlard, a French baker with his own shop in London."
Shane would like Mud to have its own shop some day, but for the moment he's moved his fledgling business from his home kitchen into a commercial space. Although he still currently works part time as a waiter at Bear on South William Street, he has high hopes of going full-time with Mud in the near future.
"I started off doing dinners and then wedding cakes for friends. This expanded into outside orders and, last November, I moved into a commercial space in Smithfield. I now produce cakes and desserts for several cafes and restaurants, including Bear, so things are definitely looking up.
"My business is growing and I would like to expand enough to be able to open my own shop - this is proving quite difficult as rental properties are so hard to find, but hopefully it will happen in 2016."
Although the brownies from which the bakery takes its name are his ultimate favourite, Shane says there are lots of recipes which he returns to again and again, including one handed down to him by his grandmother.
"Brownies are my thing but I also love cheesecake and do a really good lime one. My speciality is a good traybake, so I always have one of those on the go. My brother and my dad have simple tastes, so when I am with my family I will always do something like a Pavlova.
"I have a great easy recipe for trifle and a lovely Christmas cake recipe which my granny gave to me - she cut it out of the newspaper in the 1960s and that is the way I have it now, so I have to make sure to preserve it.
"No matter what I'm baking, I do my utmost to ensure all the ingredients are fresh and good quality and this is where I hope to stand out from the crowd. I believe in using real butter, sugar and free-range eggs. If something tastes sweet but says it is low in sugar or sugar-free, there is bound to be some sort of fake alternative, which can't be good for you.
"So if I am going to be known for something, I would like Mud to be the brand people turn to for traditional ideas with a twist, always baked with good quality and real ingredients."
Shane's top 5 bakes for boys
1 Brownies: These are always a good idea. They taste great, look delicious and unlike other cakes such as sponges, there isn't as much fuss with timing and measurements so they are not difficult at all.
2 Apple Pie: Anything with pastry is good because there is a lot of scope for decoration and making the pie look interesting. Apple is the obvious choice but the pie can be filled with whatever takes your fancy as the fun is in the pastry.
3 Pavlova: Contrary to what most people think, meringues are actually really easy to make. So with this dessert, the end result tastes great and most importantly, looks really impressive.
4 Ginger Bread: This is a fairly fool-proof type of biscuit that most children love.
5 Chocolate biscuit cake: Probably the easiest recipe of all, this requires no cooking (apart from melting the chocolate) so will appeal to even the most inexperienced chef. You can add all sorts of goodies - like marshmallows, Mars Bars and Maltesers - to the mixture.
Flourless brownies with raspberry and white chocolate
The perfect crowd pleaser. Watch you don't overcook these chocolatey delights, you want them wobbly and fudgy.
Makes 1 tray/
approx 16 squares
You will need
250g unsalted butter (room temp)
300g golden caster sugar
3 medium eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
200g 70pc dark chocolate
50g white chocolate
60g ground almonds
½ tsp baking powder
125g punnet raspberries (washed)
23cm x 23cm baking tray
Preheat oven to 160˚C. Line the brownie tin with baking parchment. Cream together the butter and sugar for 2 minutes in a mixer or using an electric hand whisk. Gradually add the eggs, and egg yolk, and whisk until fluffy and light, approximately 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, gently melt the 70pc chocolate either in the microwave or in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Be careful not to burn it.
Smash up or chop the white chocolate into small pieces and add to the creamed butter and sugar mix, along with the melted chocolate. Mix gently until fully combined.
Add the cocoa, ground almonds, baking powder and salt to the mix and fold in, using a rubber spatula, until just incorporated. Spoon into the baking tray, smooth over and push the raspberries into the mix, spreading them evenly over the whole tray.
Place in the preheated oven for 33 minutes exactly. Brownies are sneaky and will be cooked even when they look underdone, so don't worry. Leave overnight before cutting into 16 fudgy, decadent and delicious squares.
Lebanese spiced traybake
A fruity, flavour-rich tea cake that's great at an afternoon tea.
Makes 1 tray/ approx 16 squares
You will need
135g unsalted butter
180g caster sugar
45g vegetable oil
90ml apple juice
75g dessiccated coconut
95g self-raising flour
¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp each of nutmeg, cinnamon & ginger
50g mixed peel
95g chopped walnuts
1.5tsp carraway seeds
23 x 23cm baking tin
Preheat the oven to 150˚C. Line the baking tin with parchment. Cream together the butter, sugar and oil for 2 minutes in a mixer or using an electric hand whisk. Gradually add the eggs and whisk together until fluffy and light, approximately 5 minutes. Measure out the apple juice and sherry together and gradually add half to the creamed butter mix, while mixing slowly. Weigh out all dry ingredients together and add half to wet mix. Repeat this until all of the remaining juice and dry ingredients are added. Gently fold in mixed peel and walnuts. Pour the mix into the prepared tin, smooth over and sprinkle the carraway seeds on top. Cook in the preheated oven for approx 30 minutes. Check with a cake skewer, it should come out clean from the centre. Leave to cool in the tin, then cut up into 16 squares and enjoy with a cuppa.