Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread

Ciabatta is a tremendous sandwich-holder. Baguette is divine with butter or as a toasty crostini base. Focaccia is king all on its own. I am powerless to resist the best versions of all of these, but when I want bread for my morning toast or something thick and hearty to eat with a bowl of soup, I reach for whole wheat. I love the dense texture, as opposed to the airy center of a proper baguette. I adore the crunch of seeds and whole grains, even if they occasionally get stuck between my teeth. One of the most satisfying snacks I can eat is a slice of fresh, untoasted whole wheat bread, baked with honey for a touch of sweetness, slathered with best-quality, unsalted butter.

This way, and no other, is how I eat my Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread. I found the recipe for this bread in the homey little cookbook produced by my elementary school in the late 80s, but the first time I made it, I was in my late teens. Although I really didn’t know what soda bread was, it caught my eye because of the whole wheat flour and the fact that no yeast was called for in this free-form, round loaf. I had never made bread, yeasted or otherwise, and this looked unbelievably simple. Actually, I was afraid some vital ingredient had been left out of the recipe by accident.

I have altered the original to make it sweeter with more honey in the batter and a generous sprinkling of sugar over the top. Despite this, the nutty, wheat flavor dominates just enough to call for a generous pat of butter to coax out the sweetness. Eat it this way with a meal or an afternoon coffee. It could become a dessert or breakfast bread, spread with fruit preserves. Mike and I recently had it with a veggie and goat cheese frittata and some pink sparkling wine for brunch. Strange as it sounds, we were both certain that the buttered soda bread made the delicious bubbly even better. I have heard people say that certain wines contain flavors of toasted brioche. Certainly it could be possible to detect notes of sweet whole wheat bread in your favorite sparkler, couldn’t it?

After combining the wet and dry ingredients, the consistency of the dough should be wet and sticky, but thick enough to hold its shape.

Use a spatula to scoop the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and form it into an 8 inch circle.

Good unsalted butter is a must.

Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread
I play around with different flour combinations every time I make this. I order an Irish-style whole meal flour from King Arthur that I really like. My current favorite is 1 cup Irish flour and 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour. All whole wheat flour is absolutely delicious too. Any coarse sugar is great here because it won't dissolve completely in baking, but granulated will work in a pinch. 

2 c. whole wheat flour (or any combo of whole wheat, whole wheat pastry and Irish style)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
3/4 c. buttermilk plus additional as needed
2-3 tblspn. honey
turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk and honey. Add more or less honey, depending on how much sweetness you prefer. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Set aside and allow flour to hydrate for 5 minutes. Stir gently until all flour is moistened, drizzling in additional buttermilk very sparingly if needed.

Sprinkle some sugar in the center of the parchment paper and spoon the dough out on top. Use a spatula to shape it into a circle, roughly 8-9 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches high. Sprinkle sugar all over the top of the loaf. Bake for 23 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean, and bottom of loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool completely on a rack (at least 2 hours), then cut into slices. Keeps in the refrigerator for 5 days and in the freezer for 3 months.


christine said...

Oooohhh! This sounds so good!

Carrie said...

Hi Julie,
I'm so with you on the wonders of Irish soda bread in the morning. I fell in love with it when I spent three weeks there this past January. In Ireland, the whole wheat soda bread is referred to as "wheaten bread" and is unlike any bread we have in the US. King Arthur Flour just recently started carrying Irish style whole wheat flour...I bought some and made the recipe on the back (similar to yours) and it was darn close to the bread I had in Ireland.
Portland, CT

Julie said...

Carrie- I did not know about the new King Arthur Flour. I must find it right away! Another bread that they only have in the UK that I love is wholemeal. It's like wheat, but just better. I can't wait to try soda bread using the King Arthur recipe. As you can see, I'm really enthusiastic about this stuff.

Lilly said...

I make weekly 2 loaves of Irish Soda Bread with the King Arthur Irish Wholemeal flour and can honestly say that the texture and taste of the bread produced with this flour (soft red wheat) is pretty darned close, if not identical to the bread I had all over Ireland. It has that special "thoothiness" of coarse flour and wonderful sweet taste. If you make Irish wheaten yeasted bread be sure to use hard red wheat (more gluten than soft wheat) My Irish friends agree this flour produces the best Irish Soda bread in America. Here is my recipe - Enjoy!!!
3 c King Arthur Irish wholemeal flour
1 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sucanat or sugar
1 2/3 buttermilk
3 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter

Set oven to 400. Oil 9x3 loaf pan or 3 mini loaf pans. Mix dry ingredients in medium bowl. Mix liquids in separate bowl whisking well. Pour liquid into dry ingredients and mix lightly until flour is incorporated. Do not overmix. Spoon into prepared pans and bake 25 min for mini loaf pans and 30-35 for loaf pan. Remove from pans as soon as bread is out of the oven. Let cool slightly before cutting. Slather with butter and eat.

Valerie said...

Just made a loaf this morning (it's St Patrick's Day, so I'm keeping with a theme today) using pilsbury whole wheat flour (it's what i had on hand) and regular granulated sugar (again, what i had on hand) and although I intended it to go with dinner tonight, I've been snacking on it all day. So delightful! I've never had nor made soda bread before. But I do love bread and I love anything sweet, so the honey and sugar was definitely a bonus for me!
Thanks for the recipe!

Julie said...

Valerie: Thanks for your comment. I'm so glad it turned out well! It's so addicting, but feel virtuous b/c this recipe is MUCH healthier than store bought version, which often use a lot of butter.

Shelly said...

I'm irish and living in Hungary and one thing I miss a lot is soda bread!
A good tip for how to tell when it's cooked is that it sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom of it.
Also if you wrap a clean dishcloth around it while it's cooling you get a softer chewier crust.

Susan said...

I have made this recipe twice, and it is wonderful. Fastest bread I ever made. Thank you so much.

I found your blog while searching for a whole wheat Irish soda bread recipe, and I'm so happy that I did. I know that I will enjoy more of your recipes.


Lalia said...

Thanks for the recipe. Found your recipe when I googled whole wheat soda bread. Off to try it with my soup that's simmering.

March 2010