World Bread Day 2007 : Pumpernickel and Polenta Soda Bread


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 πŸ™‚

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).

pumpernickel-book.jpg pumpernickelpolentasodabread.jpg


  1. Duncan | Syrup&Tang said,

    October 13, 2007 @ 10:51 am

    So you are also a convert to Belinda Jeffrey’s Mix and Bake! I’ve been thinking about writing about the book. A cook I work with was a little snobby about this one (as was I!) until she actually tried the recipes and, well, gosh they’re good. Now I have a copy too.

  2. Y said,

    October 13, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

    I haven’t been intending to, but I seem to be working my way through all the recipes in that book. The introductions to each recipe have so much confidence and warmth to them that you can’t help but absorb that and know the recipe is going to work for you too. That’s what the joy of this book is to me; that the recipes work, and work so beautifully. I haven’t made anything that I wouldn’t happily try again, from the buttermilk scones, to the breads, muffins and biscuits (the ginger ones in particular, are divine).

    I wasn’t a fan before this book – didn’t like her presentation style on tv.

  3. zorra said,

    October 13, 2007 @ 5:12 pm

    I will bake it for sure and let you know about the result!
    Thank you very much for joining WBD also this year.

  4. Manju said,

    October 23, 2007 @ 5:33 am

    I love soda bread but haven’t made one in ages. Your polenta and whole wheat variation sounds really “onolicious”as they say here (healthy too!). May have to try this next weekend. Will let you know when I do.

  5. Y said,

    October 29, 2007 @ 7:22 pm

    Hi Manju: It really is a delicious bread. I hope you were successful in trying it out. I’ve been missing it a little while on holiday and can’t wait to bake a batch when I get back to my kitchen.

  6. zorra said,

    November 1, 2007 @ 10:10 pm

    As promised I made the bread:

    I love it’s taste. Unfortunately I had some problems with the dough. Spanish flours need less fluid. I reduced it but it was still to much liquid. So I baked it in a cake pan. As I said the taste is great, but the crumb was quite crumbly. I will try it again with less buttermilk!

    How long do you knead the dough? I did it with my food processor, 4 minutes. Perhaps this was too long?

  7. Y said,

    November 2, 2007 @ 6:21 pm

    Zorra: I almost don’t knead the dough at all. Once it comes together, I use floured hands to tip it onto the baking sheet (bear in mind that it is a wetter dough than normal bread dough), pat it into shape (again with floured hands, otherwise it sticks), make the slashes with the knife and straight into the oven it goes.

    It’s a bit crumbly if you’re cutting while it’s hot, but should be fine once it cools down. The texture is not like normal kneaded bread though – it can break apart a little bit, but nothing major.

  8. zorra said,

    November 2, 2007 @ 8:18 pm

    So I think, I used to much liquid (for my Spanish flours) and kneaded it too long.
    Next time I will do it by hand too. So I have a better feeling. My dough was like a cake dough, not possible to form. But as I said before, its taste is great!

  9. Y said,

    November 3, 2007 @ 12:03 pm

    ..and if you have trouble again, maybe next time when I make it, I’ll take pictures of it in it’s raw form so that you can see what the dough should look like πŸ™‚

  10. Michele said,

    January 2, 2008 @ 7:38 am

    Re: Zorra’s “crumbly” bread experience

    You never, ever knead soda bread — and never use a food processor (4 minutes! I am surprised it was edible!). I hope Zorra rereads this recipe and tries again. The key to soda bread is to barely mix it in the bowl 5 to 15 seconds only. When you turn it out, it should be a shaggy mess and not at all resemble bread. Part of soda bread is that suspension of belief — the dough you put into the oven is not something one would believe could become a cohesive load of bread. You take that shaggy mass and gently form it into a loaf — no more than 15 seconds of working. It does not make a neat dough ball at all, just a loose mound. It is that looseness that allows the dough to rise — if you knead or shape it, you will smash the air bubbles and form way too much gluten. Traditionally, you should slash a cross, not diagonals — then a poke in each quadrant to let the fairies out!

  11. Aardvark said,

    March 11, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

    Has anyone converted this to cups or tablespoons of flour(s) for us Americans? I tried a converter online and only get a little more than a cup total which doesn’t seem nearly enough. I just hate wasting ingredients with an experiment that will have to be tossed out. I’m not very good at just figuring it out by trial and error, esp. since I don’t know how stiff the dough is supposed to be.Some No-knead recipes are almost batter, some are stiff enough you cannot stir them at all! I will also have to do it by hand – no processor. Thanks for your help =)

    120g stone-ground wholemeal plain flour, plus a little extra for dusting (>Β½ c.?)
    75g unbleached plain flour (1/3 c.)
    60g rye flour (< 1/3 c.)
    40g fine stone-ground yellow polenta (cornmeal) (< ΒΌ c.)

  12. Y said,

    March 11, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

    Hi! I’m sending you an email about it now πŸ™‚

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