Mon 7 May 2012
Food can be healing in many ways. The joy of eating something that tastes wonderful can make you feel great; the experience of feeling the various textures in your mouth and inhaling the beautiful aromas of something delicious can give you an out-of-body experience. And when you have all of the above, and you’re eating something pure, natural and prepared with love, you’re in heaven.
For me, the food at Il Valentino Bakery and Cafe encompasses all of the above. Whenever I eat lunch there (I’m lucky to have it so close to my office!), I leave feeling happy and satisfied, not stodged-up and tired. From the focaccia pizza and fresh rocket and mozzarella salad to the polenta cake and financiers, everything is made fresh on the premises by people who are passionate about what they do. At the risk of sounding corny, you can see and taste the care that goes into the food at Il Valentino.
When When I first met owners Valentina and Owen Doorly (no relationship to the food critic Tom Doorley), I knew I wanted to get to know them better. Listening to their approach to food and to life – everything with a purpose, with passion and with pride – inspired me; they’re the type of people you want to be near in hopes that their enthusiasm and good energy rubs off! So it was only natural that I wanted to introduce the Irish Foodies to Valentina and Owen.
As we gathered at Il Valentino last Sunday morning, the Doorly’s positive energy was apparent in more ways than one – it was actually bright and sunny outside, enough for us to enjoy our beautiful Italian coffee drinks al fresco at the outdoor tables. We each got to choose something from the pastry case for our breakfast, and I went with a beautiful citrus polenta cake (as did about 1/3 of the group!) which was tangy and moist and lovely.
As we ate our breakfast Valentina explained the Il Valentino philosophy: Food as an expression of cultures and creativity and how it must be prepared with respect. She talked about how the bakery does not add any artificial preservatives or stablisers to their products and how because of this, the breads/cakes have a shorter shelf life than those in other bakeries.
What they’re doing is getting back to basics, back to a time before bread was plugged up with anti-molding agents and chemicals that keep it “fresh” for days on end. Il Valentino is not trying to make the biggest muffin or scone to sell at the cheapest price – you can find a dozen places that push those in every square mile of Dublin. Here it is about making food for nourishment, for both the body and spirit, using basic, wholesome ingredients. Interestingly enough, Ireland has the most coeliacs of any European country, but Valentina opined that it is the stablising chemicals that are making people ill, not the wheat itself. I think she’s right.
After our chat, we were taken downstairs to the “laboratory” – the bakery where all the breads, cakes and pastries are made. We were introduced to head baker Morgan, who hails from Brittany, and Owen explained the mixing and proofing and baking process that goes on 24 hours a day in this humble but incredibly efficient workspace. Morgan then pulled out a tray of fresh-baked croissants and we each got to take one. Honestly, it was probably the best croissant I’ve ever tasted – warm, light, crispy…heavenly.
Though the official visit was over, a number of us hung around for another round of coffees and a chat about what we’d learned that morning – I think it’s safe to say we all felt inspired by what we’d observed at Il Valentino. It’s harder to do business this way: it costs more, it takes more effort and you have to trust that people are willing to pay a little more for quality. Judging by the constant stream of customers in and out of the bakery on a daily basis, it’s clear that people have embraced Il Valentino.
Just want to say a huge THANK YOU to Owen and Valentina Doorly for hosting us, and to the bloggers who came to this meet-up. I’m looking forward to the next one!
Upside-Down Plum Cornmeal Cake
I made this a few weeks back for an Italian-themed dinner party, and it went over quite well. I’ve had polenta cakes in Italy, and I just love the texture of a cornmeal-based cake – they are light but very moist, giving it a slightly dense quality (just like the one at Il Valentino!). This one really holds up well to the plums, and can be served with a dollop of fresh cream or just one its own. I use finely-ground ancient cornmeal, also known as maize, which I get at Nolan’s in Clontarf in the health food section.
6-8 plums, de-seeded and cut in half
70 grams unsalted butter
44 grams dark brown sugar
100 grams spelt flour
117 grams finely-ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
25 grams almond meal
85 grams of unsalted butter, at room temperature
150 grams light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
120 ml milk, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 180C and butter a 9-inch pie tin or glass dish and set aside.
For the fruit, simply heat the butter and dark brown sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add in the plums and increase the heat to high, bringing to a boil. Cook about 5 minutes and then set aside (you’ll want to put the rest of the cake together within 15 minutes to the sugar mixture doesn’t cool down too much).
To make the cake batter, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, almond meal and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric beater until light, about 2-3 minutes. Now add in the eggs one at a time, incorporating each one before adding the next. Continue beating for about 3 more minutes, or until batter is light and a bit fluffy. Add in the vanilla extract and mix for another minute or so.
Using the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions to the butter/sugar/egg/vanilla mixture alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Set aside.
Now you are ready to assemble the cake. Take the plums and put them cut-side-up (so the cut side is facing YOU!) in the pie dish, then pour the caramel mixture over them in the dish. Now take the cake batter and carefully spoon it over the plums until covered. Place into the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack, and then run a butter knife around the edges and flip over onto a plate (fingers crossed for you!!). Let cool completely, dust with icing sugar and serve!