BEnoch, from Gaelic Warranty, was a generic term for bread in the north and west of these islands, where there was a shortage of wheat and ovens. Although regional and historical variations abound (here you can find a recipe for the fruit cake known as Selkirk Bannock), these days, if you see Bannock on the menu, perhaps paired with a bowl of soup, or with sausage and bacon, perhaps it’s a quick flatbread. It’s not unlike a slightly crushed brownie, cooked on a hot griddle and on your plate in just minutes, ready to be filled with salty butter.
Baker (possibly partisan) James Morton describes bannock as “a Shetland staple, claimed by many Scottish cultures by name, but owned today by only one” — and I certainly have never enjoyed so many as I did on a recent trip to the kingdom The United States has most of its outposts in the north – but you don’t have to be at the same latitude as Greenland to appreciate Bannock’s mellow charm. Quick, thrifty, and endlessly versatile, in the winter when few of us are rushing to turn on the oven, bannock just might become your best friend.
When I say it’s versatile, I mean truly it means that. According to Regula Yesewine, bannocks were made “of barley, oats, and sometimes a proportion of rye—whatever was grown to harvest” in the northern climates too cold and too wet for wheat; In the course of my research, I find recipes that use all of these things and more. Ysewijn’s book, Oats in the North, Wheat from the South, recommends chickpea flour, which is probably easier for many of us to find these days than pea or primal flour, an ancient form of barley now grown in earnest only in Orkney and a handful of others. Places (but available for online purchase). Morton, who devotes half a chapter of his book Shetland to Bannocks, acknowledges that, until relatively recently, they could be made with “any kind of flour people could get their hands on”, but “nowadays refined wheat flour is the principal ingredient of choice, Because he’s the best. Honestly.”
Most modern recipes do indeed call for wheat flour and, if they are from Shetland, often express a strong preference for “Voe flour, a bleached white flour thick in bicarbonate” made in the village of the same name. For tradition’s sake, I’m trying a Ysewijn version, using one part wheat to four parts barley flour, and some small Aberdeenshire bananas from the Catherine Brown’s Broths to Bannocks range, which uses good oatmeal. The latter turns out to be something reminiscent of floppy oatmeal pancakes in crock-pots, which just goes to show that Bannox does indeed come in many forms, all delicious, but the flavor, like that of Ysewijn, is undoubtedly more complex and interesting than the whole-wheat versions. However, sometimes you just want something white and fluffy, so I’ve provided two options in the recipe below—one a good replacement for the standard roll, and one that’s more unique.
Whether pancakes, like scones, were leavened before bicarbonate of soda came onto the scene, as the Oxford Companion to Food claims, or whether it was a leavened dough, made with a little batter from a previous batch, as Ysewijn suggests, or whether it was Both methods have been used in different circumstances, these days, they are almost chemically bred. This makes sense—nothing that involves waiting for the yeast to do its work can fairly be described as “quickbread”—but, as Morton points out, “bicarb alone wouldn’t create an insufficient rise for all but the thickest lovers of bannock,” so most recipes use Also baking powder, which is often found in self-rising flour, and some even add cream of tartar as a good measure.
In fact, Scottish cookbook Sue Lawrence, who compiled her recipe from Isabelle Johnson From Fiddlen, Shetland, she uses self-rising flour, extra baking powder and cream of tartar, which gives her a delicious brownie-like texture that reminds me of North Eastern botanicals. However, for maximum puffiness, I’ll stick to self-rising flour and a little extra bicarb for rise, Morton recommends. If you only have plain flour, add three teaspoons of baking powder along with the bicarb.
Almost all bannock recipes call for buttermilk, which provides the acid the bicarb needs to work, and it tastes great too, unless it’s the Globby products sold as buttermilk in most British supermarkets these days, which is murky and annoying. . However, it will work just fine in a banana (in fact, you can use just milk and a dash of lemon juice or vinegar instead), but I recommend looking for the kind that is liquid enough to drink and tasty enough to make that worthwhile. Many small dairies produce and sell it online, and it can easily be found in Eastern European specialty food stores. Morton uses a mixture of half buttermilk, half whole milk, but as a devotee of the firm ex-tang, I’m going to do it on my own. I heed his advice that the lightest pancakes are made with the wetter batter, though – if you’re really struggling you can add more flour, but I recommend being brave and liberal with the flour on your work surface and the knife and hands making the dough easier to handle.
In further evidence of Bannock’s mercurial identity, some iterations stray into muffin territory, incorporating butter and even eggs – Peter Sinclair, whose superior bannock-making skills are confirmed by no less than a Shetland Times publication, uses buttermilk, butter, eggs and natural yogurt in his fluffy version Extremely. It’s just as lovely, but to me it lacks the slightly muscular charm of the simpler variety, though it does inspire me to add a pinch of sugar to balance out the bitterness of the becarb and the flavor of the curd. For a special occasion, I heartily recommend them.
Mixing and cooking
The usual warnings against overmixing are unhelpful here, insists Sinclair; In fact, he actually kneads it on the grounds that the last batch of Bannox, made from recycled scraps, is always better than the first. Although I endorse his great expertise in his own recipe, my simple dough is best handled as little as possible, mostly because it is so sticky that every touch involves copious amounts of flour.
Both Sinclair and Lawrence bake bannock, which gives them a crustier exterior and a more impressive rise, but unless you’re putting them in the oven anyway, it’s more economical to cook them on the stove – a flat, heavy griddle is ideal, but a sturdy skillet will do, As long as it’s well seasoned so the Banox doesn’t stick. As with the texture of the dough, the temperature of your pan on your stovetop is something you have to feel for yourself—watch the panox as it cooks, and be prepared to turn down the heat if you notice the flour is starting to burn (or, conversely, if it’s It still looks sticky in the middle, leave it for a little longer than the suggested cooking time). Don’t forget to crisp or brown the edges, too—something I don’t seem to mention in any of the recipes I try to mention, but what impressed me was Tracy Jeffery, who taught me to make Irish soda farls across the water at Co Down. Let it cool a bit on a rack before cutting it in two and adding lots of butter to it – it goes great with soup, stew, cheese, jam, or simply more butter. If double layer is good enough for Nigella, it’s good enough for me.
Bennox is perfect
to equip 5 minutes
cook 12 minutes
Make 4 big nooks
250g self-raising flourplus dust, or 150g oat/barley flour
Half a teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (or 1 teaspoon if using oatmeal/barley)
Half a teaspoon of fine salt
Half a teaspoon of sugar (my choice)
250 ml of yogurt (If you are using non-wheat flour, you may need more)
Put the flour in a bowl and stir in the bicarb, salt and sugar if using. Pour in the curd to make a soft dough: the mixture should be very sticky to roll together into a ball.
Note that different flours vary in absorbency, so if it seems too runny or too dry, adjust with a little more flour or milk as needed. Lightly flour a work surface and your hands, then turn the dough out and shape it into a round shape, about 2 cm thick.
Flour a knife and cut the circle into quarters (or into smaller triangles, if you prefer).
Place a heavy griddle or skillet over medium-low heat. Test the heat by sprinkling a little flour on it. If it browns slowly, the pan is ready; If the flour burns, you will need to lower the heat. Carefully lift the banana pieces into the skillet, spacing them as far apart as possible, and let them cook for about five minutes, watching the color of the flour underneath and reducing the heat if necessary.
Carefully flip the bananas—the base should be brown, not black—and cook on the other side for another five minutes, or until they’re just tender. Stand each bannock on its edges to brown the sides.
Place on a wire rack to cool slightly, then serve with plenty of good butter.
Is Bennox really your choice of fast carb – and if so, how do you make it, and can anyone tell me more about the Canadian version? What other types of quick bread would you recommend to bakers trying to reduce their energy use?