This is my version of traditional Irish brown soda bread. Disclaimer, I am from Ireland originally. I grew up with this style of bread. My mother made this everyday, sometimes even twice a day. The real beauty of this bread is that it can be completed within one hour from start to finish. You could certainly waste more than an hour looking for a decent recipe on-line
Most of those recipes are junk. They are junk because they are a long way from the original form and, very much like Guinness, it does’nt travel very well. Soda bread was meant to be a quick bread. So, for me, that makes it a perfect match for my interpretation of simple cooking and it does not need a lot of unnecessary ingredients to hold you up.
Basically, traditional soda bread does not include eggs, butter, treacle, yoghurt, sugar or Irish whiskey. Let me tell you that no Irish country housewife would ever have been so frivolous as to include any of the above listed ingredients. Why, you ask? The simple answer is that is how it is. The country was poor, as were the people so items like butter and eggs would have been used elsewhere to feed people. Treacle was an English import and so was already dead in the water for brown soda bread usage. Yoghurt would have been completely unheard of. In my bog, I never heard of yoghurt until I was aged eleven. Like, people would be laughing at you, like, and your big innovation, like. As for the whiskey, that’s just another stereotype.
So, after all that, my traditional version includes only five ingredients, all purpose flour, freshly milled wheat berries, salt, baking soda and buttermilk. To my way of thinking and approaching food, the only really acceptable add-ons are, and not necessarily all of them at once, are wheat bran, wheat germ, oatmeal or pinhead oatmeal. That’s right, no honey or molasses either. One other point to make is that I do not care for how much they mill the wheat in the US. It is too fine. Again, I like to grind my own wheat berries to the degree of coarseness that I prefer. This is reflected in the bread’s crust which has a remarkable grainy texture and a delicious carmelized crunchiness. I also like breads a little on the well done side.
Most of the time when you see brown soda bread for sale, it is a complete loaf with a cross-like slash mark on the bread. What I like to do is based on how they bake a particular style of bread in Northern Ireland called an Oatmeal Farl. The bread is formed into a round or circle and cut into four quadrants. I borrowed the idea and cut my pre-oven bread into four quadrants or farls. I really love the crust, that’s why I do it.
All of the cookbooks and writers suggest doing this with your bread or eat it that way…….what do they know. I love it in the morning with honey or marmalade. Yeah, Irish whiskey marmalade too, baby! I love to dip it in soups, especially pureed potato soup. All of the stereotypes are out now. I love eating it with a good thick seafood chowder. I love it fresh from the oven with butter all over, dripping. I love it as a snack with cheese or smoked salmon. Sometimes, I like to make them the size of scones, little brown bread scones. One farl will equal three or four brown bread scones. Even more crust to enjoy.
But the absolute best way to enjoy brown soda bread, and you will never read or hear about this technique, is to fry it. The best results are from brown bread that is a few days old. Heat up some butter or oil and just fry the bread on both sides until crispy. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and serve hot for breakfast alongside soft-boiled eggs on a cold winter’s morning. That is breakfast of champions material.