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Comfort Food: Beyond Irish soda bread

Seeded Quick Wheat Bread: Read on for the recipe. (Nancy Baggett)

I know that the fellow who started the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread (yes, there is such a thing) isn’t going to like this. But the familiar old St. Paddy’s Day loaf isn’t the only savory quick bread out there. IMHO, it isn’t the best savory quick bread out there, either, although maybe I shouldn’t say this with so many folks about to be proudly wearin’ their bit o’ green next week.

Don’t get me wrong. A classic Irish soda bread is pleasant now and then. But it’s not especially nutritious (no healthy whole grains or seeds for fiber). And it turns stale and cracker-dry in only a day.

Plus, as purists point out, Irish soda bread is, by definition, plain, plain, plain: It includes flour, salt, baking soda, and sour milk or buttermilk. Period. Toss in other stuff and you’ve got something else: Traditionalists emphasize that a loaf merely jazzed up with raisins is properly called “Spotted Dog.” They grimace at versions fancied up with whiskey, spices, sugar, butter, orange zest, etc., such as this Dark Irish Soda Bread (which includes a little molasses, sugar and caraway seeds) and call them an “abomination.”

While I definitely think there’s a place for a nicely spicy pumpkin bread and a chocolate-chip-banana loaf in the home baker’s repertoire, I love the savory soda-bread-style loaves, too. These simple, no-frills baked goods spotlight the mellow taste of grain rather than add-ons and extras. And, like the much more time-consuming rustic yeast breads, they are spectacularly comforting served warm from the oven with a hearty soup, pot roast, or stew.

Recipe Included

But instead of just making the same old, same old, I’ve moved beyond Irish soda bread and created some updated, more interesting alternatives. Not only are they are much better keepers, but they’re more flavorful and nourishing. Yet they’re as easy as the heritage soda bread recipe handed down from your friend’s Aunt Mary Kate or your Grandma O’Shea.

Here’s one of my favorites to get you thinking — and baking — in a new direction.

-- Nancy Baggett

Seeded Quick Wheat Bread
Makes an 8 1/2-inch loaf (12 servings)

This handsomely homespun loaf has a crusty top and pleasing, gentle wheat flavor. Thanks to the addition of yogurt, it stays moist for several days.

Both molasses and honey make a tasty bread (the molasses lends a bit more color and flavor), so choose whichever you prefer or have on hand. If necessary, you can skip the sesame or poppy seeds, although they add nutrients and fiber and contribute to the overall appeal.

MAKE AHEAD: The loaf is best served fresh and slightly warm, but it may be kept airtight at room temperature for up to 3 days. Freeze, airtight, for longer storage; thaw before using. If desired, reheat the loaf (wrapped in aluminum foil) for about 15 minutes in a preheated 375-degree oven; or warm individual slices wrapped in paper towels for 20 or 30 seconds in a microwave oven on LOW. Slices also can be toasted.

1 1/2 cups plus 3 teaspoons whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose or unbleached white flour
2 tablespoons sesame or poppy seeds (optional; see headnote)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Generous 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Generous 1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole or low-fat milk
2/3 cup plain low-fat or nonfat yogurt
3 1/2 tablespoons mild molasses (do not use blackstrap; may substitute mild clover honey)
1 large egg
1/4 cup corn oil, olive oil or other low-saturated fat oil

Position a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Evenly coat an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch (or similar medium-size) loaf pan with nonstick cooking oil spray. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of whole wheat flour in the pan, then tip the pan so the sides and bottom are evenly coated with the flour. Shake out any excess flour.

Thoroughly combine the 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour, the cup of white flour, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the seeds, if using, the baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

Combine the milk, yogurt, molasses, egg and oil in a medium bowl; use a fork to beat until very well blended.

Gradually stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture just until thoroughly incorporated, being careful not to over-mix; excess mixing can cause toughening. Immediately transfer the batter to the prepared pan, spreading it evenly to the edges. Sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of seeds, if using, then dust with the remaining teaspoon of whole wheat flour. Use a well-greased and sharp paring knife to make a shallow cut lengthwise down the center of the top.

Bake on the middle oven rack for 45 to 55 minutes or until well browned on top and a toothpick inserted deep in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. If necessary, run a rounded knife around the pan and under the loaf edge to loosen it.

Serve warm or cool then store as directed.

Per serving (using corn oil, low-fat yogurt and whole milk): 170 calories, 5 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 310 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  March 12, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Comfort Food , Recipes  | Tags: Comfort Food, Nancy Baggett, baking, bread  
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What a funny take on the classic Irish Soda Bread! LOL - I had no idea that it had to be "just so" in order to be considered a classic. I like you recipe too and using our favorite wheat flour called Kamut Khorasan Wheat - this would not only be yummy but super nutritious! Thanks for the great article!

Posted by: smilinggreenmom | March 13, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

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