I love the pleasures of warm, just-out-of-the-oven breads but I don’t have much time to spend baking. My have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too strategy is to make a savory quick bread leavened without yeast and needing no rising time; I mix the batter in minutes and bake it immediately. Then I eat it warm, slathered with good butter.
One of the most satisfying quick breads I know is Irish Brown Bread, the coarse, chewy bread served daily in southwest Ireland in pubs, restaurants and homes to accompany meals and smoked Irish salmon, for tea or breakfast. It freezes well and is wonderful toasted. If you look closely, you’ll see that the Orange-Scented Blueberry Scones recipe that follows it takes a similar approach.
It you really want to gild the lily whip up a batch of homemade butter while the bread is baking.
I learned this Brown Bread recipe from my mother who had lived in Ireland and figured out how to approximate Irish flours in America, using a combination of whole wheat and unbleached flours with rolled oats and oat bran.
The secret ingredient is buttermilk, a low-fat cultured milk similar to yogurt. When teamed with baking soda, it magically insures a tender, moist texture and rich flavor using less butter than usual. Buttermilk is available in the dairy section of most supermarkets. Because it is cultured, it stays fresh for many weeks refrigerated and so can be easily kept on hand.
In a pinch, you can replace fresh buttermilk with:
—plain yogurt mixed with milk until the consistency of heavy cream OR
—milk “soured” with 1 teaspoon lemon juice or cider vinegar. (Because it has a thinner texture, you will need a little less.)
Recipe: Irish Brown Bread
Makes two 18 ounce loaves, about 8 servings per loaf. Store the bread well-wrapped up to 5 days, or freeze in a plastic bag up to 2 months.
About 2 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup oat bran
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
Butter for coating the pan
Preheat the oven to 400’F. In a bowl, stir together 2 1/4 cups of the whole wheat flour, the all-purpose flour, rolled oats, oat bran, brown sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. With a fork stir in 1 1/2 cups of the buttermilk and the melted butter. Add more buttermilk, little by little, just until a soft-but-not-too-wet dough forms. (The amount of buttermilk will vary with the moisture content of the flour). Knead the dough in the bowl until smooth, about 2 minutes. If the dough is too wet, knead in up to 4 teaspoons whole wheat flour, 1 teaspoon at a time. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions.
Shape each portion of dough into a ball and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Flatten slightly. Using a thin, sharp knife, make 2 crisscrossing slashes on top of the loaf. (This allows the dough to expand evenly as it cooks.)
Bake the loaves for 30 to 35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middles comes out clean and the bottom of the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove the bread from the pans and place on a rack to cool.
Recipe: Orange-Scented Blueberry Scones
The scones are best when freshly baked, but they will keep well-wrapped, for up to 2 days. To refresh them, wrap in foil and heat in a 350’ oven for 15 minutes for 15minutes. until warm. Or split and toast them.
Baked without the orange zest, coriander and blueberries, these scones make a great base for shortcake. Split them horizontally when they are still warm and fill with whipped cream and sugared berries.
Makes 8 scones
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder, preferably
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
3/4 cup dried blueberries, currents or cherries
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
3/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425′. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, coriander, salt and sugar. With a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Scatter in the dried blueberries and orange zest. With a fork, stir in the buttermilk until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it 3 or 4 times with floured hands.
Divide the dough into 8 equal portions and shape each into a ball. Place the balls of dough on a lightly oiled baking sheet with at least 2 inches between them. With a sharp knife, cut a cross in the top of each ball. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Bake the scones about 13-15 minutes, until golden brown.