Irish Brown Soda Bread

I am old enough to understand that hope takes naps. Hope can grow quiet, dormant in darkness, beneath immovable blankets. You cannot wake it up; you just have to wait for the season of night to pass.

This is something I found today in a journal I kept in New Orleans. The Irish Pub I mentioned yesterday, Finn McCool’s, was a place KP and I loved to visit while hope was taking its naps. The stories of names also can lay dormant, just outside of consciousness, and when these stories are made known, how eerie it is to know all this time you were dithering ignorant in the presence of a great and quiet truth.

It wasn’t until after almost two years of haunting our favorite pub that I bothered to look up the Irish legend of Finn McCool.

Finn McCool is a brave warrior and benevolent giant from Celtic mythology. I imagine him similar to Hagrid from Harry Potter. There’s all kinds of the mythological shenanigan’s you would expect in the lore if you want to go there—love interests get turned into deer by druids, Finn has a magical thumb which allows him to see what is going on anywhere in the world (akin to the powers of Fozzie Bear?), his large feet carved the channels between Kitterland and the Isle of Man, etc.

But what I am really drawn to is Finn McCool’s death—because it wasn’t a death at all. Finn McCool merely went to sleep somewhere in a cave underneath Ireland, and as the story goes, when he wakes up someday, peace and prosperity will return to Ireland. Knowing this helps illumine James Joyce’s title—Finnegan’s Wake (Finn is Again Awake!).

Since learning this story it is hard to not feel expectant toward bulges of earth, or for me, daily, bulges of flour. Return peace and prosperity, Awake! Expectant also toward caves similar to where one other great man died, but did not stay dead! and who we hope is not merely sleeping elsewhere, though sometimes, most often when I read the news, I assume there must be naptime in paradise.

Irish Brown Soda Bread
Makes One 7 inch Round Loaf

Baking Illustrated

1 ¾ cups All-Purpose flour

1 ¼ cups whole-wheat flour

½ cup pastry flour or cake flour

½ cup wheat germ, toasted
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1 ½ tsp. cream of tartar
1 ½ tsp. Baking Soda
1 ½ tsp. Salt
2 tbsp. Melted Butter
1 ½ cups whole milk

1 ½ tbsp. white or apple vinegar

Combine all-purpose flour, wheat germ (I didn’t have any of this and was pretty confident that I wouldn’t find any in grocery stores in Rochester, MN so I ground up ½ cup of flax seed to mix in), sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. Stir in butter with a fork until in very small particles. Add the buttermilk. Stir gently with a fork but thoroughly until all flour is moistened.

Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead five times. Gather into a ball and place on a lightly greased cake round. Using a sharp knife, make a large cross (score) on the top of the loaf to allow for expansion. Bake at 400ºF for 40 minutes, until loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped, or when it has reached an internal temperature of 180 degrees.

Remove from oven and place on a rack. Brush with melted butter. Allow to cool before slicing.

3.5 stars—To test whether the corny corn bread taste was from the buttermilk, with this loaf I used whole milk and a little bit of vinegar. It didn’t change the corn taste, so perhaps I am confusing corn taste for soda taste. There is a unique tang to this type of bread, and I think for me at least that limits my use of it to being a soup-dipper sort of bread.

Furthermore, my Mom (a Julia Childs of her own right) provided some critical advice for the sticky-finger issue while trying to not knead the bread hardly at all. She said to use olive oil as hand lotion immediately prior to turning out the loaf on the flour surface, and, sure enough, Julia Ellis was right! I don’t think I have achieve the “light fingered touch” complimentary to Irish bakers who make this bread all the time, but this loaf rose better than the last even with the wheat flour and flaxseed.

I told Izzy the Finn McCool legend and she was convinced that Finn is sleeping inside the hillish loaf of soda bread and she would like to investigate herself.


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