Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Wheaten Bread

Wheaten Bread (or Brown Soda Bread as it is called by non Irish folks)  is a part of the everyday diet in this part of the world. Very quick and easy to make it is a wonderful accompaniment to most dishes and delicious with just butter and jam or cheese. I learned to make this at my Mother’s knee. Very few meal times at home did not have this bread on the table. The very smell of it baking takes me back to my childhood. It is a haunting feeling to think that a Grandmother of mine, perhaps two hundred years ago, was making this bread too.
Two major factors have long affected the course of Irish baking. The first is our climate. In this land where the influence of the Gulf Stream prevents either great extremes of heat in the summer or cold in the winter, the hard wheats, which need such extremes to grow, don't prosper... And it's such wheats that make flour with a high gluten content, producing bread which rises high and responds well to being leavened with yeast. Soft wheats, though, have always grown well here.
The other factor, in the last millenium at least, has been the relative abundance of fuel. The various medieval overlords of Ireland were never able to exercise the tight control over forest land which landowners could manage in more populous, less wild areas, like England and mainland Europe: so firewood could be pretty freely poached, and where there was no wood, there was almost always heather, and usually turf too. As a result, anyone with a hearthstone could afford to bake on a small scale, and on demand. The incentive to band together to conserve fuel (and invent the communal bake-oven, a conservation tool common in more fuel-poor areas of Europe) was missing in the Irish countryside. Short elapsed baking times, and baking "at will", were easy.
These two factors caused the Irish householder to bypass yeast for everyday baking whenever possible. The primary leavening agent became what is now known here as bread soda: just plain bicarbonate of soda, hence the name "soda bread". For a long time, most of the bread in Ireland was soda bread -- at least, most of what was baked at the hearthside ("bakery bread" only being available in the larger cities). Soda bread was made either "in the pot," in yet another version of the cloche baking which is now coming back into vogue, but which was long popular all over medieval Europe: or else on a baking stone, an iron plate usually rested directly on the embers of the fire

The cooking/baking hearth of an Irish cottage, circa 1780: courtesy Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

From these two methods are descended the two main kinds of soda bread eaten in Ireland, both north and south, to the present day.
In Ireland, "plain" soda bread is as likely to be eaten as an accompaniment to a main meal (to soak up the gravy) as it's likely to appear at breakfast. It comes in  brown or white, and two main types: cake and farl. The latter are primarily regional differences. People in the south of Ireland tend to make cake: people in Northern Ireland  like the farl better (though both kinds appear in both North and South, sometimes under wildly differing names). Cake is soda bread kneaded and shaped into a flattish round, then cut with a cross on the top (this is supposed to let the bread stretch and expand as it rises in the oven but it’s really to let the fairies out) and baked on a baking sheet.   A farl is rolled out into a rough circle and cut through, crosswise, into four pieces and usually baked in a heavy frying pan or on a griddle, on top of the range rather than in the oven.

With all this said, the basic business of baking soda bread is extremely simple. The urge to be resisted is to do more stuff to it than necessary...this is usually what keeps it from coming out right the first few times. Once you've mastered the basic mixture, though, you can start adding things, coming up with wonderful variations like treacle bread and so on.

Now you have had the history.............go make some!

Wheaten Bread

8ozs/225gms Wholemeal Flour
4 ozs/100gms Plain Flour

Approx. 15 fl. ozs/400mls Butter Milk
1oz/25gms Butter
1 teasp Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda
1 teasp sugar or honey
1 teasp. salt

Greased and floured round sandwich tin

Oven temp 350F 180.C Gas 4

In a large bowl mix together all the dry ingredients.
Cut the butter into small pieces and rub through.
Add enough buttermilk to form a soft but easily handled dough. It should not be runny.
Knead lightly and quickly into a round and place in prepared tin.
(It is essential you use light hands)
Cut a deep cross in the bread. (To let the fairies out)
Sprinkle with oats if desired

Bake for approx 40 Minutes or until a skewer comes out clean

When it comes out of the oven cut yourself a big slice, slather it in butter not minding that it dribbles down your chin in the enjoyment of it all.


Georgina Ingham | CulinaryTravels said...

Wow Brenda. I knew you'd get the blogging bug someday soon. Looking fabulous and so informative. Great first post. Can't wait to read more.

George xx

Mary K said...

Great to see you have a blog Granny ! I will visit it often. Very interesting to read about the soda bread, I love it so I will have to try making some myself now.

Mary x

violets said...

Brenda, you blog is lovely, I'm going to add you to my list.

Vi xx

Vicky said...

Hi Brenda,

Your blog is as lovely as you are. Beautifully written, but then I wouldn't expect anything else. I look forward to reading your next post.

Lots of love,
Vicky. xxx

Anonymous said...

WOW Brenda, excellent idea!!!!!!!

jaygirl said...

Oh I am very impressed, clever old thing, well done my friend.

Rita X X

Anonymous said...

Very Good Mum,

Anonymous said...

Lovely blog Granny, I'll be dropping in every day so I hope the kettle's always on!

Francesca x

Anonymous said...

Great to see you blogging Granny - looks great!

Little Mamma

Anonymous said...

Very informative and interesting, I shall add you to my bookmarklist! Lilsgirl.

Anonymous said...

Woo hoo Granny...lurvly blog. Good luck with it. MWAH . Lots of love Hevz xxxx

Anonymous said...

Wonderful reading! Great blog, love the colours in the backgound!


Kerry said...

Your blog looks fantastic, great job.

Anonymous said...

This is a lovely place to visit Granny! I'll be popping back with my butter and honey!
Jilly B

Anonymous said...

Lovely. Beautifully written. Clever cow.
How do you find the time?
Love Sally (Hottie)

Rhyleysgranny said...

Bless you all for your kind comments

Granny xxx

Sarah Nicole said...

Awesome blog Brenda! I can't wait to read more.


Anonymous said...

Hi Granny, I love your blog! Really looking forward to reading more.

Nickki xxx

Anna's kitchen table said...

Well done Brenda!
What a lovely informative blog!

Anonymous said...

Hi Granny,

It's brilliant. Well done you. I wish I could do something like that.

I use the exact same ingredients in my brown bread, imagine that.

I will visit everyday.

I sure your family is very proud of you, and by Dad they have reason to be.

Lots of love,


Thinking About Food said...

Welcome to the blogosphere Granny, it is so good to see you (finally!) here!!!! Look forward to popping in here regularly!
Well done!

Anonymous said...

Wow, clever Granny!! Lovely blog!

Anonymous said...

The shortbread rounds look delicious. I can't promise to pop in every day, but this seems like a blog I'll come back to pretty often. Can't wait to see what you make next.

Anonymous said...

Lovely blog Granny! Will definately be a visiting again soon!
jenvdk :o)

vonsachsen said...

This is cool! ;P There is something about soda bread that fascinates me. I´ve tried it once (didn´t succeed) but now I´ll try your recipe. Interesting reading!
Oh, welcome to the blogosphere :)

Anonymous said...

It looks wonderful Granny, lovely writing. Well done you!

Anonymous said...

Oops, sorry, that was me, Kerry Annexxx

Ms O said...

Hi Granny, darlin'

I recently spied your blog. It's gorgeous -- just like you!

Keep up the good job. I'm looking forward to reading your posts.

Lea x

Anonymous said...

Hi Granny - would you recommend baking this bread in a dutch oven? Would I need to preheat it like Lahey does for his no knead technique? I would be very happy to read your advice ( Thanks a million!