Let me start by saying that this bread doesn’t taste of coconut. Nor was it born out of any dietary needs. It is delicious and easy and has the rare quality of tasting gorgeous whilst also tasting really healthy.
It was, as many of my best discoveries are, a result of me having a sudden urge to cook but absolutely no urge to go to the supermarket (rainy day, two toddlers to entertain and no energy to contend with car seats). The urge came from me putting the porridge oats from breakfast away in the cupboard and noticing a jar of buckwheat groats sitting in there. Don’t let the name groats put you off – it did me at first as it made me think of food they’d eat in The Hobbit. Or maybe that’s just me. I’d already used some of the groats in a pea and ham soup when I was out of barley – can you see a trend here? The remains of the jar had been taunting me for a while so I decided to use them up.
As it was a rare rainy day in California, I decided to do what we did as children on snowy, housebound days in England and make bread. I love bread but I’m picky. I really, really, really don’t like the supermarket bread here in America. The vast majority of what is on sale is grim, expensive and overly sweet and packed full of ingredients I can’t recognize. It drives me crazy how hard it is to get hold of something that should be so simple and is such a big part of most people’s diets – especially children’s. Rant over.
There are some wonderful small bakeries locally – Acme, and Manresa Bread Project are two of my faves. So I try to limit my bread intake and only eat their stuff once or twice a week. But the reality is, I need to have some sliced bread in the freezer for my kids. The only sliced bread I’ve found I don’t mind using for toast or sandwiches is Ezekiel or Alvarado street but they’re expensive and still not amazing.
If I were a floury-handed natural bread maker then my issue would be resolved. But I’m not. I read lots of recipes for sourdough starters and make grand plans but I’m lacking in patience and time. So, when I looked through the lovely Dan Lepard’s book – Short and Sweet I had an inkling that his Oatmeal soda bread (page 51) could be just the ticket as it takes just 10 minutes of hands-on work.
His recipe uses steel-cut or pinhead oats, spelt flour, sugar, low-fat yoghurt, butter, milk and bicarbonate of soda [baking soda] plus a little salt. I looked at the ingredient list and realized I didn’t have any steel-cut oats, milk or sugar (my 4 year old’s birthday party was at the weekend so I used up my sugar stock). So I used what I had in the cupboard and hoped for the best. In the recipe below, adapted from Mr Lepard’s I give you the option to follow my substitutions or his original ingredients. I hope this gives you a bit of extra bravery with your own substitutions in future.
This recipe is easy (no kneading or proving) and low impact on the washing up front. It is a great one to make with children too. My boys love the bread so I really do think I might start making it once or twice a week, slicing it and freezing it to edge out the bought stuff. The buckwheat groats or steel-cut oats give a lovely nubbly, crunchy texture.
In case you are wondering. Buckwheat is a seed rather than a grain. It is gluten-free, high in protein, high in fiber and a low GI food. You can cook it as a porridge for an alternative to oats or throw it into soups. Spelt flour is much lower in gluten than regular wheat flour making it a great choice for anyone looking to cut down on gluten (but not for anyone who has to be totally gluten-free for medical reasons). I use spelt flour in almost all of my cooking now – it can be substituted weight for weight with regular flour.
These are some of the things I like this bread served with:
- smoked salmon, lemon and black pepper
- soft goats cheese and chili jam
- almond butter and honey
- smashed avocado and lemon with black pepper
- Welsh rarebit
- mushed banana and almond butter
- scrambled eggs and crisp slices of prosciutto
- mature Cheddar or slices of Parmesan and mango chutney
- sardines, lemon and avocado
- dunked in soup
Note – With baking it is better to weigh ingredients for consistent results. And grams really are the most accurate way.
100g (3.5oz) buckwheat groats [or steel-cut or pinhead oats in the original recipe]
225ml (8 floz) warm water
30g (1oz) butter plus the butter wrapper for buttering the tin
100g (3.5oz) plain yoghurt
200ml (7 floz) cold unsweetened coconut milk [or regular milk in the original recipe]
15g (1 and a half tablespoons) coconut sugar [or brown sugar in the original recipe]
325g (11.5oz) whole grain spelt flour
8g (1 and a half teaspoons) bicarbonate of soda [baking soda]
1 teaspoon sea salt
1. Preheat your oven to 200C/390F and use butter paper to grease a 20cm x 20cm [8” x 8”] metal baking tin. Your tin should be 2-3 inches deep.
2. Weigh the buckwheat groats into a large saucepan and cover with the warm water. Cover with a lid, bring to the boil, then drop to a simmer and cook until the grains have absorbed the liquid – this should take around 15 minutes depending on the heat you use
3. While the buckwheat cooks, weigh out your flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside
4. Pour your milk into a separate measuring jug, then place the jug on the scale and zero it before weighing the yoghurt and sugar (into the same jug). Whisk the contents of the jug together and set aside
5. When the buckwheat is ready and has absorbed the water (see photo below), add the butter to the pan and stir until it melts
6. Then whisk the yoghurt, milk and sugar mixture into the pan. Follow with the flour mixture. I like to use a silicon spatula to mix this – to start with it will look like you have too much flour but it will soon combine to a thick batter. Be sure to get all the flour from the bottom and sides of the pan.
7. Dump the batter into the prepared baking tin, smooth out so that it fills the pan then tightly wrap the top with foil and bake for 15 minutes.
8. After 15 minutes, take the foil off the tin. You’ll see in the photo below that the edges are starting to dry out and turn golden but the middle is still wet and sticky. Return it to the oven for 35-40 minutes until the crust is a dark golden colour.
9. Run a knife around the edge of the pan then tip the bread out onto a cooling rack. Once cool slice into 1 inch slices. If you’d like to freeze some – and I always do – slice it and then freeze it. You can then toast it from frozen.