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Flour Power

Ingredients matter.

Well, duh! Of course ingredients matter. The quality matters. It affects the nature and quality of the end result. This is always true but most acutely noticeable when the number of ingredients in a recipe amounts to a mere handful.

Take your basic loaf of bread, for instance, which has some flour, some liquid material, some raising agents, and not a lot else. The taste and texture of your bread will have rather a lot to do with the flour you use. Rocket science this ain’t (and I should know, I used to work for rocket scientists!). So, for a 100% wholewheat soda loaf, you would do very well to use a nice, coarsely milled soft wheat flour. For me that means Abbey Stoneground.

abbey stoneground whole wheat flour

This flour was traditionally milled by the Cistercian monks in Roscrea in County Tipperary (though it is now milled on their behalf in Cork) and is the very flour that Elizabeth David recommends for her 100% wholewheat soda bread in English Bread And Yeast Cookery. More importantly, it is the flour that my brother P, who went to school in Roscrea, uses for his wholewheat pancakes, and who reports that “Roscrea Bread” was famed locally.

Elizabeth David says of Abbey Stoneground:

The savour of the wheat in bread made from this very coarsely milled meal is beyond compare.

I think we can infer from this that she liked it. A lot.

This is not to say that you can’t make 100% wholewheat breads with other flours. Which is just as well, because you probably won’t have much luck getting this particular flour outside of Ireland. For those of you in the States, Tiger Chow reports having made wholewheat soda bread using King Arthur Irish Style Wholemeal Flour with very good results. That particular flour doesn’t look to me to be anything like as coarsely ground as Abbey Stoneground but what can I say, you’ll have to experiment. Foodireland.com carries both Howards One Way Stoneground and Odlums Extra Coarse Wholemeal, which are worthy substitutes, but not Abbey Stoneground itself. We like to keep that one to ourselves, apparently.

Wholewheat bread with redcurrant jam

There really is some wholewheat bread lurking under that juicy redcurrant jam

Wholewheat Soda Bread

So here is a formula for 100% wholewheat soda bread adapted from Elizabeth David’s version. A few things to note:

  • 100% wholewheat bread never rises very much. The recipe calls for the use of an inverted tin to cover the loaf during cooking, which she says helps it to rise a little. It also helps in not forming too hard or dry a crust.
  • Once you take the loaf out of the oven, wrap it in a damp tea-towel until cooled. This also helps to stop the crust from becoming too hard.
  • This bread is at its best when freshly made and just cooled. It doesn’t keep well, so it’s best to make just what you need in small batches. It really doesn’t take very long to throw together.
  • It’s recommended to keep the loaf size small for 100% wholewheat bread, as the smaller loaves bake better. The recipe here is for one small loaf – if you want more, double the quantities and make two loaves.

sodabreadforpost

You’ll need:
  • 250g 100% wholewheat flour
  • 140ml buttermilk
  • 0.5 tsp bread soda
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tblsps warm water
You’ll also need:
  • A baking sheet plus a deep cake tin (around 20cm or more in diameter and at least 5cm deep)
    to cover the loaf while baking.
The Steps:
  • Preheat the oven to 220C.
  • Whisk the salt and bread soda through the flour so that they are well combined.
  • Add the buttermilk to the flour and mix to a dough. This is easiest done with your hands.
  • If the dough is still too dry and not fully coming together, add a little warm water.
  • Shape the dough into a round, about 2cm tall, and make a deep cross-cut in the dough – such that, when baked, the loaf will divide easily into four.
  • Place on a floured baking sheet and cover the loaf with a deep cake tin.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the covering tin and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the loaf has a browned crust. If you tap the base of the loaf, it should make a hollow sound.
  • Remove from the oven, wrap the loaf in a damp tea-towel, leave to cool on a wire rack and stick the kettle on for a big mug of tea to go with your bread, butter and jam.
The Variations:
  • I have used a mixture of soured cream and water instead of the buttermilk with tasty results – about 3-4 tblsps or more of soured cream, made up to the required volume of liquid by adding water. You could use yoghurt in the same way.
  • If you don’t have buttermilk or any other sour dairy product to hand, you can use a mixture of half and half fresh milk and water, and add 1 tsp of cream of tartar to the flour.
  • If your loaves are coming out too dry, try rubbing about 20-30g of butter into the flour.
  • For a lighter loaf, replace a quarter or more of the wholewheat flour with plain white flour.
The Results:
  • 1 small cake of bread, which you can break into 4 scones. A scone does me very nicely for breakfast. If I eat 2 of them, I feel very full indeed.

42 Comments

  1. I haven’t attempted my own Soda Bread yet. I have been contemplating the idea. It looks so good with that luscious jam on top! Thanks for all the great tips and hints!

  2. Wow, that does look good! It’s too bad i won’t be able to get this flour to experiment, unless I can get my husband to take a trip to a store next time he is in Dublin.

  3. Baking soda is powerful stuff! I just read yesterday that the Irish were happy to start using soda since the flour produced there is very soft (low in protein) and doesn’t rise very well w/yeast. American flours are pretty sturdy, so I bet it would be hard to replicate this loaf. I might give the KA brand a try, although I occasionally Take Issue with them, as you know :)

  4. yum! soda bread always reminds me of my mom! this looks delicious :)

  5. okay, i say it every year, but really, this will be the year i try soda bread! it looks so great!

  6. Thanks for those good tips!! I bakea lot with whole- wheat by hand!!
    I just wanted to know, how many % are you using? Because in my food health store we can choose between 85%, 90 % or 100 % whole wheat? What do you think???
    MMMMMMM….

  7. I don’t know my flours very well – I tend to reach for the all-purpose stuff but thank you for the recommendations for wholewheat flours. Would this be the same kind used for brown bread (my favorite)? The red currant jam looks delicious but is adding dried fruits to the bread itself considered acceptable (or in any way ‘traditional’)? Mmmmm . . . I’m getting in the mood for some baking!

  8. This looks great. There are some Irish-import shops here in Boston, I’ll have to look for that flour. I probably still won’t be able to find it, but it’s worth a look.

  9. When I returned from my last trip to Ireland I was determined to make brown bread, then all the recipes I saw called for wholemeal flour. Even working in a bakery for many years, I had never heard of it. I did find that King Arthur’s online and although I haven’t purchased any yet, I am glad you mentioned it. I will get some eventually.

    I might go ahead and give this a try with the lowly whole wheat flour we have in Brazil. I’ll have to make my own buttermilk though so we’ll see. Something a little similar may result. :)

  10. The jam on soda bread sounds great. We should try this.

  11. I love making bread- especially with wholemeal flours. I discovered soda bread a few years ago in one of Gary Rhodes’ cookbooks. Hardly traditional, but it was still really good. I find it hard to make at the drop of a hat, however, because I never keep buttermilk or yoghurt in the house, so soda bread requires a special trip.

  12. Daily Spud

    Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    noble pig: it is pretty good alright!

    Reeni: you’re welcome, and I can confirm that it’s very good with jam :)

    Natasha: perhaps he’ll manage to fit it into his luggage somewhere…

    Jenni: indeed you are correct chef, our local wheat is low in those proteins and not that suited to yeast breads, so soda bread suited what we had; I am aware of your issue with KA’s kniggets, so it’s up to you to figure out whether you can bring yourself to use their flour; not such a simple loaf after all, then!

    veggiebelly: thanks, it is (or should I say was!)

    Heather: it’s a nice kind of reminder to have :)

    kickpleat: do let me know how you get on if you do finally try it out

    Sophie: the Abbey Stoneground flour I use is 100% wholewheat; you can certainly experiment with other percentages, or try mixing some plain flour with the 100% wholewheat and see which you like best; 100% wholewheat makes for quite a dense bread, the others will make for something a little lighter;

    Tangled Noodle: yep, those wholewheat flours can certainly be used for brown bread; it’s probably more common to use a mix of wholewheat and some plain (or all purpose) flour for brown bread here and sometimes some oats might be thrown in too. As for dried fruit, it certainly wouldn’t be traditional or usual to put dried fruit in brown soda bread but it would be common enough to put dried fruit in a white soda loaf, though.

    Fearless Kitchen: I’d guess it to be more likely for the Irish import shops, if anything, to have Odlums flour, which is a bigger brand here that Abbey Stoneground; it’s also worth a try

    Lori: it’s certainly worth a try with the local whole wheat and you could try using some yoghurt mixed with water instead of the buttermilk if that’s any easier

    Duo Dishes: gosh, yes, jam on soda bread; almost as essential as butter!

    Angry Brit: buttermilk is not something I keep commonly either, so I generally end up using fresh milk with cream of tartar (which I keep around precisely because I usually don’t have the sour milky stuff to hand)

  13. I feel silly calling you just Spud, so Ms. Spud…are you going to cook some of this lovely stuff for me when I come visit one day?

    I will cook for you, and I just realized I still have not used that flour from the Asian store. I am so bad…

  14. Daily Spud

    Friday, March 13, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Chef E, it would be my absolute pleasure to cook this and other stuff for you if you should ever come calling and, if I ever get to NJ, I will be dropping in on you for sure!

  15. Thanks for your useful reply, Daily Spud!!!!

  16. I love soda bread. I tend to slice it and freeze it, then chip a wodge off to toast first thing in the morning. Makes you feel virtuous even when slathered with butter. That jam looks rather good, BTW x

  17. Oh, and the juice of 1/2 lemon combined with every 1/2 pint milk makes a perfect substitute for buttermilk too. Full of useless info, moi.

  18. The lesson over quality was pounded into me recently. I bought 25 lbs. of high gluten flour at the health food store. I didn’t really take time to calculate the price per pound, I just needed flour and a lot of it. I came home and realized I could have bought the generic brand at our local grocery store for a lot less. But using the high gluten flour is like night and day from the grocery store brand. I need to remember that it pays to use quality.

  19. How nice you know a lot about the flour you use. Absolutely ingredient matters, I generally prefer buying the flour from a village where the peasants have their wheat grinded in flour mills. So I have the chance of reaching the first source.

  20. Wow. That bread looks…amazing. I’ve never baked anything so that’s the next step! Will consult this post when I get round to baking the bread.

  21. Daily Spud

    Monday, March 16, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Sophie: you’re welcome!

    English Mum: you make an excellent point re: the lemon juice EM – I wouldn’t call that useless at all!

    Joie de Vivre: it does make a difference, doesn’t it – I have to try hard to remember that myself by times!

    zerrin: how wonderful to be able to buy flour direct from the villagers who mill it, that’s fantastic

    aoife mc: you can has cook bread :)

  22. Beautiful bread! The Abbey stoneground sounds like interesting flour.

  23. Daily Spud

    Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks Maggie, the Abbey Stoneground is just lovely stuff.

  24. Could Daily Spud or someone else can tell me contact phone or address for the mill that is making Abbey Stoneground. I am actually trying to work out if the wheat variety it is made from is something standard or something out of the ordinary (we are planting a wide selection of traditional landrace and early cultivar wheats here in London).

    Also how would you describe the colour of the Abbey Stoneground flour, is it “orange-brown” as described by my Australian baker friend John Downes here http://sourdough.com/blog/johnd/my-irish-flour of another Tipperrary flour?

  25. As a little aside, in trying to track info I am after down came across this nice bit about the baking monks inside the Abbey, and their 100+ year old oven still in use every day http://www.bphs.net/HistoryOfKeyBusinesses/Bakery/index.htm#lsbo

  26. Hi Andrew,

    Luckily I had a bag of Abbey Stoneground in the cupboard and it quotes the address for the millers as:

    Howards Wholesome Foods, Bellmount Mills, Crookstown, Co. Cork.

    They mill the flour on behalf of the Cistercian monks in Roscrea, as the mill at the abbey is now closed (as noted in the lovely piece you pointed to about the monks). Howards also produce their own stoneground flour, ‘Howards One Way’.

    As for the colour of Abbey Stoneground, I had never really thought about it, but actually I would say that it is a kind of orangey-brown. Interestingly, in John Downes’ piece, where he’s talking about Ballybrado, he quotes Elizabeth David (as I did), who was talking specifically about Abbey Stoneground flour. I don’t have any Ballybrado flour to hand, so I can’t say how similar or otherwise the two are, but I suspect, from the description, that they are quite similar.

    Anyway, I hope that helps!

  27. Thanks for the info

    having trouble finding current phone number but they’ve been going a while http://www.corkpastandpresent.ie/places/streetandtradedirectories/1891citycountyalmanacanddirectoryguys/1891pages308to334/GuysCorkAlmanac1891Pages318%20to%20325.pdf almanaack for 1891, page 323

    rang http://www.organicguide.ie/node/398 today but Josef Finke was away and website down, hope doesn’t mean ceased business

  28. The almanac entry is impressive! The only other information I can give you is that the packet says Howard’s is a division of Boland’s Mills, Ringsend, Dublin 4. However, Bolands Mills, as such, ceased production in 2001! The Bolands business, though (I think) continued as part of the IAWS (Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society) group (which now seem to have become something called ARYZTA) – who’d have thought millers would be so hard to track down!

  29. hmmmm sad to find its maybe just another example of a small mill being swallowed up and closed down by a bigger milling/agri-business. Seems ARYZTA also controls Odlums. Its strange that they can give an address on packet they are maybe no longer at, see page 31 here http://www.corkcoco.ie/co/pdf/302223521.pdf For Boland’s Mill did you find http://www.abandonedireland.com/bm.html – another creepy deserted mill here in London http://www.contaminationzone.com/Gallery9.php This was opposite the Co-opertive Wholesale Society mill, the Brit equivalent of IAWS, the biggest millers in UK before WWII but similarly has lost out to more tooth and claw capitalists

  30. It is sad indeed. I do think it highly strange that an entirely defunct address can be given on the packet (and to find that what actually exists there is yet another set of apartments). At least I can verify that the Flahavan’s Oat Mill in Waterford is alive and well, as I had the pleasure of visiting there last year. An old family business and mill that has survived and is still family run. There are not many of them around.

  31. There was a deliberate campaign of buying out smaller mills by the big 3 in UK between the wars so that they controlled 70% by 1945 and then after WWII they had a battle with each other to buy up small bakers (‘vertical integration’) which also coincided with onset of the Chorley Wood Process – so we are where we are now with 3 companies in control of something like 90% of UK flour/bread. Fortunately there were a few mills so small they slipped under their radar so in UK we have http://www.tcmg.org.uk/ – little visit by myself to one of these last year at http://myplot.org/gallery.php?project=49

  32. At least a few have survived (and lovely to see the inside shots of one such). From a bit of poking around, it seems that Donal Creedon’s mill in Macroom may be the last operational stone mill here in Ireland (some info here). He’s known for his Macroom Oatmeal and I think he mills the Ballybrado wholemeal flour too.

  33. well I spoke to a nice lady at Macroom Oat Mill today and they do indeed grind the Ballybrado flour nowadays but she couldn’t tell me if it was made from any particular wheat variety (which is my main interest) other than its organic. So I’ll have to try and speak to Josef Finke next week on that.

    She was equally mystified as ourselves where Howards Abbey Stoneground could be being milled now as she knew Bellmount Mills are closed.

  34. Gosh, it is a mystery indeed! If I come across any more information myself, I will be sure to let you know – you have raised a topic of great fascination. And good luck with your mission to discover the wheat variety – I have to say that the brockwell bake project sounds like a fantastic endeavour.

  35. I can see you’re after the Holy Grail of the wheat world. Personally, I have been using fine and medium-coarse stoneground flour from a couple of Hampshire Mills (Eling Tide Mill, Alderholt Mill and others) and been mixing it with ordinary bread-making flour as that was what was recommended in The Tassajara Cook Book from the 1970s. Every scrap I make is consumed and it is delicious! Try looking up local UK mills that produce their own flour on certain days or even every day as in the case of Eling near Southampton which used tidal power to grind its corn! Hampshire Mills Group can advise as to The History of Milling furthermore and do give special talks on the subject. Happy baking!

  36. Daily Spud

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Thanks so much for all of that information Mariana. I have one of the Tassajara books and you’ve just reminded me to look at it again! I must endeavour to look up some of those local mills when I’m next in the UK.

  37. Does anybody know where I can buy odlums flour in London?

  38. Daily Spud

    Friday, November 26, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Hi Kathleen – I’ve never tried to source Odlums in the UK, but according to this thread, you might be about to find some here. Hope that helps.

  39. Greetings from NYC! I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy your blog and that Odlums is available to those in NYC at the Butcher Block in Queens (a short subway ride for me from Manhattan). I love making brown bread but I use a recipe that’s part Odlums Cream. I also use sour milk rather than buttermilk; an Irish friend who grew up on a farm told me that her mom always clabbered milk for baking, and and that it, not buttermilk, is traditional for soda (she said they drank their buttermilk).

    Incidentally, I wouldn’t bother with King Arthur’s take on Irish wholemeal. I don’t think they carry it in stores and if you’re going to order flour online, you might as well do so from an Irish foods vendor and get the real deal–it’s SO worth it. And it seems there’s a mill called Kells that’s still family-owned.

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