I want to begin by saying that I am not, nor have I ever been, Irish. I have never been to Ireland, and other than a brief stint as a sort-of redhead in the ’90s, my only personal connections to Irish culture and heritage are a deep love of the writings of Oscar Wilde and the McCourt brothers, the music of The Pogues, and the fact that Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Aiden Quinn have all spent time in my “five.”
I have also never been a huge fan of St. Patrick’s Day. I do have a childlike fondness for the beloved annual tradition of dyeing the Chicago River green, but since I was old enough to understand the American interpretation of the “holiday,” it has seemed like a ridiculous celebration of bad decisions that more often than not lead to puddles of green barf. I stay well away from bars on St. Paddy’s Day, and if possible, the outdoors in general; I don’t need to witness drunken, unsolicited kisses or dodge viridian protein spills in the streets.
I do enjoy some of the traditional Irish fare when it’s done well. I’m all in on a hearty lamb stew, a perfectly cooked corned beef and cabbage, and pretty much anything you can do with a potato. But I’ve never been a devotee of Irish soda bread, usually finding it dry and slightly metallic from the volume of chemical leaveners. So, when it comes to my Irish bread of choice, I much prefer Veda bread.
I know, I had never heard of it either.
Veda bread, it should be noted, is not an ancient bread recipe handed down through the Celtic generations. It is a commercially produced sweet malted loaf that has only been around for about 100 years, pretty much an infant in the scope of breadmaking. The legend goes that the original source of the recipe was a Northern Irish housekeeper who accidentally used wheat that had gotten damp and sprouted, creating a malted wheat flour, and the bread that resulted was both sweet and nutty. I’m not sure if this legend is true, but it sounds like a good yarn, so who cares? I was first introduced to Veda by a pal who traveled to Ireland, fell in love with this packaged bread her Airbnb host had left her for breakfast toast, and smuggled some back in her suitcase. Because of the amount of sugars in the bread, it actually lasted a long time, but when she ran out, she discovered she could not get it here for love or money. So, I promised to try to hack it.
This was slightly easier said than done. While the internet has several versions of a malted loaf that seem to take their inspiration from Veda, they all seem to contain flours not available in the U.S., namely toasted barley malt flour and nut-brown barley malt flour. They are also all in U.K. measurements, and for those who don’t know, an Imperial teaspoon or tablespoon is not the same as ours.
I finally sourced flours that I felt were the right thing on the magical Amazon, buying a German dark malted barley flour from a company called Bäckerei Spiegelhauer to sub in for the nut-brown flour, and a Peruvian harina de machica toasted barley flour for the other, which I sourced at Zocalo.com. Armed with these, I set out to create a version of Veda, and now I share it with you. You will never get the super soft pillowy texture of any commercial bread at home, but this recipe makes two loaves of a nutty, slightly sweet bread that is delicious and worth seeking out the specialty flours to make. You only use a few teaspoons of each in the bread, so if you store the remainders in your freezer, you will be able to make this bread whenever you like for a good long time, so it is worth the initial investment. It is a fast, simple recipe that comes together easily in your stand mixer, and while you can halve the recipe for a single loaf, I recommend making two and freezing one for later.
Makes 2 loaves
- 2 lbs. white bread flour
- 3 tsp. toasted barley malt flour (harina de machica)
- 4 tsp. dark toasted barley malt flour
- 1 envelope commercial yeast
- 1 ½ tsp. salt
- 3 Tbsp. canola oil
- 2 Tbsp. barley malt extract syrup
- 3 Tbsp. molasses
- 2 cups warm water
Put all of the ingredients into your stand mixer, being sure to place the yeast on one side of the bowl and the salt on the other, since direct contact of salt and yeast will inhibit your rise. Mix with the dough hook on low speed until the dough has come together, and then on speed 2 for 5 minutes to knead. (You can also mix the dough by hand and knead for 10 minutes.) Put in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside somewhere warm and draft-free for an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Separate the dough ball into two equal portions, and one at a time, pat the dough out on a lightly oiled surface into a rectangle with your fingertips to knock the air out, then roll up into a tube, and place in a two-pound loaf pan, pressing it down into the corners to fill the tin evenly. Repeat with the second ball of dough in a second loaf pan, cover the loaves, and set to rise again for 30-40 minutes or until they have filled the pans and give a little jiggle when you shake them, like the gentle wobble of a good panna cotta. While they are rising the second time, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, or when a thermometer in the center of the bread reads 210 degrees. Cool in the loaf pans on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove and finish cooling on the rack until completely cooled, another 2-3 hours. If you cut into the bread while it’s still warm, you risk crushing the crumb.
Serve with plenty of good Irish butter, like Kerrygold. I love their lightly salted butter with this bread, because salty and sweet makes me happy, but you do what you like. Veda bread is great toasted and makes terrific French toast and bread pudding.
If you don’t need both loaves right away, wrap the second loaf, unsliced and fully cooled, in plastic wrap and then in foil, and put in a ziptop bag in the freezer. It will stay fine frozen for up to six months. To thaw, unwrap the loaf and leave it uncovered at room temperature for about 2 hours before serving.