By SUSAN ERICSON
“It was so surreal. I felt like it was part of a movie scene. There were men in kilts and bagpipes,” says Debbie Bagnell.
A self-described cooking-and-crafting hobbyist and homemaker says, Bagnell was recalling the day her Irish Soda Bread won first place at Oceanic Public Library‘s first annual baking competition in Rumson.
The win was a bit flukey.
“I had no intention of entering,” she said. “I had never baked an Irish Soda Bread before.”
But a phone call from friends Siobhan Hogan and her husband, Pete, “who was in charge of the baking thing at the library,” persuaded her.
“I got the [entry] form to the library, marked my calendar and then researched on the blogs,” she said. When it came time to bake the bread, “I combined a couple of recipes, which are pretty much all the same ingredients,” she said.
On the day of the competition, though, “it was icy outside. I was dropping the kids off at school and we were at the intersection right in front of [Rumson-Fair Haven Regional] when we saw an accident. It was a crazy day, and I realized when I got home that I have to bake a bread on this crazy day. I got it to the library with 20 minutes to spare. Dropped it off and didn’t think about going back.”
But then came a “frantic” call from Pete Hogan informing her that her bread won the competition, judged by Phil Deffina, executive chef at David Burke Fromagerie. “The chef just awarded your bread first place. He’s making this big deal about your Irish Soda Bread. You have to get back here,” Bagnell says he told her.
“The second- and third-place winners were waiting. They plopped a crown on my head and handed me a trophy,” she said. “Then my husband comes walking in from his commute. He knew nothing about it, but he found it all very funny.”
Bagnell graciously shared some baking tips with PieHole for this year’s competitors.
“I always sift the dry ingredients,” she said. “Most of the flour I used was white, but I added a couple of teaspoons of whole wheat.” She also said that you can use buttermilk or sour cream, but she preferred the sour cream. She soaked her golden raisins in Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey before incorporating them, was generous in her use of caraway seeds, and, because she found the dough to be sticky and was concerned for the shape of the bread, baked it in a springform pan.
This year’s competition will be held Thursday, February 19, at 7 p.m. at the Oceanic Public library in Rumson. Entry is limited to 16 competitors, based on a first-come first-serve basis, and the cost for registration is $25. The entry form can be found here. For those who might feel intimidated, Bagnell says of her winning, “It was beginner’s luck. If we’re not busy, we’ll show up for this years competition,” but she has no intention of entering again.