Fox Valley Cooks: Enjoy slice of traditional Irish bread
By Judy Buchenot Buchenot@comcast.net March 13, 2013 3:26PM
Emily Miller shows off two loaves of Irish Brown Bread that are ready to go into the oven to bake. | Courtesy of Judy Buchenot~For The Beacon-News
Irish Brown Bread
4 cups coarse-ground whole wheat flour
4 cups white flour
3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
3 to 4 cups low-fat cultured buttermilk
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add three cups of buttermilk. Start mixing with a spoon and then use hands to get a soft dough. Add more buttermilk if needed. On humid days, less buttermilk is needed.
When dough is soft but not sticking to hands, turn onto a floured surface and knead into a circular shape about 3 inches thick. Make two shallow cuts on top of the loaf in a cross shape. Bake at 475 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce oven to 400 degrees and bake an additional 20 minutes. If bread sounds hollow when tapped, it is fully cooked.
Updated: March 14, 2013 12:09PM
Several years ago when Emily Miller was unable to find a teaching position, she decided to pursue her interest in cooking. The 35-year-old Aurora resident attended the Cooking and Hospitality Institute Chicago and spent a few years working in professional kitchens.
When a position opened to teach cooking classes for the Naperville Park District, she saw a way to combine her teaching and cooking backgrounds. She is now teaching a variety of classes.
“I love it because I am able to meet people where they are and take them further,” she said. “I also have some students who are Chinese immigrants who want to learn to cook for their American husbands.”
Miller recently taught a class on Irish cooking and did some research to prepare for the class.
“The history of St. Patrick’s Day has changed. Originally when the Irish came to the United States, the day was a way to celebrate Irish heritage, but now it’s everyone’s holiday,” she says. “What we think of Irish food is really Irish American. It is all about bringing the comforts of home to a place that is unfamiliar. Most of the immigrants left home with nothing and had little when they got here.”
The food available to America’s struggling Irish immigrants years ago included cheaper cuts of meats cured to preserve them and unmilled grains. To make the tough corned beef more appealing, it was boiled with cabbage and carrots. This dish might be well known among the American Irish but is not as common in Ireland.
Breads that could be quickly made with soda instead of yeast as a leavening agent were also popular among the immigrants. Many people are familiar with Irish soda bread but there was also Irish brown bread. Miller notes that coarsely ground whole wheat flour was not as highly valued then as highly processed white flour, making it more affordable.
“Now we’ve discovered the whole wheat is much better for us than that white flour,” she adds.
Miller grew up with family members who often made bread, so she is not intimidated by the process.
“Making bread is really not hard — just time consuming,” she notes. “The Irish brown bread is great because it can be done in just one hour.”
She explains that cutting a cross in the bread before baking it is traditional, but it also lets steam escape allowing for a crispier crust.
Miller is anxiously waiting for her husband to finish renovating their new home.
“My husband, Michael, grew up in downtown Aurora in an apartment above his father’s tailor shop on Galena,” she says. “His father has run the shop for 51 years. My husband bought the building next to his father’s and is working on it. Michael is a carpenter, and there will be office space downstairs for Miller’s Millwork, and we will live in the apartment above,” she explains.
The couple has an 18-month-old son and is expecting another child this spring.
Whether Irish or not, anyone can enjoy Irish brown bread, notes Miller. She shares the simple recipe for others to try. Although the recipe calls for coarse-ground whole wheat flour, regular whole wheat flour can be substituted.
Know someone who really likes to cook and is good at it? Contact columnist Judy Buchenot at Buchenot@comcast.net.