Until a few years ago home baking seemed consigned to the bottom kitchen drawer along with other stuff your grandmother used to do, such as darning socks and battering rugs hung over the washing line. But then came The Great British Bake Off and its imitators to spark a boom in traditional baking — and not just for Granny either. Ask anyone who has been to a bring-and-buy cake sale in the past couple of years and they will testify to the quality of fare on offer.
However, not everyone has the time or inclination to make the perfect scone, sponge or shortbread, although many people still fancy the idea of pulling a beautiful creation from the oven to impress family and friends. This is where the likes of Naomi Ní Chatháin come in.
An obsessive baker with an interest in foraging and alternative ingredients, Ní Chatháin saw a gap in the market for time-pressed cooks who want to bake “healthier” cakes at home. “I started Naomi’s Bake Club last year with the aim of posting out healthy cake kits to online subscribers each month,” Ní Chatháin says.
“They are like conventional cake kits in that they are an easy-to-make dry mix of ingredients and you simply add generic extras like coconut oil or butter and eggs. The difference is that my kits are sugar-free — I use erythritol, xylitol or stevia as alternatives — and low-carb, grain-free, gluten-free and high-protein.”
Her tempting cake kits, which are now available to non-subscribers, cost €10.50 including standard delivery. Flavours include coffee, sesame and lemon, rhubarb and ginger, white chocolate and strawberry, and lemon chia. All you need to do is add the wet ingredients and bung it in the oven.
If, on the other hand, you reckon you could track down all the ingredients yourself, Ní Chatháin’s recipes are available free on her website. “The aim is for people to be able to bake like me, without having to find unusual ingredients, and get the right balance of components they are not used to baking with,” she says. “I come up with the recipe, mix the dry mix myself, then they only need only open the mix and throw it in the food processor with a few easy-to-find extras. It’s a cinch — and the resulting cakes are healthy, tasty and different.”
Where you might have difficulty is in the finishing touch. Ní Chatháin decorates many of her own creations with wild flowers and other foraged ingredients.
“I like the idea of sewing together traditional frugal, simple hedgerow bounties with a modern style of baking,” she says.
“I often take to the fields around Clare and rope in children as furze-petal pickers. And last summer I gave a tasting workshop on Inishbofin which played with the theme of foraged cakes and baking with flowers.”
Ní Chatháin, now in her mid-twenties, actually started out as a sommelier.
“I studied French at NUI Galway and although I had planned to pursue a philosophy PhD, I decided to go to France to teach and drink wine instead,” she says.
“I moved to Nimes while doing a wine master’s programme in 2013, and was the first foreigner to ever graduate from the course.
“While I was there I worked with the organic wine association Sudvinbio in Montpellier, and also helped with the research and release of a bilingual wine book. I then received my WSET Advanced certificate from Mary Gaynor’s Wine Academy in Thomastown, and have since worked in some restaurants in France, as well as wine and food shops in Ireland.”
Catherine Buggy, from Donnybrook, is also in the “click and bake” business. She started Boutique Bake in 2013 at her home in the south Dublin suburb, and now her cake mixes are sold in SuperValu, Dunnes and Tesco stores across the country.
In addition to classics such as brownies, lemon drizzle and carrot cakes, Buggy also has a healthier range that includes seed flapjacks, and oat and seed energy bars. Boutique Bake mixes start at €2.99 for a seeded brown bread mix.
Regular baker Cathy Whitty, from Tinahely in Co Wicklow, was looking for an alternative to wheat when she discovered, after a serious allergic reaction, that her digestive system could no longer tolerate the ubiquitous grain.
Whitty came across spelt flour in a local health food shop and began using as a wheat substitute. Now she has made a business out of it.
Whitty markets a range of baking mixes based on spelt flour under the brand Cathy’s Spelt in Ireland, Britain and the Arabian peninsula. She is currently looking at options for expansion into America. Her range of mixes includes flapjacks and scones, plus multiseed and wholegrain breads.
Ní Chatháin, meanwhile, has not abandoned her love of wine and likes to suggest pairings with some of her cakes, among other things you might not ordinarily associate with wine.
“Unfortunately I think that the food and wine world has a lingering air of exclusivity that can be intimidating, and this I find utterly ridiculous,” she says.
“My aim, through my wine writing and workshops, is to help demystify wine, and to make it fun and enjoyable for people. I’m even planning a workshop called Classic French Wines and Classic American Snacks. In fact, Fritos and right-bank bordeaux is an amazing combination.”
Ní Chatháin even likes to pair wine with music.
“On social media I like to do this thing where I pair a wine with music. I’ll choose an album that suits the vibe or flavour profile of the wine and call it my ‘pyjama wine hour’,” she says.
“Last night I paired a dark and lusty crozes-hermitage with a similarly brooding album from Nick Cave.”
NAOMI’S WINE AND CAKE MIXES
Extra-Dark Brownies with Negroamaro Passito
Negroamaro translates as ”black and bitter one”. Hardly a more apt pairing could be found for these shamelessly dark and luxurious brownies. Passito is a sweet Italian wine made from partially dried grapes. The fruitiness plays against the chocolate, adding complex dark-fruit undertones, and the wine’s acidity cuts through the richness of the brownie. This is an excellent combination with depth of flavour and a silky, opulent finish.
Passito, €16.95; the Wine Buff stores nationwide, thewinebuff.com
Rhubarb Galette with Vouvray pétillant
This sparkling expression of the chenin blanc grape is floral and fruity with brisk, lively acid and delicate bubbles that brim with life. It matches nicely with the zingy rhubarb for a lively play of flavours, evocative of spring.
Château Moncontour 2010 Vouvray, €18.99; Marks & Spencer
Cinnamon Doughnuts with Mosel Riesling
This off-dry riesling brings crisp, clear apple to the warm cinnamon of the doughnuts, for a classic combination of flavours. The doughnuts are free from yeast and grains, and a cinch to make, and yet they introduce a complex flavour and textural dimension to the wine. naomibakes.com/home/cinnamondoughnuts
Selbach Mosel Riesling, €14.95; O’Briens nationwide, obrienswine.ie
Financiers with Moscato d’Asti
The financier is a delicately flavoured cake with butterscotch-scented beurre noisette, or browned butter. The delicate flavours pair beautifully with the sweetness and gentle effervescence of the Moscato d’Asti. The wine has subtle tropical fruit flavours with a hint of orange, and creates a harmonious palate when sipped with the financier. This wine is low-alcohol, so this is a good option for a lunch dessert.
Moscato d’Asti, €16.95; the Wine Buff, thewinebuff.com
CLICK N’ BAKE: CAKE TINS, COOKIES AND CUTTERS
Catherine Buggy’s Boutique Bake in Dublin offers kits for a variety of recipes including brown bread, flapjacks and gluten-free brownies. Free delivery in Ireland for orders over €30.
Find all you need to make, bake and decorate cakes on this website — from cake tins and dry mix to sugar paste, sprinkles and even cake cutters.
A family-run firm, the Little Mill supplies homegrown flour and a selection of cake mixes, as well as regular recipe updates to inspire budding bakers.
Denise O’Callaghan runs Delicious, a gluten-free bakery in Cork with an online shop selling not only her own baked goods but also flour, cake mixes and personalised recipes.
Everything you need to create delicious treats can be found here — from baking trays and cake tins to edible decorations.
This family-run baking outfit offers ingredient kits for a variety of treats including breads, pastries, muffins, pancakes and cookies. It also supplies seeds, flakes, baking equipment and cake-decorating essentials.