This one is from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads, but I found this sort of recipe – a brown soda bread – in just about all of the bread books I was looking through. I didn't find the American version until I checked in with King Arthur. And it makes sense – raisins would be more likely used for special occasion breads, holiday breads. And I don't even know if raisins were all that common an ingredient in Ireland long ago. I kind of doubt it.
Here's what Mr. Clayton had to say about this recipe:
"The Irish national loaf is brown soda bread, and this version from the Royal Hibernian Hotel in Dublin is one of the best – and richest. The hotel serves the bread warm and thinly sliced. Its richness comes from a generous portion of butter and eggs.
It is a striking loaf when it comes from the oven, unfolded like a giant blossom along cuts across the top."
So anyway – this is not a particularly sweet bread, although there is a bit of sugar in it. The rather coarse texture reminds me of cornbread, and the flavor is dark and hearty and no-nonsense.
Ready? Here's what you will need:
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, stone ground preferred
1 cup all-purpose flour, approximately
2 T sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature (I used a tablespoon of white vinegar plus enough milk to bring it up to a cup and a quarter)
And here's what you do:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F twenty minutes before baking.
(Directions for using food processor follow, because that's what I used.)
Attach the steel blade.
Place the whole-wheat flour in the work bowl and add the sugar, soda and salt.
Pulse to blend. Drop in the butter
and pulse 2 (or more, if needed) times to cut it into small pieces.
In a bowl beat the egg and buttermilk together. Pour the mixture through the feed tube.
Turn the machine on briefly to allow the flour to absorb the liquid. Let stand for 3 minutes to allow the flour to fully absorb the buttermilk.
Add 1/2 cup white flour through the feed tube, and turn on the processor only long enough to mix in the flour. The dough is not to be kneaded. Remove and feel the dough. If it is wet, add more flour, but frugally. Scrape from the bowl and pat into a ball with the hands. Sprinkle with flour if necessary to control the stickiness. (I used about 3/4 of a cup of the flour. It will vary, depending on temp and humidity in your kitchen.)
Shape into a plump round ball.
Pat down the top slightly, and with a knife or razor blade cut a half inch deep cross on the top.
Place the loaf on the baking sheet, and bake until it has browned and has opened dramatically along the cuts, about 45 minutes.
Remove the bread from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool before cutting into thin slices.
Although it can be frozen, it is better freshly baked.
Like I said, it's not all that sweet – but it's flavorful with a hearty texture, and I think it will make a nice accompaniment to out dinner tonight.