MASTER baker Brian Roche, from Ballymacoda, is a fabulous baker boy who crafted his trade at the hem of his grandmother’s apron in Youghal where he grew up.
“Granny Vera was a brilliant, traditional baker,” says Brian, who is dad to Lynne, aged 19, Abbey, aged 11, and Matthew, aged four and a half.
“She’d roll up her sleeves, always at the ready with her rolling pin and her wooden spoon to go baking.
“She’d let me stir the cake mix and add the ingredients when she told me to. You’d always get the smell of fresh bread and dough in nan’s kitchen. I still use her recipe for her fruit cake today.”
Is it a secret recipe?
“It is,” says Brian, smiling. “But I can tell you that I use strawberries in the cake mixture to keep the cake lovely and moist, giving it a luscious flavour.”
Baking was always a family affair.
“My mother, Bridget, inherited nan’s baking skills as well, and home baking was a staple of my childhood,” says Brian.
“I remember the rich tea bracks, the crumbly pound cake, the fruity soda bread with the taste of creamy butter. There was nothing like it.
“My grandmother was old school, heating tins by the fireplace so they’d be warm, ready for the oven.
“At Christmas time, nan’s kitchen was always filled with the aroma of freshly baked goodies. I loved stirring the Christmas pudding mix and making a wish. Sadly, nan passed away age 57 after battling cancer.”
But her fabulous baking legacy lives on. Vera’s grandson, Brian, who is taking part in the upcoming Cork Chocolate and Baking Weekend, at the Cork International Hotel, from November 22 to 24, has baked hundreds of wedding cakes and celebration cakes for birthdays, anniversaries and christenings,called Baker Boy Cakes.
Brian, who has won numerous national awards for his cakes, baked a massive wedding cake for a famous Cork sports star recently, didn’t he?
“Yes. I baked Anna Geary’s wedding cake,” says Brian.
“It was a beautiful cake with five tiers decorated, incorporating some of her favourite things. She was very pleased with how her wedding cake turned out.”
Brian is pleased that he has his very own PR person who is good at attracting business for his dad.
“Matthew often comes with me to wedding fairs and wedding shows,” says Brian.
“His sisters showed him how to wink at the wedding coordinators so that they come over and get talking to us!”
Brian wasn’t much older than Matthew when he realised he wanted to be a baker when he grew up.
“I went to school to the Christian Brothers,” says Brian.
“Home Economics wasn’t a subject on the timetable. So I used to go down to the local convent for the class. I was the only boy among 150 girls!
“Everyone knew me as the Baker Boy, which became the name for my business when I went into baking cakes full-time three years ago.”
Brian was popular at school.
“The lads at my school used to give me notes to pass on to the girls when I was going to the Home Economics class. So yes, I was popular!”
He was also creative.
“Yes. I had good imagination and good vision for design. That’s why I enjoy sugar craft and cake decoration so much.
“You’d often find people who work as architects and tattoo artists often dabble in sugar craft as well because they are creative people, good with their hands.”
Is the secret of a good baker all in the hands?
“Yes,” says Brian.
“A light touch is important, being heavy-handed doesn’t work well.”
Does he ever get nervous doing the finer points of cake decoration?
“I’m confident now with my methods and I know how to avoid any mistakes.”
When Brian decided on his chosen career, inheriting all the skills he learned from his grandmother, he went to college in Birmingham, achieving a diploma in baking.
Harrington’s bakery in Youghal was his next port of call to continue his passion.
“I was supervisor there for 15 or 16 years,” says Brian. “Harringtons was a great place to work.”
He had an early start.
“I’d be up for work at 3am. But I loved it. Five years ago I went into baking at home on a part-time basis. It took off and now I’m in business full-time for the last three years.
“Last year, Liz and I converted our front room at home into a bakery, so it is completely kitted out with all the stainless steel equipment.
“Although I still use my old reliable Kenwood chef mixer that I have for 12 years. Working from home is great,” says Brian.
“I still have an early start but I’m more flexible, able to drop the kids to school and be there for them when they come home so Liz and I don’t have to have a child-minder anymore.”
Brian is a busy baker.
“My books are closed for this year. I’m booked for wedding cakes until 2020 and have orders for 2021. I actually have an order for a wedding cake for New Year’s Eve, 2021! Some nights I go to bed at 4am and I’m up again at 6am.”
“People want bespoke wedding cakes,” adds Brian.
“A lot of research and thought goes into the baking and decorating of each wedding cake. When I consult with the bride and groom, I draw up plans, supply pictures of wedding cake creations and samples for the couple to look at to make their choice. The bride’s dress comes into play as well as the colour co-ordination of the wedding party.
“Often, people like a theme on the cake for instance. Recently I did a wedding cake decorated with a shamrock for Ireland and a thistle for Scotland reflecting the bride and groom’s roots. Sometimes you have to think outside the box.”
How much would a Baker Boy wedding cake set me back if I were getting married again?
Is his grandmother’s fruit cake the most popular choice for wedding cakes?
“Not always,” says Brian.
“Lots of people these days are going for the chocolate biscuit cake, or a lemon cake, which is a nice option.
“White chocolate biscuit cake is becoming more and more popular. Sometimes the tiers can be mixed, using a variety of cakes.
“A traditional fruit cake tier is nearly always part of the wedding cake.
“The bridal couple often choose to have a wedding cake ceremony where they cut the cake before or after the wedding day. Biscuit cake will last and taste delicious for weeks.”
Brian holds great store by the quality of the ingredients he uses in his cakes.
“I don’t use any artificial flavourings or colourings,” he says.
“I use pure lemon curd and fruit compotes and I believe in using unsalted butter at room temperature and Belgian chocolate. If Baileys is in the cake, then you have to taste the real thing.
“I have a huge supply of cake boards at home to last me 12 months because I import them from the UK and we don’t know what Brexit will bring.”
Brian brings a lot of advice to the table for would-be bakers.
“Starting off, you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment. A rolling pin and a mixer, along with some utensils like a spatula or a wooden spoon, will suffice.”
Improvisation is useful.
“Liz used a wine bottle the other day as a rolling pin!”
The Baker Boy gene originating with Granny Vera all those years ago still runs through the Roche family.
“My daughter Lynne is a great baker,” says Brian.
“She’s studying to be a nurse but she works at Garryvoe Hotel, making the desserts there. Lynn’s a natural.”
His PR man is a natural too.
“Matthew has his own rolling pin, pastry cutters, apron, and oven gloves. He likes getting stuck in when I’m baking.”
Brian, making his passion his work, is a happy Baker Boy at the peak of his profession.
“The business is going really well.”
Does he eat much cake himself?
“I always have to sample it to make sure it tastes just right. I think that’s beginning to tell!”
It is a team effort.
“We work hard. Family support is important. It is great working at doing what you love best.”
ABOUT THE CORK CHOCOLATE AND BAKING WEEKEND
World-renowned chocolatiers and bakers will descend on Cork for the Cork Chocolate and Baking Weekend from November 22 to 24, to showcase their love of all things sweet. In addition the hugely anticipated ‘Great Cork Bake Off’ will also take place over the weekend.
The Cork International Hotel will host the unique three-day event, which will showcase cake making experts and chocolatiers who have won major global honours in the industry, including gold medallists in world-ranked events in the US.
A large marquee will host chocolate, baking and cookery demonstrations, while visitors can also indulge in various workshops and talks.
There are some very exciting additions to this year’s festival such as Sparkling Afternoon Tea with complimentary admission to the exhibitor area on Saturday, November 23.
One of the highlights of the weekend is The Cork Chocolate Dinner, which will see a cocoa- themed dinner served to guests on Friday, November 22 at 7pm.
Other events include a Q&A with one of the world’s best known award-winning chocolatiers and patissiers, William Curley. There will also be a variety of workshops such as Beer and Chocolate Pairing; Wine and Chocolate Pairing; a Cocktail Making Masterclass and Sourdough Made Easy. There will be a children’s area with lots of activities to keep younger chocolate lovers entertained.
Tickets for the Cork Chocolate Weekend are on sale now. See https://www.corkbakingandchocolate.com/ for more.