Proving Real Bread is the Way Forward – Shane Palmer and Charlotte Leonard Kane of Scéal Bakery
If the only fairytale you know that includes a baking reference is the bread crumb strewn story of Hansel and Gretel, then let me spin you another yarn.
Once upon a time two young aspiring chefs met on their very first day of culinary college, and from that moment their paths were intertwined.
For the next few years they crossed the globe gathering experience and inspiration, but they always dreamed of setting up a little bakery in Dublin.
As first leaves of Autumn 2016 fell, they took a leap of faith setting up a small artisan bakery on an acre farm in the suburbs. From ther,e with little more than handful of natural ingredients, patience and passion, they produced sourdough breads, croissants, cinnamon buns and almost too good to be true cruffins.
The couple is Shane Palmer and Charlotte Leonard Kane. The bakery is Scéal Bakery, a micro bakery is based on Elmhurst Cottage Farm in Glasnevin.
If that blurb has you hooked, take a seat and dive into the scéal behind Scéal Bakery so far, as told by Shane and Charlotte themselves – it’s a real page turner.
How did you meet?
We met on our first day of college. We studied Culinary Arts together in DIT and they still do that thing where they put you sitting together in alphabetical order. I cut my finger on the first day of our kitchen lecture and Charlotte burst into a fit of the giggles and stuck a plaster on it! It was alphabetical luck.
How the idea to set up Scéal Bakery come about?
The idea for Scéal came about when we were living and working in San Francisco after we graduated in 2015. We always talked about the idea of setting up a little bakery in Dublin, it wasn’t until San Francisco that we realised that what we could really do this. San Francisco helped shape us into the bakers we are today.
Where did you work before setting up the bakery?
The first kitchen jobs we had were in Rustic Stone in the city centre. I worked on sides and Charlotte worked the pastry section next to me! I would swap sneaky snacks for scoops of ice cream and spare desserts.
From there we moved on separately to work in a few different restaurants around the city like Thornton’s and Fade Street Social. We spent some time in U.K. during the summer of 2013. Charlotte worked for an amazing restaurant called Petersham Nurseries based in Richmond, London, and I worked in River Cottage in Devon.
Petersham completely opened my eyes to the importance of seasonal cooking. The menu could change week to week, day to day depending on what was at it’s best. Coming back to Dublin after experiencing those places was tough! We couldn’t find anything that appealed to us in Dublin, our outlook had been transformed.
That’s when Shane found the Fumbally. It was the only place where I felt connected to after experiencing the full bounty and ethos of River Cottage. Aisling and Luca (owners of the Fumbally) push everyday to source great, local ingredients and really encourage their staff to be creative by giving them space and freedom to explore. It was through this supportive freedom that I got to explore my passion for sourdough.
How is Scéal Bakery different from other bakeries?
Everything we make at Scéal is from scratch. We make 100% sourdough using a culture of wild yeast and bacteria. Shane’s starter is over 5 years old now, quite young in baking terms but just as lively.
The long, slow fermentation process of our sourdough and croissants means one of the most important steps is time.
We do our utmost to source Irish ingredients where we can along with harvesting seasonal produce from Elmhurst and our own small fruit and vegetable garden at home.
We worked and trained as chefs first, so that flare for creativity comes through in our baked goods. Each item is designed in a similar way as a dish would be in a restaurant or café. Once a week we sit down and chat about the initial concept, textures, the layers of flavour and then the subtle background hints that take people by surprise. Everything has a purpose and is presented as such.
Bread has been given a bad rap in recent years. What do you think about this trend?
It has, for a reason. I think the type of bread that has been consumed for the last 60 years in Ireland has slowly turned people away from it, your gut instinct will tell you what’s good and what’s not. The trend for people to blame gluten is wrong.
Gluten is not the real enemy. Shane could go on all day but when it comes down to it we aren’t designed to digest such a high percentage of refined, unfermented white starch that is found in the majority of shop bought breads. These types of breads tend to be rushed. Slow dough is the way to go.
Do see a growing number of customers interested in ‘real bread’?
The number of customers interested in real bread is definitely growing as more information is released on the benefits of naturally fermented bread (sourdough). We hear the phrase “we can only eat this type of bread” a lot at the stall.
Is there a secret to making great bread?
Fermentation really unlocks all the flavour in the flours we use. Knowing how to control the live cultures, mixing and fermenting the dough are all crucial.
The true secret is to have a healthy, happy mother culture. We keep our mother happy with a regular feed of fine wholemeal flours and somewhere warm to sleep.
Where are Scéal Bakery products currently sold?
We’ve just started an exciting sourdough collaboration with Niall at Proper Order Coffee. Each week we take orders by email and Instagram for a Friday morning drop off. The bread switches week to week with Shane introducing freshly milled grains to the sourdough and different flavours you might not necessarily find on our market stall. It’s an opportunity for our customers to try something new.
What products do you sell?
We tend to bake five to six different sourdoughs for our market stall, that range from our country sour to our miso sesame loaf. We then have a baker’s whim where we usually introduce a funky seasonal flavour.
The pastry bake is what always blows people away. We do a range of hand-laminated pastries; twice-baked croissant that switches with the seasons and a cinnamon spiced morning bun with orange zest are some of our stall staples.
Then there’s the cruffins. We use our croissant dough but have played around with the shaping off it. Baking them in deep moulds allows us to introduce our delicious flavour combos. This is where we bring that creative freedom into play. These are always the first to sell out on market days and get people coming back looking for more.
Can you tell us some of your favourite products and how like to enjoy them?
Seasonality plays a huge factor in the produce that we use. We enjoy pushing the boundaries of what we can pair with flavours.
My favourite thing in the whole world is Charlotte’s crème anglaise. It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with her.
We love citrus and sharp fruits, they just so happen to pair excellently with buttery croissant pastry, and we’re really excited to start using the bounty of different berries at Elmhurst on our menu. Asian flavours sneak into play too adding excitement and unexpected flavour hits to our bakes too.
What have you found challenging about setting up your own business?
The hours are a challenge. One of the promises we made to each other before we started Scéal was to not compromise the freshness of our breads and pastries for anything. We’ve self funded the startup to date so it’s moved a little slower than the demand for our stuff. The interest from all the cafes in Dublin has really been immense and a little overwhelming at times.
We really weren’t expecting people to be as supportive in what we’re doing in Scéal as they have been. There is a great community vibe that we hope to be a bigger part of and strengthen long into the future. We’ll increase our volume when we have all the equipment and space in place to make that possible.
Do you have any upcoming plans and projects you can tell us about?
What’s the Scéal?! We have a few projects in the pipeline, more markets in our sights. We’re working on setting up our weekly sourdough drop in another café in the south side of the city to get more bread out there for people to enjoy. There’s been a constant interest from our market stall customers to host more advanced hands-on workshops and share our passion.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.