Friday 20 April 2012

Try, try and try again – brown bread

Since I moved to Brussels ten years ago, I have been trying to make brown bread successfully. I have tried hundreds* of recipes, tried all the different types of brown flours I can find here (complet, 7 cereals, 6 cereals, gris, Soubry, Delhaize, Carrefour and a combination of these) but to no avail. Until yesterday. I tried The One Thing I had never ever done. I used the Belgian equivalent of buttermilk: lait battu. And this morning I tucked into delicious homemade brown bread for breakfast. Result!
Brown soda bread. ***so proud***

Now for the science: why can’t you use normal milk? First we’ve to start with what buttermilk is. Buttermilk is what is left over when you’re making butter out of cream. Courtesy of Wikipedia: “The tartness of buttermilk is due to acid in the milk. The increased acidity is primarily due to lactic acid produced by lactic acid bacteria while fermenting lactose, the primary sugar in milk. As the bacteria produces lactic acid, the pH of the milk decreases and casein, the primary milk protein, precipitates, causing the curdling or clabbering of milk. This process makes buttermilk thicker than normal milk”. Mmmm! Fermented milk. Sounds ... eh ... yummy. But this is what makes the magic – the bicarbonate of soda (or baking soda) is alkaline, and when mixed with acidic ingredients (such as buttermilk), it reacts and releases bubbles of carbon dioxide.  These bubbles help baked goods rise. Wow. Who said science is boring?
So, if you pine for some brown bread, just like you get in Ireland, this is the recipe I used, from Ballymaloe, for brown soda bread.

600g brown wholemeal flour (I used Soubry farine pour pain complet)
600g plain white flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
850ml buttermilk

You need to put bread into a hot oven, so pop the oven on now to 230°. I heard that you should really have everything as hot as possible, so if you’re going to use a dish, pop this in too. If you’re going to do a free-form bread, keep the baking tray in there to warm up. I didn’t, and the bread turned out fine.
So, mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl (large bowl – seriously, this stuff get everywhere, so you’ll need something that will contain it as best it can).
Pour in the buttermilk and mix with a fork or spoon. If it’s a bit dry, add a bit more milk.
Sprinkle a little flour on your counter top and turn the dough onto the board. Bring it together with your hands. Seriously, the less you touch this the better, so less is more here.
I divided the mixture in two at this stage and made two cakes of bread. One went into a cake tin (sprinkle the bottom of it with some flour to stop it from sticking) and the other went onto a baking sheet (again, sprinkled with some flour).
Cut a deep cross into the bread and pop it into the oven for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 200° for another 20-25 minutes. Test it’s cooked by knocking on the bottom – if it sounds hollow it’s done. Cool on a wire rack. Resist the temptation to cut it open immediately. 
You can get lait battu in the Delhaize at Pl Luxembourg and the Carrefour at Dreve de Richelle in Waterloo. There are surely more places, so let me know if it’s in your local supermarket –

Photos are in the camera - I'll post these and the photos to lots more stuff asap.

*ok, slight exaggeration. Maybe I tried three recipes. But I have tried all the different possibilities concerning the flours, so I've made brown bread about 20 times here. 

1 comment:

  1. You have a lovely blog but I'd love to see photos of the things you make and possibly photos as you go along.