My older brother has pretty mean (and by mean, I mean awesome) bread-making skills. I can’t remember when exactly he started refining his craft, but the bread-making has been a semi-annual summer and/or Christmastime event (basically every time he comes back to visit) since well before I graduated college. I’m also not quite sure what prompted him to start making bread in the first place. I am certain, however, that my family has been happily fed by the grains of his labor. Two summers ago when he and his wife came to visit us in the ol’ MO, he made at least a half dozens loaves, sometimes baking into the wee hours of the night because the mixing, kneading, rising process didn’t get rolling until late afternoon (it was summer break, after all). We had fresh-baked bread for nearly his entire visit, for breakfast, sandwiches, you name it. There really is nothing quite like the homemade stuff. It’s the best thing since sliced … wait. Hmm…
I had never attempted homemade bread before, which is partly because I’ve always considered it my brother’s domain. That, and I’m rather impatient and tend to lean toward recipes that produce a quicker result. All the kneading and rising is wonderful in theory (and in taste — huzzah!), but the process takes soooooo long, and I end up losing interest. I’m no Henny Penny, I suppose.
But this recipe for Irish brown soda bread by Merrill Stubbs on Food52 convinced me that I might have a future in bread-making after all — at least the kind that requires no rising and can go from mixer to oven to table in less than an hour. Not to mention the Irish-ness of it seemed an appropriate homage to the bro, who lives in Ireland these days. The dough is no trouble to put together, and the dusting of flour and “X” cutout on top makes for a great presentation that’s pretty and rustic at the same time. The bread itself is no slouch either: hearty, savory and super yummy with a smear of butter and a dot of honey. I’m still nowhere near matching my brother’s baked bread quota, but it’s all about the baby steps.
Irish Brown Soda Bread
From merrill, food52.com
• 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and baking
• 1 cup whole-wheat flour
• ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
• ¼ cup toasted wheat germ
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
• 1 to 1 1/3 cups buttermilk
Place a rack in center of oven, and heat to 425 degrees. Sprinkle baking sheet lightly with flour.
In a large bowl, whisk together flours, oats, wheat germ, baking soda and salt, and place in the large bowl of a food processor. Add the butter, and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add the buttermilk, and pulse until the dough comes together (you might not need all the buttermilk).
On a floured surface, knead the dough gently for about a minute until smooth. Shape the dough into a ball, and transfer to the baking sheet. Gently pat into a 7-inch round, and sprinkle the top evenly with about a tablespoon of flour (use your fingertips to gently spread the flour evenly over the top). Using a very sharp knife, cut a shallow “X” in the top of the loaf. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the loaf is brown and the bottom sounds hollow when you tap it. Cool on a rack for at least 2 hours before slicing.
Have you ever tried your hand at homemade bread? What’s your best tip for beginners? If you’re already a bread master, is there another food or recipe you’re mustering up the courage to try? Do tell!