St. Patrick’s Day is almost here, and one old man’s fancy turns to thoughts of bread. Not Irish soda bread but a wonderful moist yeast bread from Ireland that you don’t knead. The recipe below is a variation of the one in Beard on Bread, one of my favorite cookbooks. In it James Beard describes how he found the recipe at Myrtle Allen’s inn, Ballymaloe House, in Ireland. If you like a firm bread that is wonderful with butter and cheese, give this one a try.
3 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1/4 tsp. white sugar
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (100 to 115º)
2 T dark molasses, dark corn syrup, sorghum or honey
2 tsp. salt
Put the flour and salt in an ovenproof mixing bowl and place in a warm oven with the oven thermostat at its lowest setting. Leave it in the oven about 10 minutes. The flour and bowl should be warm when you mix the dough.
Take one-half cup warm water, add one-fourth teaspoon sugar and stir in the yeast. Allow to proof. Dissolve the molasses (or honey or syrup) in the remaining one and a half cups water. When the flour feels warm to your fingers, remove the bowl from the oven. Stir the yeast mixture into the molasses water and pour the liquid into the flour.
Stir with a wooden spoon until you have a sticky dough, almost like a very stiff batter. At times of low humidity you may need a little more liquid. If so, add water. If the dough seems too thin, add a tablespoon or two of flour and stir in well. Since you do not knead this dough, I have found that stirring it well for a minute or so gives a better texture.
Put the dough into a buttered nine by five by three-inch bread pan. Tap the pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles and smooth the top. As soon as you have put the dough into the pan, preheat your oven to 425º. Allow the dough to rise uncovered in a warm draft free place until it is even with the top of the pan.
Bake the bread for thirty-five to forty-five minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove the bread from the pan and leave it in the turned-off oven for a few minutes to make the crust crisp. Put the bread on a rack to cool. Brush the top and sides with a little butter while the loaf is still hot.
NOTES: Substituting honey, sorghum or corn syrup for the molasses changes the flavor of the bread so much that you might call it a new recipe. All four work well. I have used ordinary clover honey and a dark prairie honey, which has a lot of flavor, and both make excellent bread.
A friend introduced me to sorghum, and I very much like the flavor of the bread made with this syrup. Today sorghum is produced in relatively small quantities by farmers in Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina and other states in the southern part of the U.S. You can find it in many larger supermarkets and organic food stores.
Once you put the batter in the pan, the dough will rise quickly, so watch it carefully. If it rises over the top of the pan, the loaf will fall during baking but it will taste fine.