Growing up in Dublin, Ireland, Sarah Elliott Gannon saw firsthand how good her grandmother was when it came to whipping up a batch of soda bread or a brack loaf packed with tea-soaked dried fruits and warm spices.
“She made amazing scones. I’d always help her baking,” recalls Gannon, who moved from the Emerald Isle to North Vancouver in 2015.
Those sweet and savoury moments in the kitchen left an impression on Gannon. Having spent years working in the food service industry and in cafes, Gannon always dreamed of baking on the side as well.
Her wish came true by accident last year when her work hours were reduced due to the pandemic. In lockdown, she started baking voraciously and selling her goods over social media.
“I’m one of those weird stories of someone who started a business during the lockdown. I’m just about a year old,” she says.
Gannon’s Love & Kneaded Bakery specializes in traditional Irish baking, from cheddar scones and tea loaves, to the classic soda bread.
“Soda bread is one of most iconic Irish traditional things,” she says, recalling how when Nanny Doris would bake it she’d cut a cross in the top of the bun before putting it in the oven in order to bless the bake and would poke four holes in each of the segments in order to let the fairies make their escape.
“She used to tell me if you don’t let the fairies out then they’ll interfere with the bake and you won’t get a nice rise on the bread,” she says with a laugh.
Gannon is gearing up to help other budding bakers get a nice rise on their buns when she gives a demo on baking traditional Irish soda bread at this year’s virtual CelticFest Vancouver.
The 16th annual festival runs from March 11 to 20 and will include a range of entertaining and educational events, classes, and concerts for all ages.
“CelticFest is a great selection of Irish talent and tradition. I feel so lucky to be a part of it this year,” says Gannon.
Gannon will share a few traditional Irish baking techniques as well as her story of bringing Irish recipes to North Vancouver during her March 18 virtual demonstration.
While her baking business feeds happy customers – from everyday locals to Irish transplants all over the Lower Mainland – a lot of her work kneading bread and filling bellies provides her with the emotional sustenance she needs as well.
“I never would have thought that traditional Irish baking was the direction that I take it in, but now I'm not able to get home. I haven’t seen any of my family in two years and it’s a nice way to feel a little bit connected, she says.
Visit the CelticFest Vancouver website to learn more about this year’s virtual event and to register for Gannon’s presentation.
Love & Kneaded Bakery has kindly supplied the North Shore News with a recipe for traditional Irish white soda bread. See below:
This traditional quick bread is as easy as it is delicious! Gather the following ingredients and you will have a perfect loaf of bread within one hour.
- 3.5 Cups plain white flour (NOT bread flour)
- 1.75 Cups buttermilk (plus extra for washing)
- 1 large egg
- 2 tbsp room temp. salted butter
- 1 tbsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup of white sugar (optional)
- ½ cup of dried fruit and/or nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder to a large mixing bowl. Add the butter, rubbing between your fingertips until your mix looks like breadcrumbs.
At this point you can add your sugar, dried fruit and/or nuts, if you are using them.
Whisk the egg and buttermilk together in a separate container. Make a well in the centre of your dry ingredients and slowly incorporate the liquid into the flour. It’s very important to handle your mix as little as possible so as not to overwork the dough, resulting in a tough, dense bread. You can use a spatula, but I prefer to use my hands. Once you have all of your liquid added, you should have a shaggy, slightly sticky dough.
Turn the dough on to a slightly floured surface and quickly and gently form your bread into the desired shape. I suggest the traditional circular loaf shape. You can either let this bread bake freeform on a floured flat baking sheet, or place it into a floured 9”cake tin, to keep a uniform shape. Cut a cross in the top of the loaf (do not miss this step!) to allow the dough to stretch as it bakes but also, according to Irish folklore, this step should release any fairies trapped in your bread that might interfere with the bake.
Wash the top of your bread with a little buttermilk and place in a preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour. To check if your bread is ready, you can insert a skewer, or something narrow into the loaf and if it comes out clean, your bread is ready. You can also tap the bottom of your loaf, which should sound like a hollow drum. Enjoy with cheddar cheese or your favourite jam and a nice cup of tea!