Top o' the Morning Early risers: It's the breads that get the Irish breakfast off to such a great start.

March 13, 1996|By Margaret M. Johnson | Margaret M. Johnson,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

I love it when St. Patrick's Day falls on a weekend, so I can guiltlessly indulge in the consummate Irish meal, breakfast -- and savor its sweetest part, homemade breads.

Anyone who has traveled to Ireland will no doubt admit that one of the best reasons for getting out of bed in the morning is knowing that an Irish breakfast is waiting.

And even if there's enough willpower to pass up a daily dose of eggs, bacon, sausages, puddings and grilled tomatoes, it's the breads that are always irresistible.

Since I actually judge the quality of my Irish holidays as much by the breads and breakfasts I enjoy as by the places I visit, I decided this March 17 to recapture some of the flavor of an Irish morning and celebrate with a traditional Irish breakfast, or "fry," as it was originally called, complete with Irish pork products and homemade Irish breads. Call it brunch and you can serve the requisite pint of ale.

Of all the types of Irish bread, soda bread (both white and brown) is probably the best known, although Irish cooks even use potatoes and Guinness in their breads. Soda bread is made with buttermilk, the acid in which reacts with the baking soda to make the bread rise. Originally, this bread was baked in a pot, which gave it a firm, moist texture.

Today, there are as many variations and methods for baking it as there are cooks, but duplicating brown soda bread in the United States has been difficult because of the texture of our flour.

A suitable remedy, however, is to add wheat bran to roughen the consistency of American whole-wheat flour, which is more finely milled than Irish. If you add sultanas and a little sugar to white soda bread, it's a loaf called spotted Dick, and with caraway seeds added, American cooks simply call it Irish bread or old country cake.

Potato breads, particularly boxty, which combinesshredded raw and boiled mashed potatoes, are popular throughout Ireland and can be baked on a griddle or as a potato pancake if the dough is thinned.

In the northern counties, especially Ulster, potato bread is known as fadge, and when cut into wedges (farls) and fried in bacon fat or butter, it's an essential ingredient in an Ulster fry.

If you, too, like the idea of wishing friends and family a "top o' the morning" with a traditional Irish breakfast, you'll need bacon (rashers), sausage (bangers), and black and white puddings in addition to eggs and tomatoes (which can either be broiled or fried). You can call Dairygold U.S.A. ([800] 386-7577) which mail-orders its pork products with a guaranteed 48-hour delivery if orders are placed Monday to Wednesday, or you can improvise with American bacon and sausages.

Serve with one of these Irish breads and you'll be well-fortified to enjoy the balance of the day.

Brown soda bread

Makes 8 servings

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour

1 1/2 cups wheat bran

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups buttermilk

Mix flours, bran, salt and baking soda. Make well in center. Add buttermilk and mix to make soft dough. Add more milk if mixture seems too thick.

Turn dough out onto floured board and knead lightly. Flatten dough and shape into circle. With sharp knife, slash cross on top. Place on baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees about 40 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped.

Raisin soda bread

Makes 8 to 10 servings

5 1/2 cups flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup caraway seeds

1 egg

2 2/3 cups buttermilk

Sift flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Make well in center. Add raisins and caraway seeds and toss. Add egg and buttermilk and knead lightly.

Turn dough out onto floured board and knead again until it can be shaped into neat circle.

Place dough on well-greased 9 1/2 -inch round pan or cast-iron skillet. Bake at 350 degrees about 40 minutes.

Guinness and malt wheaten bread

Makes 10 servings

3 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup wheat bran plus extra for pans and sprinkling

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter (or Butter Flavor Crisco)

1 teaspoon malt extract

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1 1/4 cups Guinness beer

Place flour, wheat bran, sugar, baking soda and salt in large mixing bowl. Blend in butter, lifting well to give air. Stir in malt extract, buttermilk and Guinness and mix until of porridge consistency. Do not over-beat.

Grease 1 (9 1/4 -by-5 1/4 -by-2 3/4 -inch) loaf pan or 2 (8-by-3 3/4 -by-2 1/2 -inch) pans. Sprinkle bottom of pan(s) with wheat bran. Pour in batter. Sprinkle additional wheat bran on top.

Bake at 400 degrees 40 minutes. Reduce to 375 degrees and bake 30 minutes more. (Decrease baking time by 10 minutes when using 2 pans.) Bread is done when it springs back after top is gently pressed. Turn off oven and let bread cool with the door open 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack.


Makes 8 servings

1 cup shredded raw peeled potatoes

1 cup mashed potatoes

1 cup white flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1/2 cup milk

black pepper

oil for frying

Place shredded potatoes on piece of cheesecloth or linen towel and squeeze out liquid. Scrape off potato starch and place it and grated potatoes in large mixing bowl. Add mashed potatoes.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and add to potatoes. Add melted butter and milk. Season to taste with pepper. Mix well.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead lightly. Either pat or roll out to circle about 1/2 -inch thick. Using biscuit cutter, cut out 8 cakes. Heat oil in large skillet until medium-hot. Add cakes in batches and fry about 5 minutes or until golden on both sides.

Pub Date: 3/13/96

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