Holly Davis
Holly Herself


Thanks to Sydney Living Museums I have been filming in the kitchen at Vaucluse House – see the house’s history here. Below are a few photos of the grounds and the kitchen garden. The House is a treasure and a wonder with stories aplenty.

The video of me making bread at Vaucluse House can be viewed online here from 6pm this Wednesday October 21. This is happening to coincide with the anniversary of the ‘grand fete’ of 1831 at Vaucluse House. The fete was a send off of sorts for Governor Darling, hosted by William Charles Wentworth, who was apparently overjoyed to see Darling leave the colony. In celebration, with most of Sydney’s population, he arranged an enormous banquet which included 4000 loaves of bread. The event took place on the foreshore near the house. This event serves as the inspiration for my baking a loaf of Barmbrack.

Barmbrack is a naturally leavened Irish speckled tea cake. I had a couple of reasons for choosing to demonstrate the making of this delicious sweet and savoury bread. Firstly it shares its Irish origins with Sir Harold Brown Hayes, who arrived in Sydney a convict. He built the original cottage on the site of the current Vaucluse House and it was he who named it Vaucluse. A wall of this first substantial dwelling can still be seen behind a door in the drawing room of the much grander home that William Charles Wentworth built, around Brown-Hayes cottage (last image below). I was also told the story of the feast, which inspired me to make a loaf using beer yeast. For in 1831 beer yeast (barm) was commonly used to make bread, it’s also just an excellent loaf to have on hand and I do hope you will bake your own loaves to enjoy.

Image above ©Ben Dearnley

The recipe for my Barmbrack loaf is below and it is also in my book Ferment a guide to the ancient art of culturing foods, with tales of the loafs history. My book is available to buy from me or ask you local bookstore or library for a copy. To make Barmbrack you will need to make or acquire a sourdough starter. If you don’t have one and don’t want to wait the 10 days or so it takes to capture one, I sell active and dehydrated starter, at Carriageworks Farmers Markets, at Northside Produce Markets – on the first and third Saturday of the month or you can buy from me online. Buy dehydrated starter cultures and SCOBY’s here.

HOMEMADE PANTRY – Online course

Bread is on my mind (more than usual) just now, along with fermented vegetables, as I am contributing two substantial units about these in Jude Blereau’s soon to be released online cooking class program ‘Homemade Pantry’ Together Jude and I are providing our wealth of knowledge, with practical tutorials and so much more. We are teaching the what, why and how to confidently make some of the items you might usually buy for your pantry, fridge and freezer. We are out to save you angst and money by teaching how to shop smarter and eat the most nourishing and digestible foods possible at home.

To find out more about ‘Homemade Pantry’ or To register your interest in this, please email me here and I will make sure you are subscribed to my newsletters to get all the details, as soon as we are ready to launch, in about a weeks time.



100gms of beer lees from the bottom of a naturally brewed ale or stout (such as Coopers red or yellow labels)

100gms active rye sourdough starter

80gms wholemeal wheat, spelt or emmer flour

100gms filtered water


Make the barm by combining all the ingredients in a bowl and by mixing thoroughly, until no dry spots remain.

Cover loosely with a tea towel and leave at room temperature for 6–10 hours, or until it is vibrantly bubbling and alive.

Use the active barm for this recipe, or keep it going by adding beer lees in place of water, now and then, in your usual starter maintenance schedule.


250 ml (81 ⁄ 2 fl oz/1 cup) brewed strong black tea (I like a mix of Keemun, Yunnan and a small pinch of Russian Caravan leaves)

70 g (21⁄2 oz) maple syrup or honey, plus 1 tablespoon for the glaze

40 g (11 ⁄2 oz) molasses

zest of 1 lemon, plus 60 g (2 oz/1 ⁄4 cup) juice

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

280 g (10 oz/2 cups) currants

3 teaspoons caraway seeds

250 g (14 oz/1 cup) active barm 

440 g (151⁄2 oz) unbleached white wheat, spelt or emmer flour

100 g (41⁄2 oz) ghee or unsalted butter, melted



This is a sticky mix, use spoon rather than your hands

Make a pot of tea then dissolve the sweeteners in the hot tea, with lemon juice and zest

Add the currants and set aside until the tea has cooled to body temperature

Once cooled add the barm and mix well

Add the flour and ghee/butter then stir to a smooth dough

Butter and line a 20cm round cake tin or a 1.5kg loaf tin

Turn the dough into the tin and press gently to make an even mix

Cover with a damp cloth and rise for 3-5 hrs in a cosy draught free spot

When the mix rises near the top of the tin it’s ready to bake

Preheat the oven to 200 ̊C

Place the tin in the middle of the oven and bake for 40-50 mins

Remove the tin and use a pastry brush to glaze the loaf while still hot with extra maple syrup or honey

Remove the loaf from the tin then remove the paper

Place the loaf on a cooling rack and glaze all sides too

Leave until cold before slicing

Make another pot of tea. This is fabulous with a slab of butter and it toasts brilliantly