Back in June we spent a few days in Ireland. It was rather cold and sometimes wet (in Dublin, a taxi driver told us: “In Ireland, we have three types of weather: it rained, it’s raining, it will rain.”) But we must have slipped blithely between drops because I don’t remember much rain at all. What I do remember is how gorgeous and dreamy the landscape was and how I would have loved to stay longer. As it was, we stayed long enough to want to go back…
We mostly explored the west coast. And before heading back to Dublin on our way home, we spent two nights in Galway…
…where I paid a visit to baker Jimmy Griffin of Griffins Bakery. Even though I had dropped in unannounced, Jimmy was most welcoming. He gave me a tour of the bakery, showed me his famous conger bread (more on this in a minute), and gave me a bag of Irish seaweed flakes to take home and try in my own baking.
Seaweed flakes are supposed to improve the vitamin and mineral content of baked goods, thus boosting nutrition. It is literally food from the sea and it can be mixed as is in any bread dough. Jimmy’s seaweed bread is quite popular. He gave us a pre-sliced loaf for the afternoon cross-country drive. Intriguing and pleasant, the taste of the sea was barely perceptible, more like a hint. It was quite lovely.
Jimmy Griffin isn’t only an accomplished baker, he is also an avid scuba diver who once had a deep sea encounter that nearly ended his life. Fortunately he survived to tell the tale and to create his signature bread, a monstrous conger loaf.
Hats off to Jimmy for his presence of mind, his courage, his sense of humor and his creativity!
Back home the size of my oven doesn’t allow me to make a conger bread, so I made a round loaf instead. I didn’t have any particular formula in mind but I always try to use some percentage of freshly milled flour since I have a nice selection of wheat berries on hand. For this bread I chose Edison white wheat which I source from Camas Country Mill in Oregon. Edison wheat has a mild flavor which I knew wouldn’t overpower that of the seaweed.
Percentage-wise, Jimmy said to go for 2% of seaweed (in bakers’ percentage, that is) and to up the hydration by 6%. My starter is 30% whole-grain. I decided to use 50% all-purpose flour and 50% freshly milled unsifted wholegrain flour in the final dough. Water percentage is given as an indication. It varies with different flours. It is actually way more fun to learn to adjust hydration as you go relying on the feel of the dough than to blindly apply a formula.
This dough was hand-mixed with two folds at 45 minutes intervals. Dough temperature after mixing was 77°F.
- Mix flours and seaweed flakes
- Autolyse: 30 min with liquid starter
- Add salt
- Mix by hand
- Two folds at 45 min intervals
- Ferment 5 hours at room temp (or until your finger can make an indent in the dough when you press it lightly)
- Shape in a boule
- Put in floured basket and cover with plastic bag, making sure the loaf has room to rise
- Proof in the fridge overnight
- If necessary, finish proofing on counter
- Stencil and score as desired
- Bake in 475°F oven with steam
- After 10 minutes, decrease temperature to 450°F and bake 30 minutes longer
- Cool on a rack.
The baking was maybe a tad bold (my oven always surprises me) and the stenciled reindeer certainly turned a bit darker than intended but there is no burned taste. Just the awesome flavors of wheat and seagrass. My favorite kind of surf and turf for sure. Thank you, Jimmy!
Now I need to find a source of seaweed flakes here in California. Which shouldn’t be too hard. We have the coast and we have the seaweed. Hopefully someone is harvesting it.
Happy holidays, everyone!