Almost Spring Brown Bread Breakfast

I have been a fan of Irish Brown Bread since I moved away to college nearly six years ago, and wanting to make my own bread, but never having the time to knead and proof, fell back on a staple of the Old Country.  Brown Bread is wholemeal or wholegrain soda bread, and unlike the many American versions floating around this time of year, it’s truly the real deal.     Brown bread is always the best bread for a thick bowl of steaming vegetable soup, a quick yogurt and toast breakfast, and an open-faced sandwich with all the toppings.  In fact, I make it whenever the whim strikes or I have extra buttermilk hanging about in the kitchen, as was the case today.

Brown Bread is one of those national pastimes that arose out of necessity–due to the type of soft wheat grown in the cool Irish climate, which doesn’t yield an adequate rise for yeast bread, the abundance of buttermilk or sour milk left about in homes where there were always cows producing fresh milk, and the fact that it was filling and cheap during a time when the majority of residents were impoverished.

I’ve tried what seems like hundreds of brown bread recipes over the years in search of a perfectly moist loaf, as the bread can tend to be dry, all the while wanting a bread  that still has a sweet wholesome flavor, without sacrificing it’s simple nature.  After spending a Bank Holiday weekend last summer at Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry, County Cork, I found it–Myrtle Allen’s Brown Bread recipe.  It’s truly perfection.  I would expect nothing less from the famed woman who started the Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Myrtle Allen’s Brown Soda Bread
4 cups wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup steel-cut oatmeal, oat bran, or thick-cut oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2-4 cups buttermilk
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease or oil a baking sheet or large loaf pan and set aside.
  • Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  • Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add the buttermilk, stirring with a wooden spoon until dough is soft but not too wet, with no dry flour left.  (About 2 1/2 cups of buttermilk but more or less may be necessary).
  • Turn the dough out on a floured board and shape into a round about 3 inches thick.  Alternatively, pour the dough mixture from the bowl into an oiled loaf pan and spread evenly.  Cut a deep cross in the top of the loaf with a wet or floured knife.  If making a round, transfer to a large baking sheet.
  • Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until the the bottom is nicely browned and the bottom of the load sounds hollow.

For a beautiful tasty breakfast that makes me think of spring with all it’s fresh colors and flavors, thinly slice bread and toast.  Top with plain yogurt, sliced mango, and fresh blueberries.  Delicious!

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