St. Patrick’s Day causes a frenzy of leprechauns, shamrocks, green beer and everything Irish people can get their hands on. I’ve lived in the same building for almost 7 years and while I don’t know everyone, I don’t think we have any Irish, yet I can the scent of corned beef and cabbage is already permeating the halls, and wafting its way into my apartment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no exception. I already have some brisket brining and the strong scent of cabbage will take over in a few hours.
Any holiday or reason to cook, I’m all over it. And St. Patrick’s Day is no different…with maybe one exception, the Soda Bread. People get so excited about Soda Bread, with its crunchy caraway seeds and plump raisins, it’s almost like a dessert. The first time I visited Ireland, I was astonished to see our version of soda bread is really nothing like theirs. It’s still yeast free, using baking soda instead as a levener, but it wasn’t sweet at all. No raisins, no caraway seeds, just a simple bread, toasted with plenty of butter. I’m not going to pretend I know why the recipe changed to more of a dessert like bread moving across the Atlantic pond, but it did. Soda bread in both forms is good, but it’s not the bread I fell in love with. There was something about a hearty, ridiculously dense slice of brown bread that just made me swoon.
The Irish are some smart people. Why bake bread with yeast, waiting hours for it to rise (sometimes multiple times) when you could add a bit of baking soda and have a finished loaf in less than an hour? The rich, dense bread is perfect for soaking up sauces from steak and kidney pie or beef stew. A regular piece of sourdough would simply collapse. You could easily do most of the kneading with a standing mixer, but I find kneading bread by hand very therapeutic. When got my KitchenAid I was convinced I’d be making a loaf of bread a week (no) and doing it all with the mixer (another lie). Don’t be alarmed by how dense the final product is. Without yeast, the bread is dense, not porous and might be mistaken for a heavy brick, but it’s perfect to help soak up any rich gravy or sauce. Slather it with butter and maybe some homemade preserves and you have the perfect breakfast.
Irish Brown Bread (Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)
- 2 c whole wheat flour
- 1/2 c wheat germ
- 1 1/2 c all purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp melted buttter
- 1 1/2 c buttermilk
- 1 tbsp molasses
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place it on the center rack to warm. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl (or sift) to break up any flour lumps.
Add melted butter, buttermilk and molasses and mix by hand until dough is uniformly damp and roughly forms a ball.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead until dough no longer cracks and forms a smooth ball.
Flatten slightly and place on warmed baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, score the top of the loaf with an X.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until lightly browned and crust has hardened. Cool for at least one hour before serving. Store leftovers in a ziplock bag on the counter.
NOTE: Just because the recipe says Irish Brown Bread, doesn’t mean you can only make it on St. Patrick’s Day. This is a great go to bread, quick and easy, for cold winter nights and rich meaty stews.