While I was making this loaf, Mr Gander looked over my shoulder and made really helpful comments like ‘that’s not bread, it’s just a bowl of seeds’. And at Christmas lunch, he passed slices of the loaf to guests with the enticing words: ‘try some Bird Seed Bread? It’ll make you chirpy.’ So we and some of the family now know this as ‘bird seed bread’. Thanks Mr G….
(He will make an excellent eccentric uncle one day.)
Nonetheless, the bread was a hit with everyone, both on Christmas day and when I made it again a couple of days later.
And no wonder. It was golden with lightly toasted nuts and seeds on the outside, and slightly softer, just pleasantly crumbly, on the inside. It is dense and unexpectedly heavy (not unlike pumpernickel, real pumpernickel), and gently prompts you to eat slowly, mindfully, and enjoy the textures and flavours along the way.
While it went well with dinner, I actually preferred having the slices for breakfast, toasted and dolloped with some good quality ricotta.
And why accidental healthiness? Because it’s one of those things that tastes really good, and also happens to be pretty good for you (it’s gluten-free, optionally vegan, possibly paleo, has apparently taken Denmark by storm, and was still devoured by a household that likes its traditional meat and three veg with lots of butter, ta). The bread held its own during the decadence of December, and still shines during the relative austerity of January. I can say those three words – good for you – without overtone of penance.
So, what goes into bird seed bread?
It uses loads of seeds, nuts, rolled oats, a small amount of sugar (or substitute) and coconut butter (or similar), and three ingredients that does magical things when soaked in water to bind it together: chia seeds, flax seeds, and psyllium husks.
The instructions couldn’t be simpler: mix all ingredients with water, leave mixture to soak in a loaf pan until it becomes a solid block. Bake for about 60 minutes. Slice, (toast) and eat.
This recipe comes from Sarah Britton of My New Roots. I can’t remember how I stumbled on her recipe, but from the moment I read this introduction, I wanted to make the loaf:
“When I walked into her apartment I could smell it. Something malty and definitely baked, toasty, nutty…when I rounded the corner to her kitchen, there it was. A very beautiful loaf of bread, pretty as a picture, studded with sunflower seeds, chia and almonds, golden around the corners and begging me to slice into it.”
Make-ahead mixture: I wanted to make this in a holiday beach house, so I measured out the dry ingredients and mixed them together in a jar. Once I got to the beach, I simply added the wet ingredients and water. It’s like my box-mix brownies.
Ingredient substitutions: I made a few based on what was in our pantry —
Nuts & seeds: The recipe says to substitute like for like, so nuts for nuts, seeds for seeds. You could also try subbing a small amount of dried fruit or chopped dark chocolate. Two seeds I would try in small quantities at first are sesame seeds and pine nuts. because they both have quite strong flavours and could overwhelm the whole loaf.
Sugar: I used honey instead of maple syrup. I think other sugars, like coconut sugar or palm sugar, would probably work and would also add a caramel-ish undertone?
Oils: there was no coconut oil or ghee in the house, so I used a mixture of melted butter and olive oil instead. If you are worried about heating olive oil to a high temperature in the oven, you could probably use another oil with a higher smoking point – like peanut oil.
Chia, flax and psyllium: don’t sub these. I think they all become kind of gel-like when soaked in water (at least chia seeds and psyllium husks do), and help to bind the bread together. Another recipe uses eggwhite as a binding agent, so you might be able to get away with less of these ingredients.
Loaf pan: Sarah B recommends using a silicon pan. I used a non-stick metal pan with good results, and have included instructions for using a metal pan below.
Without further ado, here’s the bird seed bread that has apparently taken Denmark and our little corner of Australia by storm.
Bird seed bread, previously known as life changing loaf of bread
(from Sarah B’s My New Roots)
1 cup / 135g sunflower seeds
1/2 cup / 90g flax seeds (sometimes sold as linseed in Australia)
1/2 cup / 65g hazelnuts or almonds
1 1/2 cups / 145g rolled oats
2 tbsp chia seeds
4 tbsp psyllium seed husks (3 Tbsp. if using psyllium husk powder)
1 tsp fine grain sea salt (I just added a fat pinch of coarse sea salt)
1 tbsp maple syrup or honey (for sugar-free diets, use a pinch of stevia; also try shaved coconut sugar or palm sugar)
3 tbsp melted coconut oil or ghee (or a mixture of melted butter and a neutral flavoured vegetable oil)
1 1/2 cups / 350ml water
1. If using a metal loaf pan, grease the loaf pan. You can also line the loaf pan with baking paper, but if you do, mix the ingredients (step 2) in another bowl, not in the pan.
2. If not using a paper-lined loaf pan, combine all dry ingredients in your silicon or metal loaf pan, stir well. Whisk maple syrup/honey, oil and water together in a measuring cup (because you’ll use the cup to measure water). Add this to the dry ingredients and mix very well until everything is completely soaked and dough becomes very thick (if the dough is too thick to stir, add one or two teaspoons of water until the dough is manageable). Smooth out the top with the back of a spoon or spatula. Let sit out on the counter for at least 2 hours, or all day or overnight.
3. To check if the dough is ready: if using a silicon pan, the loaf should retain its shape even when you pull the sides of the loaf pan away from it it; if using a metal pan, gently press the top of the loaf with your finger (or a spoon), it should feel solid and not leave a dent, kinda like pressing on a soft cookie…
4. Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C.
5. Place loaf pan in the oven on the middle rack, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove bread from loaf pan, place it upside down directly on the rack and bake for another 30-40 minutes (note, I didn’t bother removing the bread from the pan, and it was fine, it may have been because I was using a non-stick metal pan which browns things more easily). Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool completely.
Store bread in a tightly sealed container for up to five days. Freezes well (slice before freezing).