It’s been raining in my neck of the woods all day today, Mother Nature’s declaration that summer is behind us. It’s inevitable that on days like this, my mind wanders back to past visits to Ireland which claims part of my heritage, where some of our closest friends reside and where I feel at home away from home.
In Ireland I’ve met the sunniest people I’ve ever known, despite the fact that each back door I’ve ever stepped into has been lined with rows of Wellington boots, ever-prepared for unexpected wet weather. Beyond the door, there would always be a pot of tea, just steeped, ready for company. In the afternoon, tea would be accompanied by small cakes, cookies and/or Irish cocktail sausages.
But morning tea in the Duffy home (and perhaps most other Irish homes) would always be accompanied by brown bread, a slab of butter and homemade jam. This is where I realized I had quite a thing for bread. I’ve always enjoyed it but not like my mother or husband who can eat bread any time of day.
Irish brown bread awakened my love for things rustic, dense and hearty. I couldn’t get enough of it, especially when it was warm from the toaster and either slathered in butter or topped with Irish cheddar (Dubliner Irish cheese is available in many U.S. stores). I was obsessed.
With my first trip to Ireland drawing to a close, I decided to solicit the Duffy matriarch, Celia, for her recipe. With a sly smile she told me the recipe was a secret. As disappointed as I was, I certainly understood. But I was determined to make brown bread at home.
For the next few months, I committed myself to various online recipes. I tried several until I found one I liked. While I came very close, I still couldn’t quite match the quality of the real thing; the texture wasn’t right. That is, until I discovered my local British/Irish foods store where I found Odlums Wholemeal Flour. This is what I was missing all along! I was a happy girl.
But guess what? On my second visit to Ireland, Celia showed me what she has used for years–Odlums Brown Bread Mix. A mix where all you have to do is add water! At that moment, I understood her knowing smile when I originally asked for her recipe . Here I spent all that time tinkering and I didn’t have to. Oh well, now I have a backup plan for the days when my store doesn’t have wholemeal flour or when I want a quick Irish brown bread fix. There’s nothing unhealthy about the mix–all the dry ingredients are just pre-mixed for convenience. Since this is a soda bread, Irish wheat flour is mixed with baking soda (and the other ingredients).
I encourage you to try Odlum’s Coarse Wholemeal flour if you can find it. I’m lucky to be able to pick it up at a local British Foods store. I’ve shared my recipe below that comes really close to capturing the essence of a true Irish Brown bread. Hope you like it.
Update 9/18.15: Odlum’s brown bread recipe is my favorite and I’ve updated the recipe I previously shared here. This version just omits the oat bran and wheat bran (because I generally don’t have these items in my kitchen) and just add to the amount of wheat germ called for in the recipe. I also just use King Arthur whole wheat flour but the wheat germ adds the coarse texture that is a signature of authentic Irish brown bread.
- 200 grams all-purpose flour
- 250 grams whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 2 tablespoons wheat germ
- 25 grams butter, cold and in small cubes
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 egg
- 350-400 ml buttermilk (you may not need it all)
- Preheat your oven to 475℉. Lightly coat a baking pan (I used a 10-inch cast iron skillet) with cooking spray. Set aside.
- Sift the all-purpose flour, baking soda, salt and cream of tartar into a large bowl. Add the wheat germ and whole wheat flour. Rub in the butter.
- In a separate bowl combine the egg, honey and 350 ml of buttermilk. Mix into the bowl with the dry ingredients. If the dough seems a bit dry add the last 50 ml of buttermilk a little at a time. I probably use about 375 ml.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead just enough to form it into a ball/disk about 2-inches high.
- Transfer to the prepared pan/skillet and bake at 475℉ for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan and reduce the heat to 375℉ and bake for an additional 30 minutes, It's best to cool before enjoying but I can never wait. Also wonderful toasted lightly before slathering a slice with butter and jam.