Multi-Grain Soda Bread
In years past airy popovers, a golden braided challah, fluffy brioche or another light style of bread graced our Easter tables. Rain clouds and a damp chill settled in to southeastern NC this year, so I went for dark and dense.
Soda bread originated in Irish kitchens around the middle of the 19th century. Traditional recipes utilize only four basic ingredients: flour, salt, buttermilk (or soured or “clabbered” milk), and baking soda as a leavener — making a hearty, nourishing loaf easily and in short order.
Though you may be accustomed to loaves studded with currants, raisins, dried cranberries or a combination, fruit is typically reserved for tea cakes and tea breads in Ireland. You are, of course, welcome to deviate. Mine is without, but I did add 2 teaspoons of mildly sweet and aromatic ground anise seed.
Curious about the “X” slashed in the surface of the dough? Folklore suggests it symbolizes a cross, in effect “blessing” the bread to ward off evil spirits that may be hanging around the home. I always heed this advice, for precautionary purposes.
What’s in it for me?
Current nutrition guidelines recommend at least half of total daily grain consumption be whole. With the addition of leftover spent brewing grains (barley here), my recipe represents six different types. Go grains! To offset any heaviness, I opted for a more potent leavening combination of baking soda and cream of tartar to provide even more lift.
Finely milled whole wheat Atta flour offers roughly 4 grams each of protein and fiber per 1/4 cup (30 g), and, like other whole grains and this recipe’s whole wheat flour, is virtually free of cholesterol and sodium. Atta and regular whole wheat flour also contain healthy oils, as well as minerals selenium and manganese with antioxidant properties and roles in fertility and bone health.
Spent grain flour — made from crushed grains soaked in hot water to extract sugars for homebrewing — offers a pleasant nutty, malty flavor. Research into exact nutritional content is minimal as yet, but analyses suggest it’s a good source of protein and fiber.
Oats are yet another good source of fiber, particularly soluble fiber, and are one of the richest known sources of manganese. Oats are also rich in vitamin B6 and the “sleep hormone” melatonin. Similarly, buttermilk offers a good hit of calcium and L-tryptophan, an amino acid that ultimately converts to the mood-boosting hormone serotonin, both of which may help relieve stress and promote better sleep. A one-cup serving of the full fat version contains 152 calories (reduced fat has 98), 12 g carbohydrate, and about 8 g each of fat (compared to roughly 2 g for reduced fat) and high-quality protein.
Wheat germ is the nutrient-dense heart of a wheat berry — the part that eventually would develop into a seed. It’s a good source of zinc, phosphorous, antioxidant selenium, vitamin E and the family of B vitamins, particularly thiamin (B1) and folate. It also increases your daily intake of fiber and protein, and provides yet more manganese — nearly 100% of your DV in 2 Tbsp!
No kneading and no rising means soda bread can be baked and eaten within the hour. And did I mention the dough comes together effortlessly in just one bowl? Hearty and satisfying, enjoy it as part of a meal or as a substantial snack. Plain, toasted, sandwiched, or dunked — you can’t go wrong, and it won’t last long. The Irish prove themselves yet again.
Tell me… Are you a fruited or fruitless soda bread fan? Light made from white flour or brown made from wheat? Toasty or plain?
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup atta flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
- 1/2 cup rolled oats ("old-fashioned"; not instant)
- 1/4 cup wheat germ
- 1/4 cup spent grain flour (can substitute more rolled oats or other rolled grains -- milled or kept whole is fine)
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 1 to 2 tsp ground anise seed, optional
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/3 cup full-fat buttermilk (see HGN Notes on how to make your own)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- Preheat oven to 425° F with a rack placed in the middle.
- Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix to combine. Using a wooden spoon or your clean hands, work in 1 cup of the buttermilk and the olive oil until just incorporated -- do not overwork. If the dough is overly dry or not coming together at this point, add the remaining 1/3 cup buttermilk -- better to be slightly moist than too dry.
- Transfer the dough to a large baking tray sprinkled with a bit of flour. Pat it into a 7- to 8-inch round approximately 1- to 1 1/2-inch thick. Use a sharp knife to slash an "X" in the top.
- Bake 30 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven, and thump the bottom with your knuckle. If it sounds hollow, the bread is done. If it's more of a dull thud, invert the loaf on the tray and bake it upside-down for another 5 to 7 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on the tray, then wrap and store in a clean, light kitchen/tea/muslin towel at room temperature. A draft-free spot like inside an unlit oven, microwave or bread box is best to keep it from drying out. Will keep 4 to 5 days.
+ Try oat bran instead of wheat germ, or another rolled grain instead of the oats, such as rolled barley, quinoa, spelt, etc.
+ Swap the anise for an equal amount of whole or milled fennel or caraway seeds.
+ For a more savory bread experiment with fresh herbs by adding 1/4 cup chopped chives, or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage, rosemary, thyme or marjoram.
+ Buck the Irish trend with the addition of 1/4 to 1/2 cup dried fruit, like currants, raisins or unsweetened cranberries, or toasted nuts or seeds.
Recipe adapted from Fork Spoon Knife.
+ + + +
p.s. I love hearing from you! Check back if you ask a question, because I’ll answer it here.
And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing. Thanks!