I know, Baccala certainly doesn’t sound Irish, and to be perfectly honest my maiden name isn’t Irish either (my dad there in the middle of that picture below practically screams 80s Italian). But my heart? My heart is Irish. My grandmother was a generation removed of being “off the boat” Irish but for all intents and purposes, she was super Irish. She was also a pretty awesome lady in general. She was my first babysitter, taught me most of the cooking and crafting I know, and was an all around fun lady!
There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about her. Most of my recipes are some derivation of her recipes and she’s the one that took me to Ireland (along with some other family members). With that in mind, around St. Patricks Day I always think about her and among my many cravings for her various recipes (tacos, pineapple stuff), one of them is her brown bread recipe. A lot of people think they’ve had brown bread when what they really mean is Soda Bread. My grandmom made both, but let me tell you folks,
First of all, Brown Bread? No raisins. Brown Bread? Not horrifically dry or scone-like. Brown Bread? Coated with delicious butter. There’s hardly even a comparison. And when you go around Ireland tasting the goodness and heartiness that is Irish cuisine, there wasn’t a single meal I ate that didn’t come with a side of this delicious bread. Nobody wants soda bread when the other option is this bread!
It’s impossible to duplicate, I’ve decided. We’ve made a few different attempts at it but they just aren’t the same. Maybe it was her Irishness that made it more delicious? I don’t know. My husband was a breads and pastry major when he was in cooking school so I had him try his hands at it a few times and he came as close as anyone I know outside of Ireland, but then we lost the recipe he used. So again, I sought out to try and find one that was close to hers. The recipe I tried this time was from looking through my grandmothers cook books and finding what I thought she used. It was close but it lacked something. Like, maybe it wasn’t salty enough? Maybe had we used a saltier butter spread on top it would’ve been ok because the texture was SPOT-ON! It just wasn’t quite the flavor I was looking for. It was SUPER close though. Like, minimal ingredients off. I knew I was close. I felt like it was missing a wheat germ or something. Then I decided to call in the big guns and sent a message to my Grandmothers best friend Margaret, who is in fact, off the boat Irish, and quite the lovely lady. Low and behold, she’d had my Grandmothers recipe and got it from my very own Aunt! Der! Why I hadn’t thought of this sooner, is beyond me…. But, the important thing is that it was found and I have it and I can make it whenever my heart desires now! And now, I shall share it with the world in hopes that everyone can try the deliciousness that is my Grandmothers brown bread recipe:
Irish Brown Bread
2 cups ground whole wheat flour (best to use stone ground whole wheat)
2/3 cup wheat bran
1/3 cup wheat germ
1 and 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 cup buttermilk (or a little more as needed to make gently pliable dough)
1. Mix dry ingredients by hand
2. Add buttermilk & mix with hands. Add more buttermilk if necessary to moisten the flour
3. Kneed about 10 times
4. Scoop into well greased, round 1 1/2-2 quart casserole that has a lid (I couldn’t do this because I don’t own one so I just cooked it on a dusted with flour baking sheet)
5. Make a 1/2 inch deep cross in the center
6. Cover & bake – middle shelf – 400 degrees for 50 mins (if you aren’t cooking it in that casserole dish with a lid, around the 30 minute mark, cover the bread with some aluminum foil)
7. Remove from oven and let cool for at least an hour and a half (or make two so you can eat one hot, quickly and one later. The reason to do this is because if you don’t let it cool, the bread tends to be really crumbly and more difficult to eat. While it’s hard to resist when it comes out of the oven, it’s for the best, I promise. And you can always re-heat it when it’s time to eat it, if you want to eat it warm)
8. Enjoy with family & friends (that’s totally in my grandmothers recipe! Ever the entertainer and baker of food for others!)
Oh also, if you’re smart, you’ll make it with a delicious lamb stew, Colcannon, or some kind of Shephards Pie! All are delicious. I went with the lamb stew 🙂 I’ll share that recipe with you soon! Just have to type it on up.