If it’s March, then it’s time to start thinking of soda bread, one of Ireland’s most iconic foods. It's safe to say that every Irish cook has a recipe for it that's been personalized by families either by name, ingredients, or method of baking. A few decades ago, I judged an Irish cooking contest and nearly one quarter of all the recipes submitted were for soda bread — Aunt Eileen's, Grandma O'Hara's, Auntie Maura's, Cousin Terry's — and not one was the same! Two or three recipes were for the sweet white version that calls for raisins and caraway seeds and even these varied: one recipe suggested soaking the raisins in water or whiskey to plump up the fruit. Another one or two insisted kneading was essential. One added sour cream; another buttermilk. I enjoyed them all but this one—a brown bread flavored with Guinness — has become my favorite. It might become yours too! If you can, use an Irish brand of coarse whole meal four; if not, mix Irish oatmeal and oat or wheat bran. You’ll find recipes like this in my cookbook Favorite Flavors of Ireland; signed copies available at www.irishcook.com
Guinness and Malt Wheaten Bread
Makes 1 loaf
1 cup fine whole wheat flour, plus additional for sprinkling
1 cup coarse whole wheat flour or
1/2 cup each quick-cooking Irish oatmeal
and oat or wheat bran
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon barley malt extract *
3/4 cups buttermilk
3/4 cups Guinness stout
Softened butter. for spreading
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 7-inch loaf pan and sprinkle with whole wheat flour.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flours, oatmeal, oat or wheat bran, sugar, baking soda,and salt. With a pastry cutter or 2 forks, work in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Make a well in center, add malt, buttermilk, and Guinness, and mix with a wooden spoon (dough will have a porridge consistency).Transfer to prepared pan, sprinkle additional flour on top, and bake for 30 minutes.
Reduce temperature to 325°F and bake for 30 minutes longer, or until a skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Turn oven off and let bread cool with door open for 30 minutes. Remove bread from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. Serve slices spread with butter.
* Malt extract, also called barley malt, is available in health foods stores.