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Irish Brown Bread

March 16, 2010

Poor United Kingdom. They sure have a lot to live down on the culinary front. Like the kid in elementary school who ate dirt once at recess, but was teased about it for the rest of his school life (this was not SoupAddict, btw – it was Kenneth, and Kenneth also liked to paint his tongue blue in art class, but he’s remembered for the dirt incident), the UK, I’m afraid, will forever be known for dishes like blood pudding. Jellied eels. Meat pies. Tripe. Pickled eggs. Scotch eggs. [Pause while SoupAddict’s tummy stops going flippity-flop.] SoupAddict believes the Brits have redeemed themselves somewhat by embracing Indian cuisine as they have, but, it does not help their cause that they still sell jellied eels in the streets, like hot dog vendors in NYC.

Meanwhile, there’s the UK’s plucky neighbor, Ireland. It’s SoupAddict’s completely unsubstantiated theory that, being in such close proximity to Britain, the Irish were forced to compensate for such culinary associations by churning out large amounts of alcohol. Can you blame them? We’re talking jellied eels, people. Ireland, in contrast, gave us grateful Americans Guinness. And Irish Cream. And Irish Whiskey. (SoupAddict is also personally grateful for the popularity of the potato, and is humbled by the hardship the Irish suffered at the hands of the eel-eaters, thereby bringing the potato to the world stage.)

Plucky is but one of the admirable traits of the Irish. Clever is another. SoupAddict is always amazed when simple ingredients come together to make amazing things. That’s why she loves baking bread so much. Yeastophobes, do not hit the back button. This is not a yeast bread. If you can stir — or add ingredients to a food processor without dropping too much on the floor — you can have a dense, chewy, wholly satisfying loaf in under an hour.

Meet Irish Brown Bread, the cousin to Irish Soda Bread. Made with a whole wheat flour mixture, it’s best served with lots of butter and a hearty appetite.

SoupAddict loves European butter, including Kerrygold. And what better butter to make an Irish bread with than an Irish butter? That’s SoupAddict’s philosophy.
SoupAddict does not know much about wheatgerm, but found it amusing that the brand she blindly picked off the shelf boasted, “Never toasted — never have, never will.” Okey dokey. SoupAddict hopes the earth didn’t shift on its axis when she toasted the never-toasted wheatgerm.
“Wheat flour, this is Kerrygold butter. Kerrygold butter, this is my good friend wheat flour. Tawk amongst yerselves while Mr. Pastry Cutter works the crowd.”
SoupAddict loves buttermilk in bread recipes. She would never in a million years take a swig out of the bottle, but in bread, that’s right up SoupAddict’s alley.
Scraggly, scrappy goodness. Trust SoupAddict on this one.
Brains! BRAINS!
Action photo goodness! A stand mixer does wonders kneading bread dough, but SoupAddict felt the need to get her hands dirty and channel the Irish bread makers of yore.
To further reenact the baking of the brown bread, SoupAddict chooses a small cast iron pan to handle the baking.
When the scent of fresh-baked bread is in the air, SoupAddict reverts to an ADHD 5-year-old, and prances from foot to foot in front of the cooling pan. With no mature influence in the vicinity to remind her of the joys of delayed gratification, she slices into the bread before it’s completely cooled.

Pass the butter; waiting’s for suckers.

Irish Brown Bread

Gourmet Magazine, March 2004

3 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan or cast iron skillet.

Whisk together flours, wheat germ, salt, sugar, baking soda, and cream of tartar in a large bowl until combined well. Blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Make a well in center and add buttermilk, stirring until a dough forms. Gently knead on a floured surface, adding just enough more flour to keep dough from sticking, until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Transfer dough to cake pan and flatten to fill pan. With a sharp knife, cut an X (1/2 inch deep) across top of dough (5 inches long). Bake until loaf is lightly browned and sounds hollow when bottom is tapped, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool, right side up, about 1 hour.

Notes: Bread can be served the day it is made, but it slices more easily if kept, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature 1 day. Leftover bread keeps, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature 4 days.

SoupAddict’s Notes: The dough was well-formed after using only 1 3/4 cups of buttermilk. The extra quarter cup would’ve been too much. I’d advise adding buttermilk a little at a time until the dough is soft, but firm and pliable.

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