Ireland – Trad Music, Brown Bread, and the 99
Annagassan

Ireland – Trad Music, Brown Bread, and the 99

Annagassan

Begorrah.  Slainte.  Shite.  That’s about the sum of my Irish vocabulary, which I learned after spending a short week in the Ancient East coastal area of rolling green hills, gently capped waters, Celtic crosses, 99 ice creams. It’s what you’d expect of Ireland (maybe not the 99’s…more on that), it doesn’t disappoint.  But there’s so much more.

Ollie’s hand is flinging batter into the bread pans…

Take Ollie O’Neill.  Shy, with pale skin and blue eyes (he didn’t want his picture taken – too shy), a baker’s cap set carefully on his reddish-tinged hair, he moves with quiet precision in a warehouse-like bakery at the side of the road in the freckle-sized town of Annagasan.  He mixes brown bread dough, a blend of crushed whole wheat, white flour, bran, soda, salt and buttermilk, then plops fistfuls into blackened pans which will be slid into an enormous oven.  He talks while he works, his gestures automatic yet careful.  He probably inherited them along with his Irish DNA because his great grandfather started the bakery. Today, he works it with his brother, John, and his father Michael (Red Mick…everyone in Ireland has a nickname).

Brown Bread

Brown bread is just one of the many that the O’Neill bakery produces.  Ollie  and the other bakers start work at 3 a.m., and by 8 much of their bread is baked – from the tall, muscular white batch bread, to the seed bread, to the springy spelt cylinder to the raisin-studded brac. All the flour is Irish, and so are the recipes, committed to memory generations past.

Batch Bread cooling in the sea breeze

There’s no shop at this quiet spot yet customers form a constant stream, winding their way through the racks of loaves cooling outdoors in the sea air.  They all know each other, they’ve all grown up together no doubt.  And if they can’t make it into the bakery they call in an order; a fleet of red trucks wends along the lanes of this verdant place, dropping loaves at individual doors.  They deliver to shops and grocery stores too, fresh bread six days a week, made with local flour, seasoned with gentle sea air.  If you find yourself in this spot of the world, look for O’Neills bread.

Glyde Inn – voted best pub in Ireland

Next door is the Glyde Inn or, as the locals call it, O’Neill’s .  I was waiting for the loaves to bake and slipped over there for a coffee, but it was closed.  Ollie directed me to the little shop across the road.  “She’ll have some coffee,” he said, and indeed she – Roisin – did. “But it’s na good,” she says. “Sorra to say and I’ll only charge you a euro,”  she added with a quick pat on the back of my hand.

“The ‘poob’ isn’t open as of yet but ya can use their tables,”  she added as I walked out the door.

She knows because the pub owner, Paul O’Neill , who happens to be Ollie’s uncle, is her brother-in-law.  I followed her suggestion and sat at a round wood table, sipping – sort of – the coffee which was as bad as advertised.  I heard the pub door creak open and before I knew it a crisp, elderly gent was sitting next to me.  It was early in the morning but he was already filled with the devil, cracking jokes and making me laugh so hard I almost spit out my coffee.  I asked his name and he pulled out a big wad of euros to inspect.  “Don’t know,” he said.  “And they’re not tellin’ me.”

“Do you make coffee?” I asked.

“Sure’n we do, come in,” he said.

O’Neills pub 3 (Converted)

I sat at the bar, a place I was already familiar with from the evening of “Trad”  the night before.  A group of amateur local musicians come to play traditional music with the bodhran (Irish drum), the Irish bouzouki (flat back acoustic guitar) and a variety of fiddles, pipes, and accordions, and speak only Irish – they’re so good that calling them amateurs isn’t fair.

Guests from the few rooms Mr. O’Neil rents were in the dining room awaiting their breakfast, and Mr. O’Neill was the server and the barrista, so it took awhile. But it was worth waiting for, and so was the impromptu harmonica concert Mr. O’Neill decided to give after he’d served the diners.

I had to run to the bakery to snap the breads coming out of the oven, so I told Mr. O’Neill I’d be back, put a saucer over my coffee to keep it warm, and got the job done. When I returned with warm loaves in my bag, there were two new cups of coffee on the bar and Mr. O’Neill was wiping dishes.

Did he mind if I had a slice of the bread I’d gotten next door?

Impromptu Irish breakfast

“You’ll need a plate with that,” he said, and he bustled off, returning with a plate on which sat two, golden brown sausages, two big pats of butter and marmalade.  I indicated the second cup of coffee.  “You’re joining me, correct?” I asked.  “Naw lassie, they’re both for you.”

What a breakfast.  Warm brown buttermilk bread from the bakery, sausages made down the road, straight from the pan.  Delicious coffee. When two people walked in asking if there were croissants to go with coffee Mr. O’Neill said “Naw, we haven’t got those,” and they turned away.  Oh, I thought, what a grand and delicious boat you’ve missed.

A 99

And what is the 99?  Well, let me tell you.  It is sold from gas stations, grocery shops, and anywhere you see a tall, plastic soft-serve ice cream cone outside.  You walk in and ask for a 99 and for a couple of euros you’ll be handed a very tall swirl of vanilla soft serve in a crisp cone, with a Cadbury’s flake – a 99 – stuck in it.  Don’t smirk and don’t laugh.  It’s simply what the doctor ordered.  Probably every day.

Why 99? Well, the flakes (from Cadbury of course) are called “Flake 99” but there’s a deeper history.  When Italy had a king, he had an elite army consisting of 99 soldiers.  Anything considered first class at that time was referred to as “99”.  And that’s the story.  But stay tuned, because there is more to come….

Notes about the recipe:  King Arthur has wholemeal, so you can order it and make the wonderful bread, below.

Print Recipe
IRISH BROWN BREAD
You'll love this nutty, whole-meal bread. You can get wholemeal from King Arthur And if you don't have buttermilk on hand you can make an excellent facsimile by adding 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice to each 1 cup (250ml) whole milk. Let it sit for 15 minutes and voila!
IRISH BROWN BREAD
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45` minutes
Servings
loaf
Ingredients
  • 2-1/4 cups (12 ounces;360g) white unbleached flour
  • ¾ cup (4 ounces; 120g) wholemeal (see King Arthur link above)
  • ½ cup (1 ounce;30g) bran
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon white or brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups (375ml) buttermilk
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45` minutes
Servings
loaf
Ingredients
  • 2-1/4 cups (12 ounces;360g) white unbleached flour
  • ¾ cup (4 ounces; 120g) wholemeal (see King Arthur link above)
  • ½ cup (1 ounce;30g) bran
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon white or brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups (375ml) buttermilk
IRISH BROWN BREAD
Instructions
  1. Line a regular loaf pan (9 x 5 x 3-inches; 22.5 x 12.5 x 7.5cm) with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 425F (220C).
  2. Place all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix them together, using your fingers. Again, using your fingers work the butter into the dry ingredients until you really can’t notice it’s there. To do this, just rub the butter and the dry ingredients between your fingertips – it’s easy.
    Place all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix them together, using your fingers.  Again, using your fingers work the butter into the dry ingredients until you really can’t notice it’s there.  To do this, just rub the butter and the dry ingredients between your fingertips – it’s easy.
  3. Add the butter milk and stir, either using a wooden spoon or your hands, to obtain a “porridge-like” dough. It will be quite wet, almost a batter.
    Add the butter milk and stir, either using a wooden spoon or your hands, to obtain a “porridge-like” dough.  It will be quite wet, almost a batter.
  4. Pour or spoon (or flap with your hand, the way Ollie does) the dough into the prepared baking pan. Spread it out gently so it is even, then slice down through the center of it, using a plastic scraper or a knife, so the bread will rise evenly.
    Pour or spoon (or flap with your hand, the way Ollie does) the dough into the prepared baking pan.  Spread it out gently so it is even, then slice down through the center of it, using a plastic scraper or a knife, so the bread will rise evenly.
  5. Place on the center rack of the pre-heated oven and bake until the bread is golden and raised, which will take 40 to 45 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven, turn out of the pan onto a wire cooling rack, and let cool before eating.
    Remove from the oven, turn out of the pan onto a wire cooling rack, and let cool before eating.
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This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. How romantic…bread cooling in the sea breeze! It looks so delicious.
    This makes me want to jump on a plane and head to Ireland. 🙂

    1. I know, it was romantic and just so natural. They’ve been doing it for…generations.

  2. Recently I was wondering about the origin of the phrase “dressed to the nines”. There are various explanations and now you offer another one from a different context! I will make the bread – thank you for that recipe.

    1. Bettina – I wonder if it’s related? You’ll love the bread!

  3. Did you get called darlin’?Great people and so hospitable. Soda bread is so delicious and so easy to make. I always have a loaf on the go.No mention of the black nectar (guiness)Susan😁

    1. Aha. See the next blog re: Guiness….

  4. Lovely post! I just had my DNA done and I have 38% Irish from the county Kerry. 42% Wales, England, 18% German and 2% Russian. It’s been interesting and fun getting back to my roots. Looking forward to trying the Brown bread, thank you Susan for bringing it home:)

    1. Dawn – such fun, the DNA thing. There are detractors, but I’m going with the results I’ve seen in myself and a couple of siblings…

  5. Hi Susan
    Should I be using low gluten flours for this recipe?
    For my first attempt I used plain wholemeal flour – 10.8% protein.
    I also used a white bakers flour – 11.9% protein – which may be too strong…
    The mixed dough was quite stiff and dry and I had to add more buttermilk to get closer to your description of how the dough should look and feel. Even then, it was not slack enough to cut into with my dough scraper.
    The bread tastes very good but it is a tad ‘tough’.
    Interested in your thoughts.
    Thanks
    Jane

    1. Jane – I Here is what I suggest. Get some ordinary white, bleached flour – which is the equivalent of the white used in the traditional recipe. Don’t go fancy. As for the wholemeal, get what you can from where you can, and try that. See if your dough isn’t softer. I’m not certain the texture of your dough is related to the protein content of the flour, but it could be. And the wholemeal in Ireland may come from soft, rather than hard wheat (which DOES have to do with protein, among other things.). I’ll check this out, but make the bread again. It’s easy enoughg…and cut back a bit on the flour too, this may help. Good luck, let me know.

      1. Thanks for your reply Susan.
        I make my own bread and this one is definitely worth adding to my repertoire!
        I will keep working on it. I got pretty close but I think the softer flour is the way to go, as you suggest.
        I will let you know how I get on.

        1. Jane – do let me kno!

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