Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread

Photo and Recipe: Tod Dimmick

This bread is so good I really wonder why I only make it on St. Patrick's Day.  The cabbage leaf wrapping was half humor and half curiosity about the effect of the moisture trapped between the crust and the roasting leaves.  The effect was delicious texture and lots of "oohs and aahs".

4 cups whole wheat flour ("white" whole wheat works well)
1/3 cup oatmeal
3 TB gluten
3 TB sugar or equivalent
1 TB salt
2 1/2 tsp yeast
2 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp baking soda
About 2 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 TB plain yogurt (optional)
3/4 cup raisins or currants

Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. I use a whisk for this.  Heat the buttermilk to just above room temperature, and stir in the yogurt (if using) and . Slowly mix the milk in to the flour mixture to create a thick, pliable dough. A sturdy spatula is ideal for mixing, and a stand mixer with a bread hook is also great. Turn dough out onto a countertop and, using a bench scraper, stretch and fold the dough over itself a few times. Cover with the bowl and let rest for an hour. Thereafter, at approximate 45 minute intervals, revisit that dough several times to again stretch and fold the dough over itself 3-4 times. If a few intervals stretch into hours rather than 45 minutes, don't worry.

Then, 90 minutes before the time you want the bread to finish baking, shape the dough into the shape you like, and place on a floured baking tray for its final rise. Sprinkle with flour, and cover with a towel.  Alternatively,  roll this dough in flour and place in a loaf pan (or split into two chunks and divide between two smaller loaf pans).  Let rise for 25 minutes, then preheat your oven to 400 and let the dough continue to rise for another 20-30 minutes while the oven preheats.

Remove the towel, slash the dough as you like, and slide the baking tray into the hot oven. If you have a mister, spritz the dough a few times to assist with creation of a chewy crust. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until rapping on the loaf with your fingertips yields a nice "hollow sounding" thump. Let cool for 10 minutes, if you can wait that long.

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