The lovely thing about Irish food is that it’s perfect for rainy weather. It’s the kind of food that’s hearty and warm; it’s a pick-me-up, when the rain has soaked you to the bone.
It’s been raining for the past couple of days and it won’t stop until the end of the week culminating, rather fittingly, with St. Patrick’s Day, which lands on Saturday.
So, I made brown bread.
Brown bread is one of those ubiquitous things in Ireland and I –a yogurt and mueseli, hold the coffee kind of breakfast kid – took to a breakfast of brown bread, Irish butter and tea (with milk, please) like I was made for it.
Recipes abound for Irish bread on the ol’ Interwebs, but I was looking for something that was yeast-based (the stuff I got used to seeing in Ireland didn’t seem like it was soda bread, though what do I know?), brown (given) and simple (most genuine Irish accounts claim that all the extras like caraway seeds aren’t traditional).
So naturally, I wanted to use Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Brown Bread recipe.
Who’s Darina Allen? And what on earth is a Ballymaloe, you ask?
Darina Allen is Ireland’s premier food phenom who owns and operates the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, Ireland. The school sits on 100 acres of organic farmland where they produce all their own food. Think of her as the fabulously Irish and chatty version of Alice Waters. She’s that kind of big deal.
The only problem with Darina’s recipe is that it’s so simple, that it’s almost impossible to recreate. With only five ingredients (one of which is water), the recipe calls for strong wholemeal flour, treacle and fresh yeast.
Here’s the count:
Strong wholemeal flour: by mail order only.
Treacle: didn’t even look, molasses is close enough.
Fresh yeast: the only thing I could find in France, but of course, not in any of our local grocery stores.
Salt: oh thank goodness, I have that.
Despite all this, I decided to make it anyway. So you’ve been forewarned, this is not the result of a precise recipe.
Verdict: Despite being super-glued to the pan, this bread was good fresh out of the oven. It was dense, as it’s meant to be, with a crunchy exterior and would probably be best as toast. Fun (and inexpensive) to try, but seeing as how it had to be tweaked so much, I’d pass on making it again until I’m at Ballymaloe. ;)
KD’s note: see my changes in italics throughout the recipe. I had difficulty removing the bread from the loaf pan and would consider NOT preheating the pan before and just simply preparing it with butter and flour as normal. Also, keep in mind that this is a no-knead recipe.
Ballymaloe Brown Bread (adapted from Epicurious)
Yield: Yield: 1 loaf
3 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast (I added an extra teaspoon for good measure)
1 1/4 cups (400ml) water (I need more, use your instincts)
1 teaspoon molasses (I used 1 tablespoon)
3 1/2 cups (500g) whole-wheat flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)
2 teaspoon salt
Grease an 8in x 2 1/2in (20cm x 10cm x 6cm) loaf pan and warm it in a preheated oven 250°F/120°C, for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle the yeast into 2/3 cup (150ml) of the water in a bowl. Leave for 5 minutes; stir to dissolve. Add the molasses. Leave for 10 minutes, until frothy. Add the remaining water and stir.
Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the dissolved yeast. Stir in the flour to form a thick batter.
Use your hands to mix the batter gently in the bowl for 1 minute, until it begins to leave the sides of the bowl clean and forms a soft, sticky dough.
Place the dough in the prepared pan and cover with a dish towel. Proof until the dough is 1/2in (1 cm) above the top of the pan, about 25-30 minutes.
Bake in the preheated oven at 425°F/220°C for 30 minutes, then lower the oven to 400°F/200°C and bake for 15 minutes.
Turn the loaf out of the pan and onto a baking sheet. Return the bread, bottom side up, to the oven. Bake for a further 10 minutes, until golden and hollow sounding when tapped underneath. Let cool on a wire rack.
Proofing: 25-30 minutes. Oven temperature: 425°F/220°C. Baking: 55 minutes Yeast alternative: 1oz (30g) cake yeast
How do we know that we’re some things and not others? Are we born that way, or do we just happen upon an interest and it sticks?
When my brother was a little boy, he had a teacher who asked her students to write in their journals every morning. My brother wrote about the weather.
Every day, without fail, when asked to write in their journals, he wrote about the weather.
Finally, the teacher approached my mother.
“I’m very concerned” the teacher said, “he’s doesn’t write about anything else but the weather.”
A veteran to the school system, and to some of the narrow-minded viewpoints within it, my mother replied, “So?”
“I think it could be a problem.” The teacher said.
Oh how little some can see.
Suffice it to say, my brother continued to write about the weather that year.
It’s not that my brother had nothing else to say, or was somehow a social outcast as may have been suggested.
My brother is a scientist.
An environmental scientist.
My brother was a little boy who was a scientist then, too.
And this is what the teacher didn’t see, what the teacher couldn’t understand in that moment: he wrote about the weather because he loved it. He wrote about the weather because he wanted to follow its progress and know and learn more about it. He wrote about the weather the way some people sing. He wrote about the weather the way some people write or do sports or play music. He wrote about the weather because it was who was.
I think we find our purpose and our passions when who we are - the very essence of ourselves - collides with a form of expression that fits us.
My brother is a scientist. I am a baker. We're all looking for that moment, I think. That moment when who we are collides with what we do. Some people do it in their jobs and some people do it as their hobbies and some people are still searching to find it. But it comes to all of us in different ways, at different moments and in different packages.
Sometimes, it just depends on the weather.
Banana Bread (very slightly adapted from Martha Stewart)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan; set aside. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, and beat to incorporate.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture, and mix until just combined. Add bananas, sour cream, and vanilla; mix to combine. Stir in nuts, and pour into prepared pan.
Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Let rest in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.
Baker. Traveler. Writer.