A Hungarian bakery in Dun Laoghaire
With too many oven disasters to go into, Strudel Artisan Bakery in Dun Laoghaire have had an eventful first year in business. Ciara Sheehy and Tibor Bernscherer work long hours, creating everything on their menu from sourdough bread to croissants and their famous strudel from scratch. It’s labour intensive, and Tibor usually gets into the bakery between 3 and 4am every morning to ensure that things are freshly baked for opening time.
It’s all worth it though, TIbor says, because of the wonderful base of customers they’ve gathered: “People in Dun Laoghaire are funny. Even before we opened last February, they often peeped their heads into the shop asking what we were doing, what the place was going to be.” Ciara adds that people come in for a chat as well as a pastry, “that's the kind of atmosphere we wanted to create. And some are not only customers, they've become friends.”
Opening their own bakery was a new venture for the couple. Ciara’s background in Montessori and Tibor’s in film and photography meant that baking was not an obvious next step for them. But Tibor has always baked: “I grew up in Hungary, where baking was a huge part of family time and bakeries are plentiful. My grandmother baked and I always found myself helping her early in the morning, assembling the layers of pastries and chocolate cream at the weekends.” Ciara, too thought of it as something she always enjoyed, but not as a career. Two years ago, they started baking for markets and then supplying cafes, and when the chance to open a shop came, they decided to take the risk.
Running a business for the first time, especially one as labour-intensive as a bakery, Ciara says, was challenging at first. “We were unsure of everything, trying to bake as well as do paperwork, it was a lot for two people.” Now, however, they’ve found their rhythm. “We're in a routine now, Tibor does the bread and pastries and I do the cakes, strudels and healthy snacks and we help each other out if needed.”
When it comes to their namesake, Tibor explains that some Irish people were a little unsure at first: “Strudel is an everyday thing in Hungary: in Budapest you won’t find a district without a dedicated strudel shop or food truck and people debate which one has the best filling.” He therefore takes his strudel very seriously, importing strudel-grade flour from Hungary to be as authentic as possible. “Most of our early customers thought that strudel had a thick pastry with a lethal amount of calories,” Tibor says. “We’d like to change that preconception. When people see our paper thin phyllo pastry wrapped around spinach and feta, they cheer up very quickly.”
Watching Ciara and Tibor work together to make strudel is a mesmerising process. Starting with a small piece of dough the size of a plate, they take a side each and stretch it until it is larger than the table they’re working on, and so thin that you can see their hands through it. Working efficiently and in unison, this process takes just a minute or two, and the pastry is then ready to be filled. Spinach with feta, and apple are the two classic flavours, but they like to experiment with others, too. Once filled the pastry is rolled up and cut, ready to be baked into delicious treats.
Now comfortably settled into their Dun Laoghaire home, and with a new oven and a troupe of devoted early-rising locals waiting at the door, it looks like the flaky, buttery aroma will be lingering along Patrick Street for some time to come.
PHOTOGRAPHY Al Higgins WORDS Megan Burns