Sunday 17 March 2013

Brown Bread, Simplified

Hello again everyone! I know, I've been gone awhile. (Again.) I won't go into that now, though - this post will be a quick one. As you may have noticed, food-related sites in the past week or so have been filled with pictures of Irish-themed recipes, some authentic - lamb stew, scones and tea breads, colcannon - and others...well, not so much (green cupcakes, anyone?). And then, of course, there's soda bread. Many, many different types of bread get called "Irish soda bread." Some are more traditional than others, of course, but pretty much all of them are tasty in their own way. And, well, I wanted to contribute my personal favorite type to the mix - a hearty, homestyle brown bread, with a tender crumb and the pleasant flavor of buttermilk. Even the name is straightforward: "brown bread." Although I have posted a recipe for this type of bread before, this version is easier to make and has a simplified ingredients list. It's a pretty "forgiving" recipe as well - I've mentioned a few possible substitutions below. I've made it with a number of different flour combinations in the past and most have turned out fine, so don't be afraid to experiment if you don't have or can't use one of the flours called for. Whether you're looking for a last-minute bread to have with dinner, or simply looking for something that's lovely with butter or jam, give it a try! 

Brown Bread
makes 1 loaf

30 g buckwheat flour
30 g brown rice flour
30 g white rice flour
15 g potato flour (not starch)
15 g chestnut flour (if you can't find it, may substitute bean flour, oat flour, or extra buckwheat flour)
70 g potato starch
100 g tapioca starch
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
12 g unrefined sugar or brown sugar
8 g psyllium husks
3/8 tsp Pomona's citrus pectin
12 g cold butter
240 g buttermilk (or substitute, see note below)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar (if needed, see note below)

Optional, but recommended:
30 g rolled oats and/or 30 g steel-cut oats
Extra rolled oats for top of loaf

In a small bowl combine buckwheat, rice, potato, and chestnut flours with the psyllium, pectin, salt, and sugar. Cut in butter until mixture has uniform consistency. In another bowl combine starches, baking powder, and baking soda (and cream of tartar, if using) - set aside. 

Pour buttermilk into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, blend in the first flour mixture (and optional oats, if using) and let stand for ~20 minutes. Preheat oven to 205º C/400º F, with baking stone or cast-iron skillet on middle rack. (You can use a regular baking sheet, but I find having a heavy, heat-retaining baking surface helps the bread rise better and bake more evenly.) 

Once the oven is hot, blend starch mixture into the wet batter; it should form a soft but shapeable dough. If it still resembles a batter, add a spoonful of starch and/or rolled oats until it comes together (see note on buttermilk below). As soon as the dough comes together, dump/scrape it out of the bowl onto a floured surface or baking sheet and form it into a roughly circular shape; it will be soft and sticky, that's ok. You must work quickly now since the leavening is in the dough! (If you want oats on the crust like in my picture, pat them onto the loaf at this point.) Score an "x" across the top of the loaf and transfer it to the baking stone (or place baking sheet in oven). 

Bake for ~1 hour, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Immediately after removing the bread from the oven, wrap it up in a dry tea towel to cool (this helps keep it moist) - let it cool for at least an hour. 

- Buttermilk: most buttermilk in stores is stronger-tasting and thicker than old-fashioned buttermilk. It's essentially like thin, slightly salty yogurt - it's generally made as a separate product these days rather than the traditional liquid left over from making cultured butter. The modern kind can be identified by the ingredients, as it will often have thickeners, emulsifiers, and other stuff added; in my experience it doesn't always work the same in baking. If you can find old-fashioned buttermilk, go for it! If not, you may want to thin out plain yogurt with some milk until it is pourable consistency, or make your own "buttermilk" as follows: stir 30 g of yogurt into 210 g warm milk and let stand for a couple of hours until thickened slightly. If you use a substitute, though, it may not be sour/acidic enough to react with the baking soda completely - in that case you may want to add 1/2 tsp cream of tartar.


  1. As always, this looks delicious, Meg! I'm already imagining how this loaf could come together in my kitchen when I get home tonight.

    Welcome back! :)

  2. Thank you for sharing this recipe! I've been looking for a nice crusty GF bread without the gums and this is it! I just made it for the first time and I consider it a great success. I will be making this again and again, I'm sure. Thank you for sharing!

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