Irish Brown Bread

06 Apr 2012

As I write this, the bread that you see in the above photo is quietly baking away in the oven. It is my brown bread candidate number ….emmm, I’ve lost track.  You see, it is not my first attempt at baking the perfect loaf of brown bread. In fact, it is one of many—today, and in a few more minutes, it will hopefully prove to be my final and triumphant crack at tackling the mystery of spectacular brown bread. This time, I pulled out all the stops. Yes, this loaf is running for the “President of the Brown Bread” here at our house. I’ve compiled recipes from Irish cookery books, bakers, relatives, even the back of a bag of Odlums flour. I’ve put on my imaginary lab coat and horn-rimmed glasses, evaluated my successes and failures and created a strategy. This attempt, I used a combination of farm honey, egg, buttermilk with three flours and baking soda. I also sprinkled the heck out of it with some magic fairy dust just for good measure.

There is a reason for all this madness. I have received no less than forty email requests for the “best brown bread recipe” that I’ve lost count, and it was time for me to do a little research and finally bake up a proper loaf for myself.

Irish brown wheaten bread {aka brown soda bread}, the one that is always served alongside those gorgeous velvety vegetable-based soups at pubs and cafes around the country is, as far as I can see, one of, if not thee most, cherished taste memories that tourists acquire when visiting Ireland. That unique nutty flavor with a crumbly, yet moist texture that plane loads of people long for after they’ve returned to their cosy homes abroad. I would very much like to create that same taste memory for our guests when they stay with us as well.

Don’t get me wrong; I have taken my share of homemade brown bread out of the oven when we have visitors. But, it’s no secret that somehow the morning slice served in our kitchen will not compare to what will be gobbled up later in the day when we are having lunch virtually anywhere else in the country. I must add that I am not afraid of bread making, in fact, I very much enjoy it. Over the last two years I have tried my skills at many styles of bread, and to my delight, have had mostly successes. Still, the perfect loaf of brown soda bread has eluded me.

Of course, I too, have a particular taste memory in mind when it comes to how this perfect bread should be. It can vary from establishment to establishment: some serve it more crumbly and dry, some moist, some adorned with oat flakes, some pale in colour and others more a deep rich brown, some seem grainy, some more firm, but my favourite is more cake-y with a slightly sweet aftertaste which I love. {I won’t drop any names, but that special flavour may or may not have been experienced in County Waterford}

In my attempts this week, I have tested several recipes. All of which are simple and all of which include bread soda, yet have quite a few variations. I have tried stone ground wholemeal flour, coarse ground wholemeal flour, a mix of stoneground wholemeal flour and cream flour, and plain whole meal flour. I’ve added bran. I’ve added wheatgerm. I have used fresh buttermilk and cultured buttermilk. I’ve included and not included black treacle, golden syrup and honey. I’ve sprinkled and not sprinkled.  Egged and not egged.

Only one version has hit the nail right on the head…and, it wasn’t that beautiful hopeful at the top of the page.

Finally….allow me to introduce: The President of Brown Bread in our kitchen.

This is not “my” recipe, it is “a” recipe for Irish Brown Bread using a combination of ingredients that are typical to traditional soda bread recipes, and for me, it has that perfect brown bread flavor and texture. This recipe is based on fan-assisted oven temperature. Please adjust temp/time for your oven. 

I am silly shocked and proud as punch that this blog has just been nominated for Saveur Magazine’s Best Regional Cuisine Food Blog of 2012. There is so much to celebrate in traditional Irish food, and as you can probably tell, it makes me very happy to share. Yipppppppeeeeeeee! Here is a link to more information and also where you can vote. The winners will be announced on May 3rd. There are bags of amazing blogs to peruse, so take your time and your appetite and have a good peek. Thank you so much for all of your support and readership! xoxox

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012


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The days of summer are coming to a close, but I am still clinging on…here’s to a few more ice cream dreams.

I first sampled brown bread ice cream at Murphy’s Ice Cream Cafe in Dingle, Co. Kerry. It was 2005 and I was pregnant. As far as I was concerned, it was the next best thing to apple pie. 2 years later, I had it again and truth be told, it’s delicious, bold flavour stood the test of time (and pregnancy taste buds too)

Making ice cream in Ireland goes back to the early 20th Century, when Irish farming families such as ours discovered that by mixing eggs with sugar and cream and popping it into their newly discovered “deep freeze” overnight, you could create a delightful dessert that used ingredients that were always at hand. Over the past few years, R and I have pondered the idea of producing artisan ice cream on the farm as we are both are lovers of this frozen dairy delight, but, alas, there are only so many hours in the day and so many projects we can take on (still, we never say never!)

I discovered this recipe for Brown Bread & Irish Whiskey Ice Cream in Clare Connery’s lovely book, Irish Food & Folklore. I love that the brown bread is carmelised and crunchy which gives it a nice texture (and, of course, the whiskey gives it a kick). After doing further research, I found that there are other popular variations including the classic Brown Bread & Guinness (Murphy’s Ice Cream does an amazing one) and Brown Bread & Bailey’s Irish Cream, both of which are absolutely heavenly.

This very creamy home-made ice cream is remarkably easy to make and tastes better than any scoop of Häagen-Dazs I’ve ever had so go on, give it a try. If you’d like, you can swap out the whiskey for Guinness or Bailey’s for something a little different.

Brown Bread & Irish Whiskey Ice Cream

Preheat over to 240 C/475 F

Prep time: 30 mins. Cooking time: 10 mins. for crumbs

175 g/6 oz day old brown bread crumbs (use wholemeal or whole wheat in USA, not soda or wheaten)

125 g/4 oz demerra (brown) sugar

3 eggs

65 g/2.5 oz caster sugar (fine sugar)

75 ml/3 fl oz Irish Whiskey

450 ml/3/4 pint double cream

Fresh mint leaves to decorate

Combine bread crumbs and demerra sugar in a mixing bowl. Spread over a large roasting tray and bake in preheated oven until the sugar has carmelised, usually 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

Whisk the eggs and caster sugar together until very thick ( you can use an electric mixer) and pale cream in colour. Fold the carmelised bread crumbs into the eggs followed by the whiskey and double cream, whisking until it holds it’s shape. Pour into a rigid container (stainless steel works well) and freeze overnight.

Cook’s notes: Irish wheaten or soda bread is not suitable for this ice cream as it makes it rather heavy and unappetising. However, any type of brown wholemeal or granary bread is excellent. Freezing is done in the deep freeze and no stirring or churning is required. An ice cream maker is not needed.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Slan Abhaile

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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