Breaking down Brown Bread: an adventure in milling flour

I started baking because of my mom’s encouragement, so every time I visit my folks we try to bake something together.  This time we made an Irish brown bread, and unlike many Irish brown bread recipes it isn’t a soda bread.  It involved fresh yeast and, if you’ll believe it, freshly milled flour.

This is how the wheat looks before you put it through the mill, in this case a WonderMill (my dad’s Christmas present to my mom).  Chip here isn’t sure what it is, but he knows that he wants it.

And here is the magical mill itself.  Apparently it can handle most grains, and that means that once I get my hands on one we’ll be able to make rice and barley flour as well as use it to grind the malted grain for homebrewing.  You pour the grains in the top, it makes an alarming noise and grinds them into the best smelling flour you’ve ever encountered.

It’s also really warm, which makes sense because it’s just been ground but I still didn’t anticipate it.

It’s a very cool machine, and grinding your own flour really gets you thinking about what goes into bread.  When I got back to Buffalo, I asked the guys when we’re going to start growing wheat, and I was only mostly joking.  There are limits to how much we can own the bread process and still have time and energy for other things, I guess.  And I don’t mind supporting the people out there who do make really good flour.  Although I wouldn’t rule out our eventually producing our own cornmeal (AND GRITS!), if we ever do decide to grow corn.

Here are my delightful parental units measuring out the fresh yeast, which is more perishable and harder to find than active dry and instant yeast but is very, very fun to use.  This yeast was really fresh and combined with the fresh flour, the dough shot up almost instantly.  You should have seen the furious bubbles coming off that starter mix of water, yeast, and “treacle” (welcome to a Dickens novel?)

You’ll also notice they’re using a scale to measure, which is a bread nerd thing to do and I’ve actually gotten pretty used to it.

If you’ve skipped ahead to the recipe, you’ll know that this step is when you’re instructed to “form your hand into a rigid claw and stir the liquid into the flour slowly in spiral motion.”  Which was a lot of fun.

Again, we didn’t have to wait long before the dough had risen.  This is a very quick way to have fresh bread on hand, even if your yeast isn’t fresh and ravenous.  It’s a really dense loaf: remember that the secret of Irish brown bread is slathering each slice with lots of butter.  Preferably good Kerrygold butter, but around here the store brand basic works just fine.  Soft cheese or hummus would also be acceptable.

Ballymaloe Brown Bread from The Country Cooking of Ireland

1 tsp black treacle or molasses

1 oz/28g fresh yeast, crumbled, or 7 g active dry yeast

5 c/500 g stone-ground whole wheat flour, preferably Irish or 4 1/2 c/450g stone ground whole wheat flour mixed with 1/2 c/50g white flour

1 tsp fine ground sea salt

sunflower or canola oil for greasing

1. Dissolve the treacle in 2/3 c/160 ml warm water in a small bowl. (around 100 degrees F or 40 degrees c) Stir in the yeast and set aside for 8-10 minutes until yeast begins to froth.

2.  Put flour in large bowl and mix in the salt

3.  Lightly grease a non-stick loaf pan with oil (or line it completely w parchment; this bread sticks like crazy to the pan)

4. Make a well in the flour, our in the yeast mixture, and let it sit for a minute.  Pour in about 1 1/4 c/300 ml warm water, then form your hand into a rigid claw and stir the liquid into the flour slowly in spiral motion, starting in the middle and working to the rim of the bowl.  the dough should be soft and too wet to knead. Add more water if necessary.

5. Let the dough rest in the bowl in a warm place for about 15 minutes

6.  Transfer the dough to the greased loaf pan, over loosely with a damp towel, and set in a warm place to rise for about 20 minutes.

7.  Meanwhile preheat the oven to 450 degrees

8. Bake  the bread for 20 minutes then lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 35 to 45 minutes more.  If you like a crisp crust, remove the bread from the pan about 10 minutes before it’s done, then return to the oven, placing it upside down directly on the oven rack to finish cooking.

And yes, this bread works just fine if, like me, you aren’t milling your own grain at the moment.

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One Response to Breaking down Brown Bread: an adventure in milling flour

  1. Kayte says:

    Impressive…a very fun (and educational) read. And how cute are those parental units baking bread together??? Pretty dang cute…great pictures of you as well.

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