Have you heard of Emma Ferguson? You may not have, but you’ll definitely have seen her bread in Aldi stores around the country, as she won this year’s National Brown Bread Baking Competition, sponsored by Aldi and in association with the National Ploughing Association and the Irish Countrywomen’s Association.

We had a chat with Emma recently to find out how she came up with her recipe, what it was like to win the competition just three weeks after she had her youngest baby and more.

How did you come up with the recipe for the brown bread?

“I’ve been making brown bread for years and the main bulk of it was that it had a lot of seeds. Then to enter the competition there were certain rules: you had to use 10oz of brown flour and 6oz white flour, so when I made my loaf with those quantities, it was too heavy, but they were the rules. So my recipe had to change a bit when I entered the competition. I still had the same amount of flaxseed, poppy seed, porridge oats, pinhead oatmeal and wheatgerm because I didn’t want to lose any of that good stuff but I didn’t want it to be stodgy, so I tweaked the raising agents. I had 14 different versions on the go but I ended up making it with equal bread soda and baking powder. It’s a recipe that changes a lot depending on what’s in the press, but I always want it to be healthy so I add all the seeds. My recipe is a mix between my mum’s recipe and my friend’s granny from Sligo’s recipe. The seeds were my addition because years ago when they would have made it, you couldn’t even get all the seeds I use!”

Why did you decide to enter the competition?

“I had been making the bread for years and people had said they liked it, then I saw the competition advertised in the paper so I said enter it for the laugh. I nearly fell off the chair when I got the call saying I got through to the Ploughing Championships, as I was pregnant at the time and my baby was due two weeks before the competition was meant to take place, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go! Then when I decided I would go down, I was supposed to bake on the Wednesday and the final was meant to be on the Thursday, but because the weather was so bad, my heat was cancelled. It meant that my semi-final, and the final took place back-to-back on the Thursday, so everything happened really fast! They told me I was in the final and I wasn’t even sure if I had enough ingredients to get through the bake, but it worked out.”

What was it like to compete just three weeks after your baby was born?

“To be honest, it was actually okay because he was so small that he just slept loads! The only annoying thing was that I was up with him the night before so I went into the competition on only about two hours sleep, so all I could think about was getting through the competition and going for a sleep. We ended up going to McDonald’s drive-thru after the competition because the power was out in our house after the storm, so I certainly didn’t get any notions about myself after winning!”

How did you feel when you won?

“To be honest, I still can’t even believe I won. I’ve been involved with the development of the bread, from looking at packaging, to going to the bakery to make sure the bread tasted right, but I still keep thinking how mad it is that I was the winner. My bread isn’t very traditional, so I didn’t really think I had a chance against the more traditional loaves, so I still can’t believe it was my loaf that won. If I can do it, anyone can!”

What’s your favourite thing to do with the bread?

“I make what I call an Irish eggs Benedict or eggs Florentine with the bread for brunch that I absolutely love. It uses the brown bread, Ballymaloe relish, barbecued ham from Aldi wilted spinach and a soft boiled egg and it’s so tasty! We do that quite a lot, usually every Saturday morning.”

How has it been to work with Aldi?

“They’ve been absolutely brilliant and I really have been involved every step of the way. I’ve been able to tweak things with them to make sure I’m happy with the final result. They’re really transparent about everything so it’s been great to work with them.”

Emma has given us her recipe for her Irish Eggs Benedict to share with you; check it out below if you’re looking for a tasty new brunch recipe.

Emma’s Irish Eggs Benedict

Serves 2

  • 4 slices of Emma's brown bread
  • 4 organic eggs
  • 1 bag of fresh spinach
  • 4 slices of ham (Emma’s favourite is Aldi Barbecue shaved topside ham)
  • Butter
  • Chutney or relish (Emma loves to use Ballymaloe Tomato Original Relish)
  • Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

  1. Add your eggs gently into a pan of boiling water and set your timer for 6.5 minutes.
  2. Wash the spinach and add to a dry frying pan.
  3. Lightly toast the bread, butter it generously and smear on some chutney, then lay the ham on each slice.
  4. Rinse the eggs in cold water until just cool enough to handle, then peel them.
  5. Lay the spinach on top of the ham, then slice the eggs over the top, season with salt and pepper. Serve with a large mug of tea or your favourite brunch tipple and enjoy!

You can find Emma's Bread in Aldi stores nationwide.