Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ireland, Once A Week

A finished loaf cooling
For me, making bread has to be the most "zen-like" experience that I can actualize in my little world. Taking flour, water, a leavening agent and creating something that I could live on indefinitely, in a myriad of ways, is probably the most purifying experience in the kitchen. It is so simple and rewarding, yet nothing evokes more incredulous "oohs and ahhs" as when you deliver a loaf of your own homemade bread to a friend.
I remember making basic white bread with my mother as a boy. Standing next to her on my little stool and mimicking her floured hands pushing and pulling the dough back and forth, slapping it onto our oak counter top in the pantry and the flour speckling the air. What fun it was to be able to punch something and get away with it in front of my mother, laughing together side by side. It is a memory I re-create once a week in my kitchen, although with an even more simple technique and recipe.
I discovered this bread maybe 15 years ago now, while viewing on a television program, someone who has become one of my "Guardians of Kitchen Divinity" (although she will probably never know it), Darina Allen of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland. Simplicity. Common Sense. Freshness. These are the words that I have learned from her and only hope to achieve and be able to convey to others. Everything that comes from her hands seems so easy and it is. That is the sign of someone I want to learn from and how they become one of the guardians I channel while in the kitchen.
(Whole Wheat & Unbleached Flour with Salt)
6 plain ingredients and a basic, no-fuss technique that creates a lovely bread for toast, a sandwich or just the perfect means to carry butter and jam. I make mine in a large bowl so as not to have flour all over my counter top.

(Proofed Yeast with Molasses and Water)
Everything is contained and tidy. A neat freak? No, just something I learned from Ms. Allen and never forgot. It helps to blend it all together into a somewhat orderly, yet shaggy mass.
Mixing by hand to get the right consistency
This is a bread that you can alter by adding a handful each of toasted walnuts and golden raisins for serving cheese upon, or a handful of oat bran and/or wheat germ for that ever-so-healthy toast and to balance out the misaligned sweet cream butter that you have slathered on top. It is a bread to experiment with if you have ever been afraid to attempt making your own bread. Dont' listen to those that say that bread is temperamental and difficult. Too often our lives are ruled by "Them". Be fearless in your kitchen. I'm giving you permission.

(My Lunch. Sauteed Red Peppers on top of sliced Cucumber wtih Tuna and Red Onions)
Irish Brown Bread
(Adapted from the Ballymaloe Recipe)

2 tsp. Dry Yeast
1½ Cups Warm Water (105-110ºF)
2 Tbl. Molasses
3 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 tsp. Salt

Butter an 8” x 4” (1 lb.) loaf pan. Preheat oven to 450°F.

Add the molasses to a bowl and mix well with the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top and mix well. Leave for 10 minutes in a draft-free spot until bubbly.

Mix the flours and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Combine to form a thick batter for about 1 minute, until it begins to leave the sides of the bowl cleanly and forms a soft, sticky dough.

Place the dough in the prepared pan and cover with a dish towel. Proof until the dough is ½“ above the top of the pan or has doubled in size, about 25-30 minutes.

Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

Let the loaf cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to complete the cooling process.

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