The last time I was doing a bit of shopping at Macro Wholefoods, I spied an artisan soda bread by Bowen Island Bakery which I immediately snapped up because it reminded me of Irish wheaten bread. B and I had it that evening with a spicy tomato stew, and both agreed that it was a good bread. It being on the pricey side, I was reluctant to make this a regular purchase, and decided I should return to making my own, which I did once, as part of World Bread Day last year.
Things seem to have come full circle. During a casual flip through one of my current favourite baking books, a recipe for pumpernickel and polenta soda bread caught my eye. I loved the rustic look of the loaf, and the use of rye flour in the ingredients, and resolved to give it a go. Rather happily, it turns out that this bread is not only delicious, but it also tastes remarkably like wheaten bread! And I think it’s an improvement on my previous recipe, so much so that I’m going to stick to this one from now on. If you love Irish wheaten bread but haven’t been very successful in reproducing it at home, I urge you to try this recipe out.
This bread is so easy to make, I’ve been baking it every Sunday morning since : wake up, put the dough together and pop it into the oven, run back to bed until the timer goes off, then have freshly baked bread for breakfast.
Note: I made a few changes with the recipe, due to various circumstances. The first time I made it, I couldn’t get any caraway seeds or molasses, and so omitted the seeds altogether and substituted the molasses with treacle. The loaf will taste more authentically Irish without the caraway seeds anyway. In a bid to also make this a bit more B-friendly (he’s lactose intolerant), I did away with the buttermilk. If you make it and decide to stick to the original, I would love to know how the bread turned out for you
Pumpernickel and Polenta Soda Bread :
(makes 1 small loaf; recipe by Belinda Jeffery)
fine polenta, for dusting
120g stone-ground wholemeal plain flour, plus a little extra for dusting
75g unbleached plain flour
60g rye flour
40g fine stone-ground yellow polenta (cornmeal)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon sea salt, crushed
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, plus extra, for sprinkling
1 1/3 cups (330ml) buttermilk
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
Preheat your oven to 210′C. Lay a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray and dush the paper with a little polenta.
Tip all three flours, the polenta, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sea salt and caraway seeds into a large bowl. Whisk them together for a minute or so with a balloon whisk. In a separate bowl, mix together the buttermilk, honey and molasses. (If you gently warm the honey and molasses they will mix into the buttermilk more easily).
Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk mixture. I usually start mixing this with a wooden spoon and then resort to using my hands when it gets too sticky. The one thing you don’t want is to overdo the mixing as this toughens the bread (which, to be confusing, is the opposite to yeast breads, which require lots of kneading). Bring the dough together so it’s soft and sticky, then tip it onto a floured bench.
With floured hands, knead the dough very gently so it just comes together, then shape it into a little football. Sit the “football” on the prepared baking tray and, with a serrated knife, make 4-5 very shallow slashes diagonally across the top of the dough (if they’re too deep the loaf opens out a bit too much while it bakes and is drier than it should be). Sieve a fine dusting of flour over the top and sprinkle with extra caraway seeds.
Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it with your knuckles. Leave the loaf on a wire rack to cool for about 1 hour before slicing. Unlike many soda breads, leftovers keep well for 1-2 days in a sealed plastic bag.
(Or for my version of Irish wheaten bread : No caraway seeds and subst. buttermilk for 2 heaped kitchen spoons (or eating spoons, whatever you call it!) of European/Greek yogurt, and top up with lactose-free skim milk to the 300ml mark. Mix this with kitchen spoon each of the honey and treacle. Proceed with the recipe as stated above, mixing the dough with a large wooden spoon until it is just combined, then tip the dough onto the lined tray. With wholemeal-floured hands, pat the dough into shape and make the slashes with a floured knife. 30 minutes in a fan-forced oven is sufficient cooking time. It’s not a pretty looking loaf, but it’s damn tasty! One recipe is enough for the two of us to have for Sunday breakfast, and I usually take the remainder with me to have at work the next day).