'Baking Has Given me a Good Life'

 , guardian.co.uk  |  Updated: April 19, 2013 14:23 IST

'Baking Has Given me a Good Life'

Robert Ditty, the man behind Ditty's oatcakes, explains why he's happy to get up in the small hours.

Being a baker isn't something you just fall into. You have to enjoy working in the middle of the night, for a start. I still get a buzz from coming in at 3am to a bakery full of raw ingredients and seeing that by 7.30am there's a properly tasty finished product ready for folk to eat.

Baking has given me a good life because I love working with my hands, I love being creative and I love feeding people. Good, local, natural ingredients are what turn me on. Our oats are grown in Armagh, and they're absolutely the best they can be. We bake them into four flavours: plain, smoked, walnut and celery, and pepper. The difference between a Northern Irish oatcake and a Scottish one is that instead of using water, we use buttermilk. You can sure taste the difference.

I'm so proud that we provide the local community with good fresh-baked products to eat. Castledawson has always been a mixed community, and I kind of hope that our breads, oatcakes, potato farls, biscuits and wee buns have done their bit for inter-community harmony. It's easier to talk peace when you've eaten well.

What's a wee bun, you say? In Northern Irish slang, a "wee bun" is something that's no bother at all. But that's not true of ours - they take time, care and years of craft to perfect. Being a baker means you have to bother, really. A lot.

Mr Ditty's potato farls

A great way to use up leftover mash - delicious with an Ulster fry, or simply slathered in melted butter. For blini-like canapes, just cut smaller circles and serve with smoked salmon.

Serves 4-6

75g plain flour, plus extra for rolling
A pinch of salt
250g mashed potatoes, ideally warm
15g melted butter or olive oil

1 Sift the flour and the salt together and mix this into the mash with the butter, then knead by hand until you have a smooth dough.

2 Roll the dough out on to a floured surface to about a ½cm thickness.

3 Cut into 10cm circles; in Northern Ireland we then cut them into wedges.

4 Heat an unoiled griddle or heavy frying pan. Throw on a little flour and when it turns brown - indicating the pan is hot enough - discard it and place the farls on the heat. Cook for 2 minutes on each side and serve warm.

Mrs Ditty's chicken liver and irish whiskey pate

Try this on our smoked oatcakes: the Irish whiskey brings out their sweet smokiness.

100g unsalted butter
75g onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped, or ¼ tsp dried
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
A pinch of ground allspice
250g chicken livers, trimmed
2 tbsp Irish whiskey

1 Melt two-thirds of the butter in a large, nonstick skillet over a moderately low heat, then cook the onion, garlic and thyme, stirring occasionally, until softened - about 5 minutes.

2 Add the salt, pepper, allspice and livers and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring, until the livers are cooked outside but still pink inside.

3 Stir in the whiskey and remove from the heat.

4 Puree the mixture in a food processor until smooth, then transfer the pate to a serving dish and smooth the top.

5 Melt the remaining butter in a very small, heavy saucepan over a low heat, then remove the pan from the hob and let the butter stand for 3 minutes.

6 Skim the froth from the butter, then spoon enough clarified butter over the pate to cover its surface.

7 Chill the pate for 30 minutes, or until the butter is firm, then cover with clingfilm and chill for at least 2 hours more.

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Exclusive reader offer

Ditty's Home Bakery is offering Guardian readers 20% off all orders (excluding postage) from dittysbakery.com until 1 May. Simply quote GUARDIAN COOK at the online checkout

Robert Ditty in his Castledawson bakery. Photograph: Rob Durston for the Guardian



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