Sunday, January 23, 2011

Iris's Wheaten Bread

I seem to be on an Irish theme. Musing on my mum's fridge yesterday and reading "kiss my spatula's" latest post on dippy eggs and toast prompted a nostalgic train of thought for the food of my homeland.

I have strong childhood memories of every Saturday lunchtime; BBC radio 2, "Stupot" was the soundtrack to wheaten bread, soda farls, butter, cheese, jam and soup. Our local bakery in Portstewart, Northern Ireland was The Griddle and usually the breads were from there, but still warm....ahhh. I'm sure my family will call me out on a romantic version of our Saturday mornings; there was probably a fair amount of family discord too.

So what is wheaten bread? Basically very rustic wholewheat bread leavened with baking soda rather than endless yeast risings. It can be in the oven in 15 minutes. That's my type of bread!

When I was 12, my Mum made a new friend, Iris McMaster, who made great wheaten bread. She was nice enough to share the recipe and that simple recipe became a firm family favorite. By this time we had moved to Belfast and our beloved griddle breads were 70 miles away.

Even in my early twenties, I continued the tradition on a Saturday morning, making bread for my cousin and anyone else who popped in. It's a go to bread for taking to a friends house for lunch; wrap it up in a dishtowel while still warm, and deliver with pride and maybe some raspberry jam.

The recipe is quick, simple and very therapeutic to make; i.e. you get your hands in. The smell of wheaten bread baking, is like bottled up Saturday feeling for me.

Some notes about the recipe:

Wholewheat flour; get the coarsest flour you can buy for reasonable money. Our supermarket does sell Irish wheatmeal flour but it's $10 a bag!!! So I buy regular wholewheat flour and when I can get to the natural food store I stock up on the coarser version.

The original recipe called for more sugar but, as a rule, in any baked recipe, I cut it down.

I have included the British measurements but also converted to US measurements. Please note a British pint has more volume than a US one.

Wheaten bread freezes very nicely. I always triple wrap in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn.

Wheaten Bread


5 1/2 cups (1 1/2 lb) course wholegrain flour
2 1/2 cups (12 oz) unbleached all purpose flour
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) (2oz) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar (2oz) sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons baking soda
3 1/3 cups (1 1/2 British pints) buttermilk


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F or 185°C.
  2. Butter and lightly flour two 9x5" loaf tins.
  3. Measure the flours into a very large bowl , whisk together to incorporate.
  4. Then cut the cold butter into small pieces and add to the flour.
  5. Get your hands in a rub the butter into the flour, until there are no big lumps left. This is the therapeutic part!
  6. Add the sugar, salt, baking soda and stir in to incorporate.
  7. Finally stir in the buttermilk until just incorporated. Don't worry if there are still some lumps in the dough (see picture) that's normal and overmixing needs to be avoided as it will create a tough bread.
  8. Divide the dough in 2 and press lightly into the corners of the loaf tins.
  9. Put both tins in the middle of the oven for 50-60 minutes. It will be ready when a tester comes out clean and it has a golden top.

Wheaten bread is totally delicious, cut into slices while still warm, spread with butter and your favorite jam. Raspberry jam is a traditional and especially good combination but whatever you fancy! It'll toast up nicely for the next few days if you dont eat it all on the first day.

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