What Is Treacle Bread?

Eugene P.

"Treacle bread" can be any one of a number of different flour-based breads that use the molasses-like syrup known as treacle as a flavoring and sweetener. There are recipes for treacle bread in Irish cuisine that are very similar to soda bread. Other recipes use treacle in conjunction with ingredients such as brown sugar and cream to create a sweet, somewhat heavy loaf of risen bread. One ingredient found in a large number of treacle bread recipes is ginger, because its sharp, distinctive taste accents the deeper, richer treacle flavor. The texture that using a certain amount of treacle imparts on bread is another reason why it is sometimes used, giving otherwise hard or dry breads a slightly softer, chewier texture.

Black treacle, which is used in making treacle bread.
Black treacle, which is used in making treacle bread.

The use of treacle as a sweetener in treacle bread originated mostly from a lack of other types of sweeteners. Before refined white sugar became relatively inexpensive and widely available, sweetening bread in some areas was limited to the use of molasses, honey or other natural syrups. When compared to refined white sugar, treacle has a fairly mild amount of sweetness, and many recipes have evolved over time to include both sugar and treacle to increase the sweetness of the bread so it is more in line with the expectations of how sweet baked bread should taste.

Baking soda is commonly used to make treacle bread.
Baking soda is commonly used to make treacle bread.

Treacle is almost never added to bread dough without first being heated a little and then mixed with another liquid. Most often, milk or cream is employed as the liquid used to help integrate the thick syrup into the dry flour and other ingredients, although water or even dark beer also can be used, depending on the recipe. One reason why this frequently is necessary is that the thickness of treacle can easily cause flour to clump together and make mixing or kneading the bread dough very difficult, if not impossible. It also should be noted that the amount of treacle usually added to treacle bread generally is not enough to serve as the recipe's primary liquid, meaning another liquid also is needed to help distribute the small amount of treacle evenly through the dough.

A very basic, traditional recipe for treacle bread that is similar to Irish soda bread involves first mixing the treacle with milk. This liquid is then added to a mixture of sugar, flour, baking soda and a small amount of ginger. The dough is mixed together, kneaded until it achieves the desired texture and then baked. The resulting loaf is sweet with a deep, molasses-like flavor that is cut by the taste of ginger.

Other types of treacle bread resemble standard flour-based white breads with a small amount of treacle added to the dough. The resulting loaf is sweet, so it is not uncommon to find walnuts, almond or pecans baked into the bread. Dried fruits such as raisins, cranberries and dates also can be included to complement the sweetness of the bread.

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