Jim Lahey's Irish Brown Bread (The "Green Acre" Grows and Blossoms. . . in Winter!)

Yesterday morning was gorgeous. Hubby and I set out for a hike first thing. (By eleven--that's what "first thing" means on the weekend.) We had no sooner returned from our St. Paddy's Day outing and were sitting down to have lunch when the sky turned really darkish, thunder sounded in the distance, and it began raining. Buckets. Then mother nature threw in some hail for good measure. We were sitting on the porch watching all of this happen. Trakcing it on our "devices" (I heart my Kindle Fire! Dr. Thyme hearts his Archos thingy)--looking for any warnings (of the tornado kind). After all, it is March inching ever-more-closely toward April, and April in Missouri means: the height of tornado season. Anyway, it was rain and storms (thankfully no tonadoes) non-stop until seven or so last night. I wish I'd put my rain gauge in the garden to measure the rainfall amount. I bet it was over three inches. I'll be putting it out today.
Meantime, I've been baking bread: French bread, raisin bread, ciabatta and. . . in honor of yesterday, Irish Brown Bread. (Or in honor of "Dr. Thyme's People's Holiday" as we like to call it.) This recipe comes from one of my most favorite bread books--by the man who invented the whole concept of no-knead bread baking: My Bread by Jim Lahey. (Yes, I am aware of his newest baking book adventure, No-Knead Pizza Dough. And yes, it will be on my bookshelf soon. I am truly a fan.)  

Lahey's recipe for Irish Brown Bread had one little problem with which I had to contend. It included beer. The dark Irish stout kind. Go figure. But we don't do alcohol in this house. So I had to make a substitution, and one which would allow me to tease out the dark amber tones the recipe would yield were I to have included the beer. Here's what I did: instead of the 3/4 cup of beer, I used 3/4 cup water and a tablespoon of molasses mixed together. My rationale being that there would be some sort of sugar used in making the beer, that in essence, my sacrifice in not using the stout would be that I would not have had that malt flavor. (On reflection now, I could have probably used Barley Malt Syrup to retain the malt flavor. I will do so next time.) Lahey's recipe also calls for buttermilk. Well, as most of you know, this is totally fixable. I used 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk mixed with a teaspoon and a half of apple cider vinegar. 

After mixing the flours and liquids together, I placed it on top of the fridge overnight. The next day, I put it in the fridge. I baked the bread two days later. The result was this sublime, rich, delicious, a bit sour, Irish Brown Bread. We both raved about its complex flavors and texture. It was a winner on all fronts. One other change to the recipe was: I did NOT bake this bread under a casserole. I shaped it into a ball on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, allowed it to sit at room temperature for an hour, then pre-heated the oven for around twenty minutes. Once the bread sat for an hour or so, I slashed it across the top. I then baked it on the parchment paper on my baking stone (which I discovered had cracked sometime during this past week--a victim of too much bread baking?). When I placed the loaf in the oven to bake, I poured 3/4 cup of water onto the boiler tray at the bottom of the oven (carefully!)--closed the oven door and allowed the bread to bake for about thirty minutes. The result, as you can see: perfect. We loved this bread to pieces. Dr. Thyme had it for breakfast this morning smothered with peanut butter and still raved about it. So. . . this recipe is one that needs no special ethnic holiday. It is now going into our rotation. You can find the recipe here.  

Meantime. As we all walk around scratching our heads, wondering if this eighty degree weather in March (still winter) might be global warming or. . . the end of days! Let me, for the sake of being a trouble maker, add my two cents: YES! This is global warming AND. . . the end of days! Here's why: 
Peach tree blossom. Winter.
Magnolia tree blossom. Winter. (Or is this a tulip tree? I can't remember. I just plant 'em.) 
Bradford pear tree in FULL bloom. Winter. Now nearly finished flowering and leafing out.
Okay. So this is not so much a surprise. My hyacinth have always sort of had a mind of their own. 
First asparagus harvest. Winter.
My spring veggie patch. All planted and ready to go. Winter! Peas, radishes, lettuce, kohlrabi (we'll see how that goes), beets, cabbage, carrots, spinach, etc. 
Oregano. Needs serious dividing.
And then this: my portable greenhouse. I LOVE this thing! Okay, it came in two hundred million pieces and took me three hours to assemble, but look at it--how cute is it?! I got it at Big Lots for fifty bucks on sale. Even if it gets blown to smithereens, I just love it! I am experimenting this year with seed starting. Planting more seeds. Not enough room to germinate inside, so, these are kept outside. At first I would bring them in at night. But since we are staying in the sixties or upper fifties in the evening, they just stay outside. My germination rate is really slow. But I figure I'll start another tray of seeds and germinate them the "normal" way (on top of the fridge) beginning today. Also--going to plant my potatoes! (Easy to remember, always plant potatoes on St. Paddy's Day.) I open the greenhouse up during the sunny part of the day. A few days I'd forgotten to do this--it was pretty balmy inside--probably a hundred degrees. Oops. So I may have actually unintentionally "fried" some of my seeds. Oh well. Lesson learned. That's what I love about gardening and vegetable growing--it's never, ever the same thing twice. 

This week I begin teaching the first of several gardening classes for our library. I love our library. So I volunteered a bit of gardening know-how for them. What's the worst that could happen? I mean, it's growing food. Not rocket science!   


  1. The bread looks lovely :-)
    And yes, this weather is so bizarre... I still have snow in my backyard, but had all the windows open to enjoy the 70+ weather yesterday. Crazy, I say.

  2. The weather has been weird. I'm planting our garden, too - hoping for some early veggies. Anyway, nice, informative post. I'm of course aware of Jim Lahey's bread recipes (Mark Bittman made them famous) but don't have his book - I should probably buy it. I like kneading, but I'm attracted to the whole no-knead concept. And I haven't baked bread in ages - time again, don't you think? Really enjoyed this post - thanks.

  3. Beautiful bread, Kelly! Great idea to use molasses. We had a wacky St. Patrick's Day as well, complete with rain, hail, and snow! You've got some gorgeous blooms in your garden.


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