There are few simple pleasures in life which can satisfy the soul more than buttering a slice of warm, freshly baked bread, surrounded by the intoxicating fog of that toasty scent wafting through the house. As a child, whenever there were fresh scones or bread in the house, I’d pretend I was in an Enid Blyton book, just in the door from solving some kind of mystery or climbing a magical tree, and relish the combination of melty butter and strawberry jam. As an adult, I feel no different, although my literary tastes have matured somewhat.
I’ve recently taken to baking my own brown bread, partly because it’s better than eating shop-bought processed bread, and partly because it’s also a means of saving some dough (pun intended), but mostly because it is delicious. I find that eating a lot of sliced pan doesn’t really agree with me, and I’m a bit wary of giving it to Baba due to the salt and sugar contents. But I’ve tried a life without bread and, frankly, it’s not worth living. So by making my own bread, I can still have all of the joy and less of the guilt!
Like everything else, making brown bread is easy. Once you know how. My knowledge of baking bread comes from years of watching my mother, so that it’s almost like the Macarena or Saturday Night, or another dance you know all the moves to. In the short time that I’ve been making my own bread I have developed two different styles: the traditional round loaf with the cross on top that takes a bit of kneading and elbow grease, and the lazy wetter version that gets poured into a loaf tin. I actually prefer the bread made the lazy way. Really, I’m not just saying that. It’s lighter, softer and moister (sorry), and much less crumbly and easier to cut. Also, because it’s softer, it’s a bit easier for Baba to eat, and she certainly manages to get through a fair amount of it!
Below is the recipe. Trust me, it’s very difficult to mess it up, so don’t be scared. You don't need yeast because the soda reacts with the buttermilk to help it rise, so it's a very fuss-free recipe. The total cost of the ingredients is about €7.80, so I reckon each loaf would cost about €1.30 to make. You can play around with it and tweak it to your own preferences, and you could also try different flavours like tomato and rosemary, or cheese and chive.
The one piece of advice I’ll give is not to use too much oil. It seems counterintuitive, but the more oil you use, the drier and more crumbly the bread will be, so be sparing. Also, I find the bread gets a sweaty bottom in the tin, so after it’s baked I like to take it out, turn it upside down and put it back in the oven for about 10 minutes to dry out completely. In an air tight container, it will last very well for about 4 days without getting stale, soggy or mouldy.
2 cups wholemeal flour
1 cup white flour (self-raising is fine)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Pinch of salt
Approx. 300ml buttermilk (you may need more or less, so add gradually)
Pre-heat your oven to 180°C
Mix the flour in a bowl. Spoon the bicarbonate of soda into the palm of one of your hands and rub it between both hands into the bowl. (My mother always did this, so I do it too, even though I don’t know why. Possibly to get rid of lumps.)
Add the salt and mix all the dry ingredients together evenly. Make a well in the centre.
Add the oil.
Next pour in about half the buttermilk and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the buttermilk (or as much of it as you feel you need), and mix well.
At this point, it’s up to you – if you prefer the more traditional style, get your hands into the bowl and bring everything together, kneading lightly to form one large ball. Place on a floured baking tray and press down to flatten slightly. Using a knife, score a cross on the top and place in the oven.
For the lazier approach, add as much buttermilk as it takes to get a wet dropping consistency (if you hold a spoonful up, the mixture should drop easily into the bowl). Pour the mixture into a floured loaf tin and spread evenly.
Place in the oven for about 30 minutes until golden brown on top. It should sound hollow when you tap it. To avoid a sweaty bottom, flip the bread over and place back in the oven for a further 10 minutes or until the crust has dried out.
Add more buttermilk or wholemeal four as you see fit. Depending on your preferred consistency, it’s fine to add a bit extra of these ingredients as needed. Just don’t feel tempted to add more oil.
Use flour on the baking tray/loaf tin, not oil/butter. The fat will only contribute to the sweaty bottom.