Simon Pearce is probably our favorite restaurant in the country — everything we’ve had there is just so scrumptious. We no longer go there very often, at least since we’ve moved across the country, but the memories of their food are vivid, and we plan on refreshing those memories this June when we head back to New England for a niece’s wedding.
One of our favorite parts about dining at Simon Pearce is the small breads they bring out when you are seated: Ballymaloe Brown Bread and Rory’s Scones. Now, we know that we’ll never match those made at the restaurant — for the Brown Bread the restaurant imports a wholemeal flour from Ireland — but we try.
Our recipe is identical to the one provided on the Simon Pearce website, except we don’t use the same flour. We happened to use King Arthur Whole Wheat flour, which works pretty well. The flavor is very similar, but the texture of the bread is way off — King Arthur whole wheat is ground too finely — so we are looking for other flours to try. As an aside, we now have at least six different types of flour in our pantry — we like to bake.
As mentioned above, this bread is all about the flour. Simon Pearce goes to the trouble of importing Irish wholemeal flour, and, having had their version of Balllymaloe Brown Bread, it is worth it. If you’re looking for an appropriate flour, try to find one that is coarsely ground from a softer wheat. King Arthur flour makes a specialty Irish wholemeal flour that looks like a good candidate, but it is only available via mail-order.
Butter two 9x5x3 inch loaf pans.
Mix yeast and molasses. In a quart or larger bowl, mix together the dry yeast and molasses. We used a large measuring cup with a pour spout that worked perfectly.
Add water. Add the warm water to the yeast molasses mixture and whisk to combine. The yeast may not all dissolve, but wait a minute and whisk again. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Mix flour and salt. In a large (4 quart) bowl mix together the flour and salt.
Wait. Now wait until the yeast mixture becomes foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add yeast mixture. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture.
Mix. Working with your hands, mix the flour and yeast mixture together until you have a sticky batter. You don’t want to develop the gluten, so try to mix lightly and stop once everything is combined.
Fill pans. Divide the dough between the two prepared loaf pans, and let sit uncovered until the dough rises to the top of the pans, about 20 minutes.
Bake. Place the loaves in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Reduce temperature. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F, rotate the pans to ensure even baking, and bake another 20 minutes.
Remove from pans. Remove the loaves from the pans, and place back in the oven upside-down directly on the rack, and bake an additional 25 minutes.
Cool. Remove the loaves from the oven and let cool.
Slice and serve. Slice this bread thin, about 1/4-inch, and serve plain or with butter.
Until we find a more appropriate whole wheat flour, we have to give the version made with King Arthur whole wheat flour only four stars. The flavor is there, but the texture is wrong; that’s due to the fineness to which flours are ground here in the US. It seems as though we, as a people, don’t want to recognize that our bread is made from wheat, a crunchy, chewy grain bursting with flavor, but instead want something soft and pasty that we could eat without teeth, if necessary. And that is a shame, because really great breads are meals in themselves.