Here's a nubby whole-wheat quick bread with whisky butter
I have been searching for this recipe for years. Early in my career, I worked with a girl who was originally from Ireland. Most weeks, she would make wheaten bread and bring it to the office with a stick of soft butter. I fell in love with it. It was so satisfying, a nubby whole-wheat quick bread made in a loaf pan, sliced thick and slathered with smooth butter. You could taste the baking soda, but that wasn't a bad thing, it gave it character. I begged for the recipe, but she wouldn't give it up. As the years went by, I would think of it occasionally and Google "wheaten bread" but none of them seemed to match my taste experience.
And then, several weeks ago, I was at a dinner in Scotland at a historic East Highlands single-malt distillery. When the bread basket was passed to me, I spied the same "wheaten bread" that I had enjoyed many years ago. After I eagerly ate a slice, I brought a piece into the kitchen to ask the cook if she had the recipe. I was so excited, my search seemed to be over. But as it turned out, it was made at a local family bakery and I was leaving before they opened in the morning. So close, and yet this bread was still out of my reach!
But now that I had this bread on my brain, I couldn't shake it. As soon as I returned home, I started deconstructing it. I knew that it was a quick bread -- the baking soda flavor confirmed this. I knew that it had to be fast and easy because my work friend was not a cook nor a baker and this bread was delicious and the same every week that she brought it in. I was introduced to Scottish porridge on my trip and it is much finer ground than our oatmeal. I thought that this could be the nubbiness in the crumb of the otherwise soft loaf.
Armed with a new understanding of the ingredients, I went to the grocery store and bought Scottish oatmeal, conveniently sold in the U.S.A. by Bob's Red Mill, and two kinds of whole wheat flour; the hard-white whole-wheat flour -- sometimes sold as whole-wheat pastry flour -- and the whole-grain hard red spring wheat flour. It's important to read the ingredient label because these two whole-wheat flours yield very different results.
I baked my first loaf with the whole-grain hard red spring wheat flour and though it was tasty, it was very dense and a little dry and didn't have the soft crumb that I remembered. It would be very good toasted for open-face sandwiches of smoked salmon, pate, liverwurst and even avocados. But the bread that I had in mind was more delicate and I had already decided to top it with a sweet scotch butter.
I made my next loaf with the hard-white whole-wheat flour and added melted butter for flavor and to make the loaf more tender. The result was a perfectly soft, well-risen loaf that stayed moist even after it was completely cool. I can't believe it but after all of these years, I now have a recipe for wheaten bread that satisfies both my taste memory of years past, and that of a few weeks ago in Scotland.
Because I rediscovered this bread while I was in Scotland learning about Scotch whisky, I decided to create a butter for my bread that had the distinctive flavors of another distillery that I visited. The Oban distillery is a small single-malt whisky maker nestled in the middle of a bustling fishing village of the same name. The key flavors of their coastal West Highlands whisky are smoky, sea salt, orange and honey -- the perfect "recipe" for my Sweet Scotch Whisky Butter.
As my second loaf baked, I stirred together soft sweet butter, orange marmalade, honey, a generous pinch of Maldon sea salt and a splash of Scotch whisky. I spooned the butter on to waxed paper and rolled it in a log to chill. The beauty of making a compound butter with whisky is that when the butter melts, the small drops of the pure Scotch whisky open up and compliment the other ingredients with a distinct depth of flavor.
You can serve this bread spread thick with the butter for dinner, as a snack with a cup of tea or even in small squares to accompany a dram of your favorite whisky.
• Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pitmaster at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including "Taming the Flame."