Ballymaloe Brown Bread

Don’t look away. Don’t think, “nice idea but I don’t need a bread recipe. I will NEVER make my own”.  Don’t proclaim you can’t bake bread - its way too complicated, and who has the time? You can. You will. Or at least I urge you to try.

Having spent the past few years attempting, with varying degrees of (un)success to master either 100% rye, or sourdough bread, I assumed, (while eating copious amounts of this bread last month) it might also require a PhD to master.  But to my utter delight I was mistaken.

Adapted from Doris Grant’s “no-need-to-knead bread loaf”, they have been making this recipe at Ballymaloe for more than 60 years.  It requires no culture, no kneading, no fancy equipment for the perfect rise, and no complicated proving or turning schedule.  Simply mix the ingredients, transfer the wet batter into a loaf tin, let it sit for a few minutes and bake.  Out of the oven comes a wonderfully nutritious loaf of bread, ideal for both toast and sandwiches.  And leaves you feeling positively smug about such a marvelous achievement.

I learned to make this bread while on our “weekend I will never forget or stop talking about” at Ballymaloe last month.  One of the many privileges of staying at the house as a guest, is that you are able to wake up at the crack of dawn and bake the day’s breads and scones with the chefs.  Despite a reasonable amount of local whiskey the previous evening, one of my loyal cohorts and I joined Chef Ann in the kitchens to make scones, soda breads and 15 loaves of the ‘famous brown’ for the day.  The process is so quick and simple, that while at 7am we were elbow deep in dough, the finished product was ready for breakfast by 8.30.

measuring out mixture for 15 morning loaves
measuring out mixture for 15 morning loaves
Ballymaloe WELL seasoned bread tins waiting to be filled
Ballymaloe WELL seasoned bread tins waiting to be filled
A well organised pastry kitchen
A well organised pastry kitchen

There is no better place to either start or resume a love of bread making than with this recipe, which, time after time, will allow you to reap the satisfaction of a home made loaf, with a rich depth of flavour.  Best of all slathered in salty butter.

Note:  This post was ready to share last week.  I had written the text and photographed the last shot, when I dashed out to collect the kids from school.  While waiting for them to bound out of the gates, David Lebowitzlatest post popped into my inbox, with, you guessed it, Ballymaloe Irish Brown Bread.  I broke out in a sweat.  How can I possibly post the same recipe as the godfather of the food blog?  Well, I have decided to anyway.  David, I loved your post.  It explains brilliantly the difference of all the flour varieties.

Ballymaloe Brown Bread

Two 23cm (9 inch) loaf

Notes:  I always use fresh yeast for breads.  And as it comes in 50g packets, I always double this recipe and make 2 loaves (the original recipe was for only one loaf, so feel free to halve the recipe it still works!).  They freeze brilliantly and make great gifts.  If they last that long.  Mine get polished off in one sitting. To ensure a good rise in the loaf, the yeast requires a warm space.  Some say that warming the flour helps, but I only think that is necessary in the middle of winter. The type of flour you use will change the flavour and texture of the bread.  A stone ground strong wholemeal flour will produce a loaf with nuttier flavour than a regular strong wholemeal flour which is more finely milled. It is worth experimenting.  In the UK I like Shipton Mill and Batcheldare, but in the USA I am sure King Arthur Flour produce a good version (although I have not tried it).

If using dry yeast, divide quantity by 3 and if it is not fast acting yeast, allow a little longer to rise. Here are some helpful conversion tips.

800g (7 cups) strong, stone ground wholemeal flour 100g (1 cup) strong white flour 2 tsp salt 900ml (scant 4 cups) warm water (blood heat according to Darina Allen) 2tsp black treacle (or molasses or golden syrup - all create a slightly different flavour) 50g (1 3/4oz) fresh yeast (for dry yeast see note above) sunflower oil for the tin sesame seeds for the top

Preheat oven to 230C/450F In a large bowl mix the flours and the salt.  It is important that the ingredients are at room temperature.  In the colder months, or if you keep your flour in a cold storage space, pop the flours in the oven when you turn it on and leave it for a few minutes as it warms up. In a small bowl or jug mix the treacle with 300ml (1 cup) warm water and crumble in the yeast. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to activate the yeast.  After about 5 minutes it will be dissolved and have a creamy/frothy top. (see photo above) Stir and pour the yeast and the remaining 600ml (3 cups) warm water into the flours and mix with your hands (yes it is a bit messy) or a bowl scraper until it forms a wet and loose dough.  Do not attempt to knead - it should be way too wet. Allow to sit while you brush the base and sides of 2 loaf tins with sunflower oil. Pour wet batter into bread tins.  Place in a warm, draft free area and cover with a tea towel.  Let it sit for between 10 and 20 minutes or until it has risen to the top of the pan. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 20 minutes. Turn down the oven to 200C/400F for another 40-50 minutes until it is sounds hollow when tapped. If, like me, you like a crustier loaf, remove the loaf from the tin 10 minutes before it has finished cooking, and pop back in the oven to crisp up.

Enjoy!