Bread and Butter




I spent a few days last month in Cork hosting a Lens and Larder workshop with my friend and collaborator Imen McDonnell.

Lens and Larder is a photography and food styling workshop. We invite in photographers and food stylists from all over the world, to come  and work with us to teach the art of photography and food styling. Through the food we cover many aspects of photography such as landscape and portrait photography by way of creating a visual story about the food, the area it comes from and the people that produce it, so it’s not just the finished plate.




Our photographer for this workshop was a very talented Dutch girl by the name of Renee Kemps who gently but comprehensively dispensed her knowledge and style with our lovely bunch of participants.

Part of the workshop this time was teaching the students the simple task of making their own butter and  Irish Soda bread. Held at Ballyvolane House, a beautiful  historic country house near Fermoy Co. Cork and in keeping with the rich farm land of the area, brown soda bread and homemade farm butter was lovely way to bring some of our “Irishness” and our traditions into our photographs.




So Imen , being the Farmette, demonstrated the butter making (we met over butter) and I taught the bread making, then each student made their own.

Explaining the traditions behind the bread and butter making to our keen participants reminded me of what a beautifully simple thing it is, to make bread and butter, our Irish staples, and how we should make so much more of it.


The funny thing was that both Imen and I had different stories about “letting the fairies out.”

Imen’s story , which she had learned from her Mother in Law in Co. Limerick, was that the cross in the bread was to let the fairies out and mine was that you pierced each quarter twice, with a knife, to let the fairies out. I love that the stories are there to be told with their regional differences and that everyone’s loaf of bread, given the same ingredients,  is different form the next.

Either way, it must be done or your bread might just be jinxed.


500ml Cream

I wide neck glass jar

1 piece of muslin fabric


Butter is part of our national identity and there is really nothing to making it. There is an incredible  sense of satisfaction when the separation of cream happens and you see the yellow butter and the buttermilk.

If you can get fresh unpasteurised farm cream it is a real treat but you can give it a try with regular single cream from the supermarket.

Although the photo shows a butter churn, it can be made very simply in a glass jar with a lid.

Simply pour cream, not straight from the fridge, but not warm, into a glass jar, screw the lid on tightly and shake until it turns to butter, about 10 – 15 min minutes depending on how much cream you use.

500ml of cream will yield 227g of butter

Strain the buttermilk off through a muslin cloth and use it for making soda bread.

Wash the butter in icy cold water to wash away any traces of butter milk out, otherwise the butter will spoil much more quickly.

You can add salt at this point if you like.

Shape the butter with butter paddles or in some baking parchment and refrigerate. (or eat immediately!)




Brown Irish Soda Bread

Preheat the oven to 230C/gas mark 8

400ml buttermilk

225g Brown Wholemeal Flour

225g Plain White Flour

1 tsp. Salt

1 tsp. Bread soda sieved


Sift the white flour and the bread soda into the mixing bowl. Add the brown flour and salt and mix all of the ingredients very well.

Make a well in the center like this and pour in almost all of the buttermilk and mix in big folds with your hand, adding more milk if necessary.

The amount of milk will vary day-to-day depending on how dry the flour is or if it is very humid in the kitchen. The dough needs to be soft but able to hold its shape on its own.

If it becomes too soft just add an extra handful of flour.

It’s best to mix enough to incorporate all of the dry ingredients with as few folds as possible, the more you mix the heavier the bread will become, so keep it light.

When it’s mixed adequately turn the dough out onto a floured surface and dust the bread generously with flour.

Shape it lightly into a circle, press gently to flatten it a little and place a floured baking sheet.

With the back of a knife make a cross indentation in the bread but not too deep then pierce each quarter twice to, as the old women used to say, let the fairies out!

To cook:

Place the bread in the preheated oven for 20 min.

After 20 minutes, turn down the temperature to 200C/Gas mark 6 and cook for a further 20-25 minutes.

To check if it is done, tap the bottom of the loaf. It should sound hollow.

If not put it back in for another 5 min, all ovens are different.

Cool on a wire rack.