Growing up in Ireland has meant that I have a natural affinity for bread products. Just take a look at the classic Ulster Fry and you will see a plate riddled with carbs; toasted soda farl, potato bread, pancakes and a few rounds of toast. For me though the crowning glory of Irish bread has to be the humble wheaten. As a child I would always go straight for the wheaten loaf in my granny’s house where there would always be a stock kept high on the counter wrapped in a kitchen towel. I would slather it in butter followed by raspberry jam and wash it down with a mug of tea (you cannot have a toasted wheaten without tea and that’s a scientific fact).
For the unfortunate amongst you who don’t know what wheaten bread is (oh my, what you have been missing out on), it’s a bread (duh) made from wholemeal wheat. What makes it different to other breads (and therefore easier to make) is that it doesn’t contain yeast; bicarbonate of soda is used instead as the leavening agent. Buttermilk is also used instead of regular milk which reacts with the bicarbonate of soda which gives it it’s distinctive consistency (and yumminess).
To this day, wheaten bread remains one of my favourite snacks, especially at this time of year when the nights are begging for a nostalgic treat. It was the food I missed the most when I lived in Australia; so much so that I actually packed a couple of loaves in my suitcase to take back with me when I was home visiting. It was and still is the food that tastes like home to me.
Another reason why I love it is because it’s so freakin’ easy to make. No yeast means there’s no temperature controls to be monitored or waiting around for the rise. You can throw this recipe together in the space of an hour and serve it to guests who will think you are a culinary goddess (as well as creating a smell that will make your house smell divine).
I’ve included the standard recipe that I tend to use though of course there are a few local twists you can make to it according to where you’re from. It’s a recipe that’s as old as the hills and every family likes to garnish it their own way. Toast it and slather with butter and jam or eat it with some slices of mature cheddar or add some salmon and dill and serve as a festive amuse-bouche if you don’t mind or serve it as a side to some hearty chowder or soup on a winter’s evening.
It can be sliced gracefully or it can be ripped apart while you stand in the kitchen holding a jar of jam. What it will always be though is a recipe that will make you feel like you’re at home, even when you aren’t.
Irish Wheaten Bread
- 300g wholewheat flour
- 100 grams plain flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 60g unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 300mls buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon rolled oats
- Preheat your oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6.
- Place the flours, salt and bicarb in a bowl, stirring to combine.
- Using your fingertips, rub in the margarine until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Add the sugar and stir to combine.
- Gradually stir in the buttermilk until you get a soft, but not sticky, dough. You won’t need to use all of it. Don’t worry too much if it is sticky -just dust with some extra flour!
- Turn out onto a floured surface, and briefly knead the dough (with your knuckles). Pop the dough into a lightly floured 20 cm cake tin or bread loaf tin, and shape into a round.
- Using a sharp knife, mark the dough into four farls or slice if using bread tin. Brush the surface with a little extra buttermilk, then sprinkle over the oats (or some additional flour).
- Bake for approximately 40 minutes. A cake tester should come out pretty much clean when it is ready.
- Leave to cool on a wire rack for as long as you can bear. Enjoy!
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Autumn is a season of sounds. Leaves crunching underfoot, the cooler winds howling at night, the first fire crackling in the hearth. Nature puts on the finest display for us before the famine of winter when we are robbed of foliage and fruit and the sun barely makes it over the horizon to warm our ruddy faces. There is nothing more autumnally glorious to me than the sensation of bitterly cold air nipping at my nose and ears, threatening to take away all sensation before escaping in to the warmth of the house where a hot bath awaits me.
But before we retreat indoors we must absorb every little bit of the harvest season by foraging for the treasures we miss so much in those long winter months. Being from Armagh, the orchard county of Ireland, I’m a cute hoor and have many opportunities to gather the last of the season’s produce whether it be plums, damsons and as always, the faithful Bramley apple. The bramley is something of an icon in Armagh and it’s been the principal variety to be grown here for almost a century. It’s blossom decorates the Armagh countryside in May and it’s green skin turns red in the heat of the late summer; even the apples get sunburned in Ireland!
I popped down to my friend’s orchard about a fortnight ago to gather some apples before the end of the season and as usual I came away with too many to use. Last year I made an apple tart but this year I wanted to use the blackberries I had picked from the roadside at home a few weeks before and thought an apple and blackberry crumble would be just friggin’ lovely as a midweek treat for two. Of course this recipe can be used for a rustic dinner party or to cheer up a mate or to just eat in one big bowl by yourself when you’ve had a shitty day. Your choice my friend, no judgement here.
I hope you can give it a whirl but more than that I hope you are embracing Autumn and all of its amazingness because this is the time to start doing things for you. Summer can be a hurricane of plans and commitments but as the colder months unfurl we are treated with weekends to ourselves, moments when we can actually revisit the things we cast aside in the summer haze. Let the briskness and sharpness of the change in seasons wake you up to what truly makes you happy and get out and do it.
Apple & Blackberry Crumble
For the crumble topping:
- 120g plain flour
- 60g caster sugar
- 60g unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small pieces
For the fruit compote:
- 300g Bramley apples
- 30g unsalted butter
- 30g demerara sugar
- 115g blackberries
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- big dollop of ice cream
- Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Tip the flour and sugar into a large bowl. Add the butter, then rub into the flour using your fingertips to make a light breadcrumb texture – try not to overwork it! Sprinkle the mixture evenly over a baking sheet and bake for 15 mins or until lightly coloured.
- Meanwhile, for the compote, peel, core and cut the apples into 2cm dice. Put the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan and melt together over a medium heat. Cook for 3 mins until the mixture turns to a light caramel. Stir in the apples and cook for 3 mins. Add the blackberries and cinnamon, and cook for 3 mins more. Cover, remove from the heat, then leave for 2-3 mins to continue cooking in the warmth of the pan.
- To serve, spoon the warm fruit into an ovenproof gratin dish, top with the crumble mix, then reheat in the oven for 5-10 mins. Serve with a big scoop of ice cream or a dollop of fresh cream – yum!
A sign that you’re getting older is the sheer impossibility of organising a get together with your friends. Weekends suddenly become jam packed with familial duties and weeknights are usually spent in a crumpled heap on the sofa, half-consciously scrolling through a screen. My friend John and I had been planning an evening of baking for the last three months (taking the biscuit just a little #bestpunever) and we don’t even have children to blame it on! Luckily we finally got our act together and locked in Monday for our reunion which was to be spent in the kitchen making delicious banana bread.
And man, oh man was it yummy. We managed to turn my little galley kitchen in to a pop-up boulangerie with flour whirling and the smell of cinnamon hanging in the air. I acted as sous chef which involved handing over ingredients when needed and giving things the odd stir (so professional). Watching John in action was such a treat because as a recent financial administrator-turned-baker-extraordinaire, he has such a passion for baking and clearly loves what he does. It’s such a brave move to change careers like he has and he’s now baking for the most popular restaurants in Belfast – a move that paid off!
So many crinkles, maybe it’s time I bought an iron?
After tasting the bread I begged John to let me share the recipe. It is so moreish and although I had his help, it is definitely not difficult for a beginner baker. The hardest part is having the patience to wait for it to bake! He has also passed on a few insider tricks which makes it very easy to get right the first time. The smell alone is pure heaven – the combination of cinnamon and ginger filled our house for hours! As we tucked in to our slice, steam still emanating from the loaf, I realised that maybe the best get-togethers are worth the wait. Especially when they involve delicious food.
Yes he can bake and yes he is single 😉
I’ve included the recipe below for you to enjoy but if you have any questions or suggestions of your own please feel free to comment! Happy baking!
John’s Banana Bread Bonanza
- 250g plain flour
- 150g light brown sugar
- 150g dark brown sugar
- 4 x soft bananas (the browner the better before they get to complete mush!)
- 3 x medium eggs
- 50ml buttermilk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoon bicarbonate soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 x 900g loaf tin
- 1 x stand mixer
- 1 x mixing bowl
- Baking sheets
- Preheat the oven to 200C
- Using the stand mixer, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together
- Add in soft bananas and beat for 40 seconds on a medium speed
- Take off the mixer and sieve in the flour, cinnamon, ginger, bicarbonate soda and salt. Gently fold in ingredients using a spatula.
- Add buttermilk and mix in with spatula until fully incorporated
- Grease the loaf tin with butter and line with a baking sheet
- Pour the mixture in to the tin
- Place in preheated oven for 5-10 mins and then turn the heat down to 170C and cook for another 25 minutes
- Test the mixture with a skewer and once it comes out clean the bread is done
- Enjoy with a big mug of tea!
It’s a bouncing baby banana bread!
I work in an open office with mostly men where there is a lot of banter and even more snacks. When I first started working there I loved the daily trips to Lidl for chocolate croissants and the endless supply of chocolate digestives. After about a year though I started noticing my work dresses were getting a little… snug. I was grazing all day and not on anything particularly nutritious. Except for Jaffa cakes because those are definitely one of your five a day.
After a while though I was beginning to feel guilty eating my morning croissant while I was exploding out of my trousers and so I decided I needed to do something. It wasn’t an easy decision to remove myself from the snack club because Gary in particular was a feeder of the highest order but I gradually learned how to say “NO FOR THE LOVE OF JEEPERS CAN YOU PLEASE GET THE FAIRY CAKES AWAY FROM ME!!!”
I’ve a a bit of a routine now when it comes to my work snacks and I’ve definitely noticed a change in myself and also how I choose to snack outside of work as well. I am determined to put on a bikini this summer and feel great knowing I put some effort in to get healthy.
I’ve included a few examples below of some of the healthy treats I pack in the morning along with a sneaky recipe.
- Almonds – not the salted covered ones ye rascal
- Sliced cucumber/carrot/celery dipped in hummus or guacamole
- Dried cranberries – actually mildly addictive
- Mixed seeds and nuts – when you’re cooking some butternut squash save the seeds and roast those bad boys for the day after
- Avocado smothered on wholemeal toast – avocados are the bees knees but frig they are expensive
- Mini fruit salad – ye know berries, chopped banana, grapes – raid that fruit bowl!
- Protein Balls – it’s easy to eat a bajillion of these – don’t
- Gluten free popcorn – there’s salty & sweet kind in Tesco’s – get on it!
- Walkers Sweet Chilli Multigrain crisps – very specific and very amazing
Raspberry Oatmeal Cookies
I made two batches of these in a week because everyone in work scoffed them. I have since been scolded by Andrew to not share the delicious treats and to keep them at home – what a guy! What’s great though is there is no refined sugar in them – seems to be the buzz words to use these days – and the oats mean that you’re getting sufficient energy for a wee afternoon kick.
I found the recipe here at Amy’s Healthy Baking and have included it below too. I’ve seen a few other recipes on the site that I’m definitely going to try out because no doubt I will tire of eating these every day. Or maybe not.
- 1 cup (100g) instant oats (gluten free if necessary)
- ¾ cup (90g) whole wheat or gluten-free* flour (visit Amy’s website to see how to measure correctly)
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp (28g) coconut oil or unsalted butter, melted
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup (120mL) honey
- 6 tbsp (53g) fresh raspberries, diced
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, egg, and vanilla. Stir in the honey until thoroughly incorporated. Add in the flour mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Fold in the raspberries. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes. (If chilling longer, cover with plastic wrap, ensuring it touches the entire surface of the cookie dough.)
- Preheat the oven to 325°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
- Drop the cookie dough into 15 rounded scoops on the baking sheet. (If chilled longer than 1.5 hours, flatten slightly.) Bake at 325°F for 13-15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
You would be hard pushed to find a granny in Ireland that can’t make the most delicious stews or a knit a onesie in one sitting. I don’t know if you these skills or bestowed upon you once you reach the age of 60 or that they’re skills that just aren’t that cool anymore but I do know that all grannies have a signature dish which they are famous in the family for. For my granny it’s definitely her chicken soup, known to have cured many colds, flues or just for times when us grandchildren ‘weren’t at ourselves’. For Andrew’s granny it would probably be her buttermilk scones. I tasted them the first time I visited her bungalow in Monaghan and it took all my power not to inhale the whole plate of them in front of me and drink it down with her homemade raspberry jam.
A while ago Andrew and I drove down to Monaghan to see Ruth and I had plotted a way to ask her for her recipe. I am a massive lover of scones especially the smell they create in a kitchen. But mostly the taste of them. You instantly feel like a successful human being when you have a tray of lovely scones cooling on a wire rack. I was a bit hesitant to ask for the recipe because asking someone for a recipe they are renowned for can go one of two ways:
- They could be flattered that you would think so highly of them and be delighted to pass the recipe on; or
- They could be quietly horrified that you even asked for it and shift uncomfortably in their chair thinking of ways to get rid of you
Luckily for me Ruth was the former and was more than willing to share her secret however I had forgotten that Irish grannies also don’t use normal measurements. I got out my pen and paper that I just so happened to have on me and began to note down the ingredients and method which went along the lines of: Make sure to use Neill’s soda bread flour and rub in a knob of butter and a fingerful of sugar then whisk an egg in a mug, not a cup but a mug, and then fill it to the top with buttermilk…
I tried to act unperturbed by these non-specific instructions but I knew I would balls the whole thing up on my own. I thought to myself the only way I would learn would be to watch her and out of some miracle she then asked me if I wanted to make some with her. She must have seen the terror in my eyes; grannies can also smell fear.
I was amazed at how she was able to bake so easily despite her being constrained by arthritis in her hands. She has adapted a canny way of moving utensils so she doesn’t have to strain herself too hard and it’s an incredibly admirable thing to witness because baking along with other domestic skills is something that is so obviously engrained in her. If she lost that ability then I suppose it would be a massive loss to her.
Fortunately for me the whole recipe was much easier to follow and she taught me some great techniques to ensure the best scones e.g. make sure to get lots of air in when rubbing the butter in to the flour! It was a special moment because it made me feel part of the family and it was so generous of her to share it with me.
I feel like I’ve almost mastered the recipe although I know they’ll never be quite as good as Nanny Moffett’s. Andrew is fairly happy to play guinea pig in the meantime anyway and the house smells AMAZING.
Nanny Moffett’s Buttermilk Scones
- 1lb Neil’s Self Raising Soda Bread Flour (nothing else apparently)
- 1 – 1.5 oz granulated sugar (or 2 fingerfuls)
- 4-5 oz soft margarine
- 2 eggs beaten in a mug (specifically a mug)
- Buttermilk – add to mug of beaten eggs and fill to the top
- Preheat oven at 230 celsius
- Weigh out the flour and the sugar together
- Rub in the butter bringing the flour up from the bottom and getting plenty of air through the mixture.
- Once all rubbed in (your wrists might be aching at this stage – I have to take breaks!) make a well in the mixture and slowly pour in the buttermilk an egg
- Beat together with a fork – not a spoon – until all the flour is absorbed
- Put the mixture on to a floured surface and sprinkle some flour on top
- Pat the dough in to an oblong shape and using a cutter take pieces out around the outside first
- Put the scones on to a greased tray and brush with some beaten egg
- Place in over for 10 minutes
- Let them cool for a few minutes when they’re done
- Try not to eat them all and get found covered in jam and crumbs.