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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Irish wheaten bread

Ingredients:
3 cups of whole wheat flour
1 cup of white all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1 3/4 cup buttermilk

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
3. Mix buttermilk and oil. Make well in centre and add about 3/4 cups of buttermilk and oil mixture.
4. Mix together with floured hands.
5. Add the rest of the buttermilk and oil until mixture becomes soft dough.
6. Turn onto lightly floured counter and knead 8 to 10 times gently shaping the dough into a ball.*
7. Place ball of dough on a greased baking sheet, and press into a circle about 2 1/2 inches deep.
8. Cut a large cross in the centre about 1/4 inch deep.
9. Bake in oven at 350 degrees from 40 minutes to an hour, and check to see if it is using a knitting needle or a toothpick. If it comes out clean, it’s ready!
10. Cool on a wire rack.
11. Enjoy a slice or two with butter and jam, and save the rest in a bread tin to keep it fresh.

*I decided to make two mini loaves instead

(Recipe donated by Kathleen Wetherall)

Irish wheaten bread

The smell of wheaten bread baking is the smell of my grandmother in the house.

When I was sixteen and moved to Northern Ireland for a year, I found that wheaten bread was everywhere. While in a small city just outside of Belfast, I was served the hearty Irish bread with breakfast, lunch, and even dinner. I quickly realized that the bread isn’t only good in the morning, but that it goes beautifully with a hearty Irish stew on a cold evening. And while I was unimpressed with most Irish cuisine, I quickly grew fond of some of the local breads: potato bread, a flat bread made on a griddle called farl, and of course, wheaten.

My grandmother grew up on a farm in Northern Ireland, where her mother made wheaten bread with a cake-like texture she's never been able to replicate. She made the bread herself for the first time in technical college, and collected several different recipes before she decided how to perfect her own. It wasn’t long before her own children, five girls and one boy, were enjoying her many varieties of wheaten. “Kids love it,” says my grandmother, who sometimes adds dried fruit and golden raisins (“They taste much better than the ordinary raisins,” she points out).

Northern Ireland is never to be mistaken with the Southern Ireland. One is British, one is European, one carries the pound, one uses the Euro, and they both have different names for the country’s favourite bread. What we know as wheaten bread in the North is referred to as soda bread in the South. It is called soda bread because yeast is substituted with baking soda in the bread’s dough. The cold and wet climate of Ireland is best for growing hard wheat, and the flour rises with the help of baking soda. The cross cut in wheaten bread is rumoured to ward off evil, but is most likely there to help it bake properly.

Irish wheaten bread only stays fresh for a few days, so it’s important to store it away in a tight container. It’s even more important to toast it just lightly enough to warm it up, and to put a healthy helping of raspberry or strawberry jam on top.

To this day, the bread reminds me of my childhood and also my heritage. It makes me think of my mom, my grandmother and I all in our bathrobes, standing in the kitchen eating toasted wheaten bread. It makes me think of my great aunt in Northern Ireland, putting out trays of wheaten bread and sharp aged cheddar for us to eat with hot tea.

Something as simple as a recipe can tie one generation to another. It can represent family, familiarity, nationality and more. A huge part of who I am and where I come from can be tasted in a warm slice of bread.

5 Comments:

Blogger andrea said...

mmm bread. i've always wanted to make bread but was always afraid of yeast, and kneading on floured surfaces, and other such complexities in life. this looks easy, like making a cake, i think i want to try it!! if it turs out well maybe i'll bring it to our picnic???

6:57 PM  
Blogger The Late Bloomer said...

Oh, this bread sounds wonderful! I want to give it a try too. But I'm not sure whether I'll succeed with it or not. I had an Irish colleague in the bookshop where I worked my first couple years here in Paris, and he brought back some brown bread from home one year -- I LOVED that stuff! Is wheaten bread the same as brown bread? It looks similar... I don't know why it was called that way, but I think I heard it called brown bread in an Irish pub here in Paris too.

2:57 AM  
Blogger Gillian Young said...

First let me clarify one thing: I do not bake. So if this bread turned out it means it was pretty easy and involved few complications!

Andrea- definitely give it a go! Can you bring one of the crazy Asian fruits you've written about to our picnic"?

The Late Bloomer- Brown bread sounds like it would probably be another name for wheaten. As along as it's got that thick texture and taste of wheat and soda! Give it a go!

1:39 AM  
Blogger Wenda said...

Sounds great, Gill! In my childhood, baking powder biscuits were the favourite, though with all my Irish roots, the wheaten bread must have been a delight to the generations before me.

1:55 AM  
Anonymous The Wealthy Blogger said...

Ah, Irish Wheaten Bread!

A couple of points readers might be interested in:

Irish (both Ulster & The Republic) wheat is softer than North American wheat. I grew up on Irish Wheaten bread, having been born and lived there before emigrating to Canada. Years ago, you could almost duplicate Irish Wheaten by using whole wheat flour and something that used to be called "Graham flour" but does not seem to exist anymore here in Canada.

I have discovered however, that you can get Irish coarse whole wheat flour (Odlum's) from "A Bit Of Home," located in Mississauga, Ontario.

As well, for American readers, King Arthur flours carries an Irish whole wheat flour that I'm told is the right stuff for making genuine Irish wheaten bread.

I myself have about 20 pounds of Odlum's on my shelf - probably enough to get me through the Christmas season :).

11:29 AM  

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