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.
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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.