And then, a few 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 re-discovered 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.
WHEATEN BREAD WITH SWEET SCOTCH WHISKY BUTTER
The mix of the sweet butter, coarse salt, whisky, honey and orange marmalade on warm homemade Wheaten bread is a perfect pairing and conjures up images of Scotland_this would be a great snack for "Outlander" fans!
Servings: 10 (makes 1 loaf, about 10 slices)
Start to finish: 1 hour, 15 minutes (20 minutes active)
1 1/2 cups hard white whole-wheat flour sometimes sold as whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2cup Scottish oats, such as the one sold by Bob's Red Mill
2 teaspoons Sugar in the Raw
1/2teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (reserve rest of stick of butter for Sweet Scotch Whisky Butter)
1 cup buttermilk
Sweet Scotch Whisky Butter (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Lightly butter a standard (1 pound) loaf pan. Dust with a tablespoon of flour and set aside.
Measure the flour, oats, sugar, salt and baking soda and place in the bottom of a large bowl. Whisk to combine all the dry ingredients.
In another bowl, beat the egg, add the melted butter and mix well. Whisk in the buttermilk and mix until well combined and creamy. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together until everything is well-combined. The texture of the batter will be very thick.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and level it. You may have to carefully drop it on the counter to make it level. Score a line down the middle with a knife to make sure that the loaf bakes evenly.
Place the loaf pan on a sheet pan and place in the center of the oven. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until the loaf is done. It will pull away from the sides of the pan and sound hollow when you tap it. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack.
Eat immediately with lots of the Sweet Scotch Whisky Butter. The bread is best eaten fresh on the first or second day, or frozen. It is also good toasted.
Sweet Scotch Whisky Butter:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
2 generous teaspoons best-quality orange marmalade
2 generous teaspoons favorite Scotch whisky such as Oban 14-year old
1 generous teaspoon honey, preferably creamed or whipped
Pinch of Maldon sea salt, about 1/8th teaspoon
Make butter at least 2 hours in advance. Mash or stir butter until it is smooth and slightly fluffy. Add marmalade and mix until smooth; set aside. Mix together scotch whisky and honey until it is well mixed. Add scotch-honey paste to butter and mix together, mashing with the back of a fork to make sure all the ingredients are incorporated. Add salt and mix well. Taste for seasoning.
Chef's Note: Don't be concerned if the butter seems loose. The extra liquid from the whisky and the other ingredients will change the texture of the butter, but once it is rolled and chilled, you won't notice it.
Place on a piece of waxed paper and roll into a log. Twist the ends and chill in the refrigerator for 60 minutes or until firm enough to cut into slices.
Will last in the refrigerator completely covered for a week.
Nutrition information per serving: 202 calories; 97 calories from fat; 11 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 48 mg cholesterol; 286 mg sodium; 22 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 4 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer www.CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including "Taming the Flame."