Week Twelve: Pre-Fermented Breads Brown Soda Bread!
Well, today is St. Patrick’s Day, and if you thought I’d let it go without mentioning it, you’ve got another thing coming. If there’s one bread anyone in America makes in honor of this day, it’s soda bread. Today, I’m making a (mostly) traditional Irish Brown Soda Bread in celebration!
Oh, but didn’t I already make soda bread? Well, yes; but, no (but yeah, but no). See, I made a white flour soda bread. That’s not exactly the same; nor is it really traditional as I previously thought. Since I made that bread, I realized that white soda bread, made with the more precious and more refined white flour, was historically reserved for special occasions. So obviously, I had to have a go at my (preferred) brown soda bread, made with whole-wheat flour, as was historically more common in Ireland.
Once again, Americans; may I remind you that traditional Irish Soda Bread contains no currants or caraway seed! It may be delicious, but if it contains such ingredients, it is called “Spotted Dick” instead. It it certainly not soda bread! So, okay; this isn’t exactly a 100% true soda bread either, seeing as it has some non-traditional grains (oatmeal, wheat germ, wheat bran, etc.) added to the whole-wheat flour. But little extras like that are what put your individual mark on your bread; no one else will likely make it exactly like you will. I just love that!
When I made this, I perhaps didn’t add quite enough dry ingredients, since my dough came out very wet and was very tricky to move. But it turned out extremely moist and delicious, so take that with a grain of salt. The crust turned out perfectly thick and crunchy, giving way to the soft, almost biscuity interior. The complex flavors from the various grains was the proverbial icing on the cake, and gave it a quite pleasant toothiness. And did I mention how quick and easy it was to make? This bread would be the perfect match to any St. Patrick’s Day feast, whether it be corned beef and cabbage, beef and Guinness stew, or just a bowl of colcannon. But please… lay off the green beer. Go for the whiskey instead.
Brown Soda Bread
Adapted from Noreen Kinney
Makes 1 loaf
1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup whole wheat flour, plus more for shaping
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch sized pieces
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup rolled oats (regular oats)
2 tablespoons steel-cut oats
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1 large egg
About 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
2. In a large bowl, stir the two flours together. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the fat particles are very fine (small lumps are okay). Stir in the baking soda, salt, sugar, wheat bran, wheat germ, oats, and flaxseed.
3. Beat the egg lightly with a fork in a 2-cup glass measure. Add enough buttermilk to come to the 2-cup line and stir with the fork to combine well. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dough gathers into a thick, wet-looking mass.
4. Sprinkle your work surface liberally with whole wheat flour and scrape the dough onto it. Dust the dough with a bit more whole wheat flour. Pat the dough into a circular shape about 7 inches across and 2 inches high and transfer it to the prepared baking sheet. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, it should look a little rustic. Using a bench scraper or the dull side of a chef’s knife, gently make a cross-shaped indentation on top of the loaf going right to the edges. Don’t actually cut the dough.
5. Bake the bread for about 40 minutes, until it is well browned and sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf should register 195° to 200°F. Cool the loaf on a wire cooling rack, and serve warm or at room temperature with butter. Cut into quarters (or “farls”) and slice each quarter with a sharp serrated knife to serve.
1. Soda bread keeps well at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for 2 to 3 days. The entire loaf or quarters of it can also be frozen, when completely cool, for up to 2 weeks. Refresh the bread in a preheated 300°F oven for 10 minutes if thawed, or about 20 minutes if still frozen.
2. You should absolutely feel free to switch up the additional grains (wheat germ, bran, oats, etc.) to suit your tastes or your fancy. Use the proportions given as a basic guideline, and vary the grain additions as you like, adding from 4 to 5 ounces total by weight for each loaf.
3. I used white whole wheat flour in this recipe, but you can substitute all-purpose if you like, or additional whole-wheat. I like white whole wheat in this instance, since it has the nutritional benefits and nutty flavor of whole-wheat flour, but acts a little more like white flour as far as texture goes. If you can’t find it, I recommend using all-purpose instead, since it may come out too dense for many people if you use all whole-wheat. All-purpose will give you a more fluffy, lighter bread.