Making Healthy Breads with the Bread Book

IRISH BROWN BREAD

(Makes one medium loaf)
2/1/2 cups whole-wheat flour, preferably stone-ground
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
2 1/2 tablespoons wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter chilled and diced
1 1/4-1 3/4 cups buttermilk
flour for dusting and a large baking sheet, well floured

Heat the oven to 425¡F. Mix together the flours, bran, wheat germ, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Rub in the margarine or butter using your fingertips, lifting the mixture high above the bowl to aerate the dough, until it looks like fine crumbs. Stir in enough of the buttermilk to make a stiff dough; it will look a bit rough. Turn the dough out on to a well floured work surface and quickly knead it with the heel of your hand, pushing the dough from the middle out and then pulling it back. Use your other hand to rotate the dough as you knead it.

As soon as the dough looks smooth, shape it into a flat disk. Place the loaf on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with flour and cut a deep cross in the loaf. Bake the bread for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the loaf is crusty, browned, and sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

NOTE: Mary Curtis, a native of County Wexford, Ireland offers an old recipe for buttermilk from the days when every farm made its own buttermilk and butter. You need to start a buttermilk "plant," which will ferment milk. Cream yeast with 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Gradually stir in 5 cups lukewarm milk. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let stand for a couple of days at room temperature. The mixture should smell and taste like buttermilk. Line a strainer with a double thickness of cheesecloth and strain the mixture. Refrigerate the buttermilk, and it's ready to use. (It will keep for one day, covered.) The residue in the cheesecloth can be used to make the next batch of buttermilk. Rinse the residue in the cheesecloth with lukewarm water, then put it into a clean container, preferably one scalded in boiling water. Add a generous teaspoon of sugar, mix, add the milk and proceed as before.

BLINIS

Makes about 12 blinis

1 envelope active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 large egg, separated
1 1/4 cups buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
butter or lard for frying
a heavy fry pan, crepe pan, or griddle

Blinis are light crumbly, flavorful, yeast-leavened pancakes. Their intense, slightly bitter taste comes from the speckled gray-brown buckwheat flour. Traditionally, blinis should be eaten with sour cream or melted butter and Beluga or pressed caviar, but these days lumpfish roe, salmon caviar, chopped hard-boiled egg, and/or smoked fish are more usual and easier on the budget. Eat these while still warm. Crumble the fresh yeast into a large bowl. Mix in the sugar and 4 tablespoons lukewarm water until smooth. If using dry yeast, mix the granules and the sugar with 3/4 cup of the lukewarm water and let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.

Whisk the remaining lukewarm water and the egg yolk into the yeast mixture. Whisk in the flour and salt to make a very thick batter. Cover with a damp dish towel. Let rise in a warm place, away from drafts, until doubled in volume, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Whisk in the lukewarm milk to make a batter the consistency of thick heavy cream. Cover again and let stand in a warm place until small bubbles appear on the surface, about 1 hour. Beat the egg white in a small bowl with an electric mixer until it forms stiff peaks, then gently fold it into the batter with a rubber spatula.

Heat a crepe pan, frying pan, or griddle pan over moderate heat until moderately hot, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until your palm held 1 I/2 inches above the pan feels warm after 15 seconds.

Swirl 1 teaspoon of the butter into the pan. When the butter has melted, spoon a scant l/4 cup of batter into the pan and gently spread the batter with the back of a spoon to make a 4-inch pancake. Cook until the edges of the blind have set and small bubbles form on the surface, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the blini over with a spatula and cook the second side for about 2 minutes, or until dry and the top springs back when pressed lightly in the center with your fingertips. Keep warm in a 300¡F oven, uncovered, in a single layer, while cooking the remaining batter. Add more butter to the pan as needed.

Excerpted from "The Bread Book" by Linda Collister & Anthony Blake (Lyons Press; 2002; $19.95)