ArchiveMarch 26, 2023

Guest Chefs

Touch wood, I’m almost afraid to mention it but at last, life has returned pretty much to normal here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School.
Excited students from all over the world bounce into the school every morning, eager to cook and absorb every new technique and every ounce of information. They will be with us for 12 action packed weeks, learning how food is produced, cooked, pickled, preserved and served from the much-hackneyed phrase…the farm to the fork.
It’s such a joy to also be able to invite guest chefs to the school once more.
This week, we had three lots of excitement in our lives.
Past Student Ben Fenton returned from the US to Shanagarry to celebrate his birthday at the Blackbird in Ballycotton and to tell the current batch of students about the microbrewery called Hop Yard All Works he has set up in Appleton, Wisconsin.  The beer was fantastically good…
On Thursday, Suzanne Nelson from Stissing House, the beautiful shaker house in Pine Plains, upstate New York, originally pastry chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley in California and for a number of years, lead baker in Ken Forkish’s viennoiserie section at his bakery in Portland (Oregon), joined us as guest chef to share some of the secrets of a pastry chef.
There were six nationalities on the course and people joined in from all over the world on Ballymaloe Cookery School Online.
It was so fun, Suzanne cooked six different dishes both sweet and savoury, guests favourites from Stissing House, all of which can be easily reproduced by enthusiastic home cooks.
Each had an interesting twist, I particularly loved the spiced venison stew with apricots and prunes. The stew itself is rich and delicious, but the pastry really intrigued me. It was made with tallow or what we call dripping…a sort of hot water crust, super easy to make and perfect for those who have a block about making pastry.
Dripping is super easy to make yourself, just ask your local butcher for the suet from around the beef kidney, chop it up coarsely, render it slowly into a liquid in a low oven. Both dripping and tallow keep for months, and it’s packed with minerals and vitamins, particularly Vitamin B. It also makes the most delicious chips and roasties and dripping toast…
The pastry for the onion tart was equally interesting, but this time it was made with butter and pressed into the tart tin, another gem for pastry shy cooks.
Suzanne likes to use red as well as white onions in her onion tart, but I was fascinated by the technique of adding the onions into the melted butter to pre-cook in three separate batches so there would be a difference of texture in the filling.
I’ve also included this recipe for Suzanne’s maple syrup and walnut ice cream which we served in an ice bowl,  surrounded by pink camellia flowers from the garden.
Our third celebrity visitor this week was an eighteen-year-old baker Kitty Tait from the Orange Bakery in Watlington, whose story is equally inspiring.
In her early teens, Kitty suffered from crippling  mental health problems, and eventually found solace and satisfaction through breadmaking… Seven years later, eager customers queue all along the High Street in this little Oxfordshire town for the bread and pastries she and her dad and their little team of enthusiastic bakers make in the Orange Bakery.

Her bestselling cookbook Breadsong was published in 2022 by Bloomsbury Publishing.
Here’s the recipe for Kitty’s Miracle Overnight White Loaf (no-knead bread).  The students were totally inspired by her story of depression and recovery and her new enterprise KittyKits …. all this while, she is still just 18 years of age….

Suzanne Nelson’s Onion Tart

This is a brilliant pastry for those who think they can’t make pastry.  The pastry keeps fresh in the fridge for 5-6 days.

Makes 1 x 30cm (12 inch) shallow (2.5cm/1 inch) tart

Serves 6-8

Butter and line the base of the tart tin


110g (4oz) butter, melted

70ml (scant 3fl oz) water

1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon salt to taste

400g (14oz) plain flour

Onion Filling

6-7 medium onions (1.5kg/3lb 5oz) mix of red and sweet white onions (Vidalia if available)

100g (3 1/2oz) butter

salt and freshly ground black pepper

about 250ml (9fl oz) white wine

4 whole eggs

2 egg yolks

150ml (5fl oz) cream

50ml (2fl oz) crème fraîche

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons thyme leaves, chopped (optional)


Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 (or 180°C fan)


Heat the butter, water and salt for the pastry in a small saucepan until bubbling. Have the flour in a bowl, then tip in the bubbling butter. Mix until you have a ball that comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Put the pastry into the tin in blobs and press with your fingers until it covers the base and all the way up the sides, so it sticks out a little around the top – trim the edges if preferred. Prick all over with a fork, reserving any extra pastry for patching. Bake blind for 20 minutes until golden and crisp – after 15 minutes, press down with the flat base of a glass or 1/4 cup measure.


Peel and thinly slice the onions.

Melt butter in a large cast iron saucepan and add a quarter of the onions, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir well to coat with butter. Cook for approx. 20 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Add one third of the wine and another quarter of onions and cook for a further 20 minutes repeating the process until all the onions and wine have been incorporated. Cook until completely soft and all the liquid has been absorbed, this will take an approx. 1 1/2 hours, pay closer attention towards the end so it doesn’t burn.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary, and a sprinkle of sugar to bring out the flavours of the onions. Take off the heat and leave to cool completely.  Tip into the partly baked tart shell.

Lightly beat the 4 eggs + 2 yolks with the cream and crème fraîche, add salt and pepper and pour over the onions. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of chopped thyme if desired.  Grate lots and lots of nutmeg on top.

Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 30 minutes until golden.

Suzanne Nelson’s Winter Venison Pie

The filling can be made several days ahead – rabbit can also be substituted for venison in season. 

Makes enough for a 1.2 litre/2 pint pie dish

Serves 6

Tallow Pie Crust

360g (scant 12 1/2oz) plain flour

225g (8oz) dripping (tallow) (rendered suet from beef kidney)

118ml (generous 4 1/4fl oz) water

1 teaspoon (5g) salt

Venison Pie Filling

1kg (2 1/4lb) shoulder of venison, off the bone and trimmed

sprinkle of salt

50-100g (2 – 3 1/2oz) dripping, bacon fat or butter

2 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns

2 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries

1 teaspoon ground or 1 blade mace

2 teaspoons ground or 1 stick cinnamon

450g (1lb) onions

1 tablespoon flour

450ml (16fl oz) beef or venison stock and/or red wine

200g (7oz) dried apricots, cut in large chunks

200g (7oz) dried prunes

zest and juice of 1 orange

Egg Wash

1 egg plus 1 yolk lightly beaten with a splash of cream

Dripping Pie Crust

Put the flour in a bowl, make a well in the centre.

Melt the beef dripping (tallow) and water together in a small saucepan, add salt and stir to dissolve, pour into flour, and mix to combine. Form into a ball, flatten into a round, wrap and chill until needed.

Venison Pie Filling

Cut the meat into 2.5 – 4cm (1 – 1 1/2 inch) cubes and lightly salt.

Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes while the remainder of the ingredients are prepared.

Peel and slice the onions.

Leave the apricots and prunes whole unless any are larger than a reasonable bite size, in which case cut in half, combine with the orange juice and zest.

Grind the whole spices in an electric spice grinder or with a pestle and mortar and mix with the already ground spices.

Melt the dripping (tallow) or butter in a wide cast iron frying pan and have ready a lidded casserole to cook the meat in the oven.  Brown the meat in batches on a high heat and transfer to the casserole.  Deglaze the pan with a little stock and add to the venison. Add the spices, onions and flour to the frying pan and cook for a minute or so more to bloom the spices.  Add the stock and wine, bring to a simmer.  Stir in the dried fruits, orange juice and zest and pour over the venison in the casserole.

Bring to the boil then transfer to the oven 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 for 2 1/2 – 3 hours until the meat is very tender.  Taste and adjust seasonings and allow to cool completely.

Put into the pie dish or individual dishes.

Roll out the tallow crust and drape over the top of the well filled pie dish. Crimp the sides, make some decorative holes in the top.  Egg wash.

Bake 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 for 20 minutes then lower heat to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 20 minutes.  The pastry should be nicely golden on top.  

Serve immediately.

Suzanne Nelson’s Maple Walnut Ice Cream

Based on a recipe by Wolfgang Puck

This ice-cream base benefits from curing for up to 3 days, giving a fluffy ice-cream. 

475ml (17fl oz) maple syrup

475ml (17fl oz) milk

475ml (17fl oz) double cream

pinch of salt

8 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

200g (7oz) walnuts (halves or very coarsely chopped pieces)

Place the maple syrup in a pan over a medium heat, bring to the boil, lower the heat to avoid the maple syrup boiling over and/or scorching and reduce by half (approx. 235ml/8 1/2fl oz).  Cool completely.

Meanwhile, heat the milk and cream together with a pinch of salt and when hot, gradually add to the egg yolks whisking all the time. Continuing to stir, bring the mixture to 76°C/170°F to custard (use a thermometer).  Add the vanilla extract. 

Add in the reduced maple syrup, stir well and strain into a container, cover and chill for 24 hours.

Adjust with a little vanilla extract and more salt if needed before churning (spinning). Transfer from the container into a big wide bowl, stir in the walnuts and freeze again for a further 24 hours before serving. 

Kitty Tait’s Miracle Overnight White Loaf

From Breadsong published by Bloomsbury Publishing
This was the first bread recipe I learnt to bake, and how the simple ingredients transform into a loaf still feels like magic. All you need to make a loaf twice as fast as anything on the supermarket shelf, with a crunchy crust and pillowy crumb, is a casserole dish with a lid and an oven that can get up to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8. If you make only a single recipe from this entire book, this one will probably give you the biggest thrill. It’s truly a miracle.

Makes 1 loaf

500g (18oz) strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
10g (scant 1/2oz) fine sea salt
3g (scant 1/8oz) instant dried yeast (1 teaspoon or slightly less than half a 7g (1/4oz) sachet)
330ml (11 1/4fl oz) lukewarm water

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt and yeast. Stir everything together using either a sturdy spoon or your hands. Bit by bit, gently mix in the lukewarm water until a shaggy dough forms. We call this the Scooby dough in homage to Scooby-Doo.

Place a damp tea towel over the rim of the bowl and leave in a cosy (draught-free) place to prove for 12-16 hours, overnight is best. Time transforms your scrappy, dull dough into a bubbly, live creature of its own.

Once your dough has risen and is bubbling away, tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Remember, it’s alive, so the greater respect you show the dough with gently handling, the more it will reward you and the better your loaf will come out. Gently shape the dough into a ball (a well-floured plastic dough scraper really helps here), making sure there is a light coating of flour all over.

Place the shaped dough on a sheet of parchment paper, cover with a damp tea towel and set aside in a warm, cosy place to rest for 1 hour.

Halfway through the resting time, preheat the oven to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas Mark 8 (or as high as it will go). Put a large cast-iron casserole dish with a lid and a heatproof handle into the hot oven for 30 minutes to heat up.

Once the casserole dish is good and hot, carefully take it out of the oven and lift off the lid. Uncover the dough and using the parchment paper, lift and then lower the dough into the heated casserole dish. Using a sharp knife, razor blade or scissors; score the top of the dough with slashes in any pattern you like – one long slash, a cross, a square or even a smiley face.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of water inside the casserole around the dough, replace the lid and put the dish back in the hot oven. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid to reveal your magnificent loaf and then continue to bake uncovered for a further 10 minutes to get a nice, golden crust or 15 minutes if you like your loaf a bit darker.

Place the loaf on a wire rack and leave to cool for at least 30 minutes. This is the hardest part, but it’s also the most important as the bread keeps cooking after you take it out of the oven.


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