Sport Team Ireland

Thursday 29 September 2016

O'Donovan brothers rowed to glory fuelled by brown bread - so what makes a champion loaf?

Published 20/08/2016 | 02:30

Gary and Paul O’Donovan celebrate after receiving their silver medals. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Gary and Paul O’Donovan celebrate after receiving their silver medals. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Thw grandmother of Olympic silver medal winning rowers, Mary Doab, insisted there was nothing secret about her acclaimed brown bread recipe.

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But her grandsons, Gary (23) and Paul (22) O'Donovan, insisted her brown bread - not to mention scones and homemade soups - played an integral part in their preparations for the Rio Games and their ultimate silver medal in the lightweight men's double sculls.

Kevin Dundon, Dunbrody House Hotel. Picture: Patrick Browne
Kevin Dundon, Dunbrody House Hotel. Picture: Patrick Browne

The Skiberreen siblings have proved to be stars of the Olympics.

Now, Ireland's top chefs have agreed with the Olympic rowers that slight variations on basic recipes, and even a few 'secret' ingredients, can transform a good brown bread into an Olympic standard loaf.

The Skibbereen rowers, who would stay with their Ballincollig, Co Cork-based grandmother when training at the National Rowing Centre in Farran, insisted such wholesome, natural foods helped them build their strength and stamina for the Olympic odyssey.

Read more: 'Anyone who has their eye on my sons has to come through me first' - mother of Ireland's Olympic rowing heroes

Neven Maguire. Picture;GERRY MOONEY
Neven Maguire. Picture;GERRY MOONEY

Mrs Doab, who has seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, insisted anyone can bake.

"There's no secret. It is just brown bread and anyone at all can make it," she said.

"I'm telling you there is no skill in it. Sure, anyone can bake.

"It is not like years ago when you didn't even have an oven. I have been baking brown bread since I was 12 years old.

Chef Clodagh McKenna. Picture By David Conachy.
Chef Clodagh McKenna. Picture By David Conachy.

"Back then, at home, (you baked) in the bastible because there were no ovens. There is no skill in baking brown bread and making soup."

But, while baking good brown bread is relatively straightforward, baking great brown bread like Mrs Doab requires a few special skills and tips, many passed down through families for generations.

Ireland's top chefs agreed that such special twists on basic recipes can produce gold medal standard bread:

Kevin Dundon

Catherine Fulvio. PIC: DAVE MEEHAN
Catherine Fulvio. PIC: DAVE MEEHAN

A huge baking fan and a major supporter of National Bread Week, Kevin encouraged aspiring bakers to experiment with their recipes to see what they like and what works for them.

"Brown bread offers the perfect opportunity to develop a new family favourite recipe.

"Sometimes I add in some pine nuts, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, fennel and caraway seeds for a healthy, crunchy finish to my traditional brown bread," he said. "Diced apricots and sultanas can also add an unusual finish to the bread."

Again underlining how subtle changes to a basic recipe can change the end product, Kevin also prefers to use a dessert spoon of sunflower oil in his recipe.

He considers buttermilk to be an essential part of the tradition Irish brown bread recipe.

The late TV chef Keith Floyd. Photo: MacMillan/PA Wire
The late TV chef Keith Floyd. Photo: MacMillan/PA Wire

Neven Maguire

"Everyone claims to have a great family recipe for wheaten bread.

"I've experimented a lot with recipes over the years and (McNean Wheaten) is definitely the best I have tasted to date," said Neven.

"It has a lovely sweet flavour but is still very much a savoury bread."

Neven advised the use of buttermilk in the recipe and, for a winning twist, use light brown sugar and golden syrup to add a little sweetening to the loaf.

A tablespoon of porridge oats is also vital for texture and display.

Clodagh McKenna

"Nothing beats the taste of good food, locally produced, mouthwateringly fresh and cooked with love and a little bit of skill.

"Some recipes are family favourites handed down from mother to daughter - and from father to son - while others are clever adaptations of memorable meals we have enjoyed," said Clodagh.

One such recipe 'twist' is to use treacle as the sweetener in brown or striped bread.

Even one such small change can alter the entire taste of the bread produced.

Catherine Fulvio

A major advocate of a healthier diet, Catherine warned that you don't have to sacrifice taste when going for the healthier option, particularly when it comes to bread.

"I have a little traditional Irish recipe and one that is special to me as it was passed to me by my mum who got it from her mum," she said.

Catherine's recipe puts the emphasis on the quality of the white and wholemeal flours used.

But she advised to use buttermilk and, as a twist, a tablespoon of a non-scented oil but not olive oil.

The final key to testing a good loaf?

"It should be easily removable from the loaf tin and should sound hollow when tapped underneath."

Keith Floyd

The late TV cookery star and bestselling author, formerly based in Kinsale, Co Cork, was a major advocate of the importance of fresh bread with meals.

In particular, he said that good brown bread was an important part of many seafood dishes and was absolutely critical to serving a winning seafood chowder.

His advice was to experiment by mixing the very best traditions of different cultures with bread.

"When you have a good bread, why not combine it with ingredients like the Italians do such as garlic and olive oil? The end result can be splendid," he said.

Irish Independent

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