Monday, March 16, 2015

St Paddy's Day and Irish Brown Bread

Irish Brown Bread
I don't really celebrate St Paddy's Day myself, nor am I Irish. My eldest daughter chose that day to get married 20 years ago, and so that remains a cause for celebration, but not because of the Irish sense of it. I rarely remember to wear green, and do not have much of anything green to wear, even should I choose to do so.

Still. While Irish is nowhere in my own heritage, my husband does have Irish in his ancestry. He pays no more attention to St Paddy's Day than I do; probably less. Green is a color he probably wouldn't be caught dead in anyway. As for food, well, when attending Gaelic festivals, he will eat lamb stew. He does not drink beer. At all, ever. He'd probably be thrown out of Ireland for that heresy. Just being facetious here.

What I am getting at is that in all my (almost) 65 years, I have never even once made anything specifically "Irish", whether for St Paddy's or any other time. Unless you count Irish Oatmeal ;-) When perusing my Facebook feed a few days ago, I saw a recipe for Irish Brown Bread, something I have never tried before. I did eat what was supposedly Irish Soda Bread a couple of years ago at the local Gaelic Festival, with some lamb stew, but while it was good, having never looked at a recipe, I really had no idea what went in it (besides baking soda!). And there began my search.
My Irish Brown Bread, sliced and buttered

Search, and Research

When I look into a new recipe, and more particularly if it is a specific ethnic food, I like to find out what I can about where it came from, why it is made that way and what the most authentic recipe might be. On that research I base any ideas of my own. The recipe I saw on FB had whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, soda, salt, butter and buttermilk. Many recipes I saw online also had butter in the ingredients, and some had eggs. Some added honey, and some added sugar. Okay, but what is truly authentic, I wondered? I refined my search to "traditional" Irish Brown Bread and came up with actual Irish people's recipes. One was from Rachel Allen. But more to the point, I did learn a bit more about Irish Brown Bread or Soda Bread and why it is made as it is.

What I learned is that in Ireland, the flour that was available was too "soft" (their words, not mine), or too low in gluten and did not work well with yeast to make a yeast bread. The flour available was mainly coarse whole grain, whether wheat, barley or oat. Soda was used as the leavening agent, but the bread itself was a simple thing: flour, soda and buttermilk. Even salt was optional. What was stated is that anything like butter, eggs or much less honey added to this bread is most absolutely not traditional Irish Brown Bread. The Irish would keep the butter to spread on the finished bread, not waste it in making the loaf. 

Having looked at and compared over 10 recipes, from the butter and egg types to the simple flour, soda and buttermilk varieties, I decided on a very slight deviation from the absolute basics. Based on the concept that the flour was not conducive to yeast use, I thought I would use mostly a slightly coarse grind of whole wheat, with a little all-purpose flour and an even lesser amount of cake flour to try and replicate a mixture that would be a poor mixture for yeast bread. The cake flour can be substituted with all-purpose flour, bringing that amount up to 1 1/2 cups total. I did toast some wheat germ to add, as well as adding a little oatmeal. Other than that, I stayed within the basics. I did consider using some barley flour, but I will reserve that for the next try. My husband got me a wonderful grain mill not long ago, so making some barley flour will be a fun experiment. For now, this is what I did to make my version of Irish Brown Bread, which I will be serving with my Irish Lamb Stew tomorrow.

Irish Brown Bread sliced

Irish Brown Bread

makes 1 loaf

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour (or use all-purpose)
1/2 cup wheat germ, lightly toasted
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside. In a large mixing bowl stir together all the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center and pour in all the buttermilk. Stir in the center, gradually incorporating all the dry ingredients, until no dry remains. Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and "knead" gently by patting out the dough, folding it in half, flattening and folding, about 8 to 10 times. Form into a round loaf approximately 9-inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches high. Cut a large "X" across the top. Bake the loaf for about 45 to 50 minutes, until nicely golden and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack. 

The Verdict?

This loaf came out nice and brown with a great crust, moist in the center and a beautiful crumb. It is dense and filled with all that is good in wheat. This bread will pair extremely well with the Lamb Stew I will make tomorrow. I will be making this again, as I want to try it with barley flour. The recipe, as it stands, is fantastic!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.