Showing posts with label brown bread. Show all posts
Showing posts with label brown bread. Show all posts

Friday, December 27, 2013

Apple Crumble with Brown Bread Crumbs

by Sheila Connolly

Okay, it’s two days after Christmas and you’re just plain cooked out.  You’re still eating leftovers, and may be for another week.  Maybe you’re even pizza-ed out too.

But I want comfort food, and that usually means dessert, and particularly one with apples.  No, not a pie, with those pesky crusts, which I still can’t make.  I want a crisp, a slump, a grunt, a Brown Betty, or call it what you will.  Often in Ireland and the UK it’s called a crumble.  I kind of like that. I know, you’ve seen a million of these, but there’s always room for one more, right?

A Bramley apple--it must have weighed a pound
I think I decided on this recipe because I wanted to share with you the picture of a single Bramley apple that I bought (and used!) in Ireland recently.  I like Bramleys, the green cooking apple used in a lot of English and Irish cooking.  It’s nicely tart and it holds its shape in cooking.  And if you use big ones, you don’t have to peel so many.

But then, I have the heel of a loaf of Irish brown bread that I made, that I wanted to use up.  Just like with the pie crusts, I am brown-bread challenged, even though I have at least a dozen recipes from many sources.  I just can’t seem to get it right, but I keep trying.  Anyway, this loaf came out with a strong resemblance to concrete, and (no surprise) we didn’t eat all of it.  So I figured, aha! I shall crumble it up and use it with apples. (I did a dry run of this in Ireland—with bread that someone else made.)

Except I couldn’t find a recipe.  I found many that had the same basic ingredients for the topping:  cold butter, flour, cinnamon, often oats and/or chopped walnuts.  All tasty, I’m sure, but not what I wanted.

So I improvised:  first, I reduced that megalithic brown bread to medium-size crumbs (in a food processor).  Then I segued to the typical recipe and where you mix the crumble part with your fingers with brown sugar and butter.  Cinnamon if you’re in the mood. 
The fruit bit.  Take some apples, peel and slice or chop into chunks.  Toss with sugar, flour and cinnamon.  Place in a buttered casserole dish, then sprinkle the aforesaid crumble over them.  Bake.

In a fit of optimism I bought two pounds of fresh cranberries a while ago (we live a mile from the nearest cranberry bog) but never used them, since we were a couple of thousand miles away on Thanksgiving.  They’re hanging in there, so I threw in a cup or two of those too.  If you do, increase the amount of sugar in the fruit mixture, since the cranberries are a bit sour. It's up to you. If the result is still too tart, add sweetened whipped cream at the end.

Fresh local cranberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Generously butter a 2-quart casserole or baking dish.


2 pounds cooking apples (greenings, granny smiths, or whatever you have—I used Cortlands and Northern Spys from my own trees!)
Two pounds of my own apples
1/2 cup white sugar

1 Tblsp white flour

1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)

1/2 pound fresh cranberries (optional)

In a large bowl, toss the ingredients to cover the fruit pieces, then transfer to the baking dish.


2 cups (brown) bread crumbs, (if you’re not using crumbs, substitute rolled oats and/or chopped walnuts)

4 oz/1 stick cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 cup brown sugar, packed

¾ cup white flour

½ tsp cinnamon


Mix all the ingredients together with your fingers—the mixture will be chunky.  Sprinkle it over the fruit.
Ready for the oven

Bake in the preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until the juices bubble around the edges and the top is nicely browned.  Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or whatever you like.
And ready to eat!
Coming in February 2014!  If you're a fan of Downton Abbey and/or classic mysteries where all is explained in the final scene in the drawing room over tea, you'll enjoy this.

And may 2014 be filled with wonderful things for you.




Friday, March 29, 2013

Irish Brown Bread

by Sheila Connolly

I've been racking my brain for any memories of Easter family dinners, but so far all I've come up with is chocolate.  Lots of chocolate.  I suppose my sister and I were too stuffed with bunny ears and foil-wrapped eggs and jelly beans and the like to eat much at the table.  I do, however, have a fond memory of my engineer father trying to drill holes in eggs with his electric drill so we could empty them, with mixed results.

Brown bread, or arán donn in Irish, is a staple of Irish meals, everywhere in the country. It appears from breakfast to dinner, usually accompanied by butter. It does not contain yeast, and any rising comes from the chemical interaction of buttermilk and baking soda.  It's quick to make, and it should be eaten the same day as it's baked.

I have been trying to make it on my own—and I've been having little luck.  I've collected, at last count, thirteen recipes, from Irish cookbooks (both high-end and pub food, and including one from the famous Ballymaloe cooking school in County Cork), friends, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the back of the Irish wholemeal flour package.  Guess what:  they're all different. No two alike. (And I'm not even counting the one from my former Irish teacher, an lovely older woman from Connemara, who doesn't even measure her ingredients.)

How can there be so much confusion about something that in its simplest form contains all of five ingredients?  The basic recipe has:  wholemeal flour (preferably coarse and stone-ground—Odlum's is the favored Irish brand, available by mail order), white flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk.  You combine the dry ingredients, make a puddle of buttermilk in the middle, and mix with your hands (but not too much or it gets tough).  Shape it into a round loaf, cut a cross in the top, and bake in a hot oven.  That's it.

In a perfect universe, maybe.  Me, I've ended up with a lot of chewy, doughy lumps. Great exercise for the jaw.

Then many sources start adding things to the basic recipe:  oat bran, oatmeal (both rolled oats and steel-cut), sugar, brown sugar, eggs, butter, honey or molasses.  Suggested cooking temperatures range from 375 to 450, in one stage or two.  And the proportions of wholemeal flour (which really does make a difference—using regular brown flour is definitely not the same) to white flour are all over the map too:  ratios range from  1:2 to 3:1 brown to white. The average ratio is just under 2:1 brown to white flour, but given the consistency of the Odlum's wholemeal flour, I'd tip it toward 1 1/2 to 1 (and the Odlum's package agrees; Ballymaloe pushes it even closer to half and half).

Irish Brown Bread (1 large loaf)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

3 cups wholemeal flour
2 1/2 cups white flour
1/4 tsp of salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups (full fat) buttermilk (plus more if needed)

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle and pour in the buttermilk.  Mix quickly with your hands just until blended (overwork it and it will get gluey), adding more buttermilk if needed.  The dough should not be too sticky.

Make the dough into a ball and place it on a an ungreased baking sheet. Flatten it until it is about 2" thick.  With a sharp knife make a cross in the top (do not cut through).  Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400 degrees and continue baking until done (you'll know it's done when it sounds hollow when you tap it). 

Cool on a rack.  Serve with lots of butter! (It's good with blackberry jam too.)

I wish I could tell you that this is the perfect recipe, but it's still not quite there (not gummy this time, but rather crunchy).  If anyone out there has a treasured recipe for Irish soda bread, I'll be happy to add it to my collection!