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 Queen of Puddings

18 Aug 2010

I know, right? And yes, it tastes as divine as it looks…especially right out of the oven. Mmmmm.

Last week I was graciously given an old Irish cookery and home economics book that was used here in Ireland during the 1940’s and 50’s.  It is called “All in the Cooking, the Colaiste Mhuire book of Household Cookery”. Steeped in tradition and an absolute true gem to add to my cookbook collection, I had been pouring over it’s pages for days looking for the perfect first recipe to feature on my blog.  There are so many fascinating and historical recipes to choose from; from sweet puddings to savory sauces, a muriad of potato preparations to special “invalid cookery” dishes and the list goes on. But when I came upon the gorgeous and aptly titled, “Queen of Puddings” recipe, in all it’s glory….marked up and checked off as if it had been made a dozen times, I instantly {and giddily} decided that this would be the one.

Using meringue in Irish desserts was very common years ago as eggs were easier to come by than other more elaborate ingredients at the time. The same could be said for using jam and other conserves for sweet treats as well. Whatever the reason, this bread-ish pudding is utterly delicious.

I did a little research to see how many of my Irish friends had ever tried this and recieved a smattering of responses, a few who never had and many whom it brought back the fondest childhood memories. One of which, Tom Doorley, former Irish Times food writer and current Irish Daily Mail food columnist, commented via Twitter that this was a favourite of his when he was growing up, his mother had mostly used orange zest, but he prefers the lemon as prescribed in the forthcoming recipe.

Sweet, but also very light in flavour and texture…the perfect dessert to end a lovely Sunday family lunch or to accompany as part of a girly afternoon tea party or picnic.

I have provided the original recipe and also an updated version with oven temps and ml measurements.

Enjoy.

Odlums Recipe:

Ingredients

600ml/1pt Milk

25g/1oz Butter

50g/2oz Sugar

Rind of 1 Lemon

2 Large Eggs (separated)

125g/4oz Breadcrumbs

Topping

2 Tablespoons Raspberry Jam

Meringue

The Egg Whites

Pinch of Salt

125g/4oz Caster Sugar

Method

Preheat oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 3. Grease a casserole or Pyrex dish.

Put the milk, butter, sugar, and lemon rind into a saucepan and gently heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.

Beat the egg yolks and pour the heated milk onto them. Put the breadcrumbs into the prepared dish and pour over the liquid.

Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes until mixture is ‘set’ and golden in colour. Remove from oven.

Meanwhile, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until dry looking in appearance. Add the caster sugar and beat until shiney.

Spread the jam over the base then pile on the meringue, return to the oven until ‘set’ and golden brown.

Serve while hot.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell

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