Friday 17 March 2017

Adventures in brown bread

Adventures?’, you may be questioning. Well, sure: for a little loaf of bread, this one’s come a long way. I’ve posted a recipe for brown bread before - twice, in fact. The first was way back when the blog was brand-new - that one was “old-school” gluten-free, with egg and gums and far too many flours for what should be a quick and simple bread. Then, a few years later, I made a ‘simplified’ recipe which, although updated to be egg-free and gum-free, still has more ingredients than it really needs (and several of those key ingredients are rather out-of-place in a homestyle Irish recipe). 

I wanted to revisit this recipe yet again in a way that would better reflect the true character of this bread. Brown bread, at its heart, is a very simple food, traditionally comprised of little more than whole and white wheat flours, buttermilk, butter, and often some oats, oat flour, and/or oat bran for flavor and texture. This recipe is really rather more of an experiment than a fully polished recipe, but it’s an experiment certainly worth sharing. I’ve made several test loaves over the last few weeks, trying to see just how simple I could get it. As it turns out, the answer is pretty simple, and very different from those previous versions. Eventually, I settled on a combination of just oat, sorghum, and flaxseeds which come together for the right nutty-sweet grain taste. The rolled oats and flax meal are cooked together in a porridge that helps bind the loaf together. Is it perfect? Not quite - maybe I’m just being picky, but I think it’s a little too crumbly, and I’m also curious if it could be made even simpler still - so I’ll be sure to keep experimenting along these lines because brown bread is one of my favorite things. That said, this version is still definitely good enough to mix up a quick batch for dinner or tea! And it comes together quickly and easily enough to experiment with your own adventures with the formula, if you so wish. 

Brown Bread
This recipe makes quite a small loaf - if you double it, you may have to use your own judgment for the baking time.  

20 g rolled oats
20 g oat flour, divided (see method)
8 g golden flax meal
35 g pearled sorghum flour (see note in this post)
30 g sorghum flour
5 g oat bran (optional, but recommended for texture)
7 g (about 2 tsp) sugar
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
⅛ tsp salt

80 g milk, water, or a mixture of the two (I used a mixture)
14 g bean broth (also known as “aquafaba” - this helps as a binder and improves texture)
7 g (½ T) butter
60 g buttermilk, kefir, or thin yogurt (do not use greek yogurt - it is not sour enough)

Preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC. (Recommended: heat a baking stone or lidded dutch oven to bake the bread on/in.) Whisk the oats, 10 g of the oat flour, and the flax meal in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir in the bean broth and the milk/water and set aside to thicken slightly.
In another bowl, combine the remaining flours, bran, sugar, salt, soda, and baking powder. Cut the butter into this dry mix and lightly rub it in with your fingertips. 
Optional: dust loaf with oat flour for an interesting appearance.
Microwave the porridge mixture for around 1 minute, stirring several times - when you start, it will have a flax-gel consistency, but by the end of the cooking time, it should resemble cooked oatmeal. Beat this hot porridge in a mixer for several moments, then mix in about half the buttermilk, followed by the dry mix, then the remaining buttermilk. Shape the dough into a round loaf on a piece of parchment and smooth with water. Cut an “x” in the loaf just before baking to help it expand evenly.

Put the loaf on the hot baking stone or in the dutch oven and cover with an upturned bowl, upside-down roasting pan, or put a lid on the dutch oven; after 6 minutes, uncover the loaf. (Starting the baking in this covered, steamy environment helps the loaf expand better and form a good crust - but make sure to uncover it after the 6 minutes are up!) Bake for a total of 40-45 minutes, until the crust is firm but not too hard and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool before cutting.

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