Traditional Irish Batch Bread
Recipe: Traditional Irish Batch Bread
It’s hard to beat freshly baked bread. There’s something so comforting about breaking into a fresh loaf still warm from the oven. Since Caitriona joined us full time back in 2017, she has been treating our guests to her fantastic creations. A highlight has certainly been her bread, whether it be brown soda, focaccia, sourdough, Waterford blaa or this really special batch loaf, there is a palpable joy around the table when the smells of fresh bread fill the air. A traditional Irish batch bread is an amazingly soft, floury loaf with a crispy golden crust, making it a great choice for any lunchtime sandwich. Batch bread is a common household pantry item in many Irish kitchens, Caitriona recalls having it in her childhood kitchen where it was served nearly every day while eating supper.
The name “batch” comes from the way this bread is baked in batches, commonly four or nine loaves in a single tin which are then ripped apart into smaller loafs once baked. One of our favourite sandwiches to serve at lunch is the all-time classic BLT. We use rashers which are thinly sliced from the dry-cured loin of pork. Rashers have less fat than bacon made from the belly and give the sandwich a bit more substance. Of course, the timing is ideal to serve these during our summer program Art on the Farm, when tomatoes are in season. At other times of year during our gap year FieldWorks and our artist residencies, we like to toast sandwiches in the oven with some sharp cheddar and good quality ham. For vegetarians we like to serve a combo suggested to us by former resident artist Marisol Malatesta who coincidentally is working on a labour of love with her partner Simone Conti making incredible artisanal loaves. In her native Peru, she said a childhood favourite was mashed avocado, egg salad and thinly sliced tomatoes. It’s a tasty combo!
When making this bread it is important that you give the dough plenty of time to prove, as this allows the gluten to expand. Caitriona normally uses a digital scale to precisely weigh the dough, ensuring four equal batches. When the time comes to shape the balls of dough be sure to close the seal at the bottom. To do this, use your thumb as a guide, pressing along the bottom as you rotate the dough on your work surface. Your other four fingers should lightly press the top, working to form a neat circle. When baking this bread, to achieve a nice crust, you need to add steam to your oven. Most household ovens don’t have a streaming option so a simple solution is to pour some boiling water into a high edged tray and place it on the bottom shelf of your oven. It might take a few tries but trust us, it’s worth the effort!
Traditional Irish Batch Bread: Ingredients
- 650g Strong bread flour
- 10g Fine sea salt
- 10g Fast action dried yeast
- 35g Sunflower oil (or beef dripping if non-vegetarians/ vegans)
- 450ml Warm water (90ºF) approx.
In a mixing bowl add the flour, salt and oil. Set aside. Dissolve the yeast into the warm water, stir and set aside for 5 – 10 minutes, it will start to foam on the top when it is activated. Add the yeast and water mixture into the dry ingredients, reserving a small bit of the liquid. The flour might not take the full amount of liquid.
Knead the dough using either your hands or a dough hook on a stand mixer for 10 minutes. The mixture will come together, leaving no flour on the sides. Ideally, the dough is slightly sticky, cleanly pulling away at the top but sticking a bit at the bottom of the bowl. At this stage, if the dough mixture looks too dry, add some of the remaining liquid. Alternatively, if it is too wet, add in more strong flour until the dough reaches the desired consistency.
Shape the dough into a smooth ball. Place it into a bowl, cover with cling film and set aside for about an hour or until it doubles in size. If your oven can hold a low temperature at around 40ºC it’ll work perfectly as a proving oven. When the dough has risen, knock it back and divide into four even-sized balls.
Roll the dough into smooth balls, using your thumb to create pressure on the bottom of the dough ball to ensure that there is no seam. Place the four dough balls into a prepared floured 7”x7” bread tin, cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for an additional 40 minutes up to 1 hour. The dough should rise to the top of the bread tin.
While the dough is rising for the 2nd time, preheat the oven to 250ºC with a tray placed on the bottom shelf. Bring a kettle of water to a boil and when the oven has reached its temperature fill the tray with water. This creates a steaming effect in your oven, to help get the crust on the bread.
Dust the top of the dough in flour and bake the bread for 35 minutes. Check after 20 mins to see if the crust is getting too much colour. If so, turn the oven down to 200ºC. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, preferably overnight if, of course, you can wait that long!