Saturday, March 16, 2013
Prefer traditional Irish Soda Bread? Click here for my recipe.
St. Patrick’s Day will always hold a special place in my heart, and it’s not because I’m Irish. I’m not. But I did spend three years working in an Irish restaurant during high school, my first job in the industry. I have many fond memories of my time there, from bussing tables to waitressing to fending off rowdy bar patrons until 3 am. (Yup, that’s when my shift ended, and my dinner break was at midnight.) As you can well imagine, St. Patrick’s Day was a crazy night, complete with boisterous crowds, a live Irish band, and general merriment. Good times.
Anyway, it was there I was first introduced to authentic Irish brown bread, aka, Irish soda bread made with wholemeal flour, which was served in a wicker duck breadbaskets alongside traditional (white) Irish soda bread. I really enjoy soda bread but I adore hearty brown bread, which I consumed weekly throughout high school. I recapped more of my Irish memories last St. Patrick’s Day when I dug out some whole wheat soda bread from the freezer—no time to cook—and posted a number of fabulous photos from my trip to the Emerald Isle. I did have time to bake today, though, and I’m savoring a piece of fresh-from-the-oven brown bread while I write this post.
Brown Bread Bliss: Mixing Bowl to Stomach in Less Than an Hour
I poked around online for a starting recipe. The ingredients varied somewhat, not surprisingly, but all of them touted how quick and easy it is to make. Which is true. After a bit of research, I felt I had enough of a handle on the basic format and proportions to give my own version a shot, based mainly on this one. Here are the details.
- 3 cups coarse whole wheat flour
- 3/4 cups wheat bran
- 1/4 cup wheat germ
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons Irish butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together the remaining four wet ingredients. Make a well in the flour bowl and pour the wet mixture into the center, stirring with a fork until fully incorporated (but with as little mixing as possible). The dough will be somewhat sticky. Turn it out onto a board and knead approximately 5-10 times. Shape the dough into a mound, flatten slightly, and use a sharp knife to cut a cross in the center about one-half inch deep. (The cuts need to be deep to allow the center of the bread to bake properly.) Bake 10 minutes at 400 degrees F, rotate the pan, then turn the oven down to 375 and bake an additional 30 minutes. The bread should be nicely browned and crusty and will sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack at least 5 minutes before cutting.
Many recipes called for Irish “wholemeal” flour, which I could not find despite my trip to three stores this morning; this is why I elected to use a combination of coarse whole wheat flour, wheat bran, and wheat germ; coarse whole wheat flour on its own would have sufficed, I imagine. Do not use white whole wheat flour in this recipe (my favorite baking ingredient) which will not yield the flavor or crumb you want in this richly textured bread. Also, while this combination of sugars worked really well, as I found with my whole grain madness muffins, a combination of 2 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp honey or molasses would also work if you prefer a less dense bread. Finally, the addition of raisins would be delightful. However, I planned to serve this bread not only on its own but also with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and dill for tomorrow’s lunch. Hence no raisins this time around.
Note that although the bread is traditionally served with Irish butter, warm from the oven, I ate two pieces before I even thought to add butter.
That’s how good it is.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!