Monday, March 19, 2012

Irish Brown Bread

A couple of years ago I made my first loaf of Irish Soda Bread for an SCA event I attended, and instantly fell in love. I loved the thick, hearty texture and simple, yet complex, flavor. It’s perfect for toasting and slathering with butter and jam, to soak up extra broth from your favorite stew or to eat as a quick grab-a-snack! Any way you cut it, it’s fabulous bread that I have enjoyed over and over since first trying it. My wife even enjoys it! This year, I started seeing mention of Irish brown bread and went about trying to find some authentic recipes. Well, I found tons. And they all seemed to contradict each other in terms of what makes Irish brown bread truly “authentic” – some had to contain oats, some said absolutely no eggs, some said only four ingredients, and the list goes on and on. In the end it seemed that there was no one set of rules for Irish brown bread and I decided on this version. I loved this version because it included such a wide variety of flours and grains – all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and a combination of wheat bran and wheat germ. I used a stone-ground whole wheat flour and wheat germ since I didn’t have any wheat bran on hand. To be honest, I didn’t have any wheat germ either, but Wal-Mart did, and pretty inexpensive, too. It takes the hearty texture of the bread to a whole new level and is absolutely, utterly delicious. I cut the original recipe in half since the original calls for such a large amount of flour. The original poster suggested dividing the recipe into two loaves, but I just halved it and made one.

Irish Brown Bread

1 cup + 1½ teaspoons whole wheat flour
½ cup + 1½ teaspoons wheat bran, oat bran or wheat germ, or a combination
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1¼ cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon molasses

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and put it on the center oven rack.

2. Whisk together the whole wheat flour and wheat/oat bran or wheat germ in a large bowl.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the wheat flour mixture and whisk to combine.

4. Add the butter pieces and rub them into small pieces with the flour mixture using your fingers, until as small as possible.

5. Stir in the buttermilk and molasses until the dough is uniformly damp. Turn out onto a lightly floured countertop and knead gently, until the dough forms a smooth ball.

6. Use a sharp serrated knife (or a lame) to slice a cross deeply into the top of the bread, about 1-inch deep. Place the loaf on the hot baking sheet.

7. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the loaf is firm on top and when you tap the bottom, feels hollow.

8. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack before serving.

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