Thursday, August 28, 2008

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” -James Beard

I love bread, and I love baking breads of all kinds. Of course, I love eating delicious bread, that goes without saying, but baking bread is a whole experience. It's getting your hands dirty, and being a part of the bread when you knead it, and the smell it imparts on your kitchen, is nothing short of heaven.

Unfortunately, many good cooks find bread making elusive. While it is an art, it is also an exact science. If you add too much or too little of this or that, it may result in disaster. Whereas with cooking a stew, you add what suits you, or what you think it needs. A luxury not afforded to the baker.

Well, I'm here to say give it a try! Once you get good at it and find a recipe you like, you may be like a friend of mine who bakes 6 loaves of Italian bread at once and freezes what she won't use within a few days.

Irish soda bread is a good bread to try if you've never baked bread. The recipe is simple and straightforward, even a child could manage it. It has no yeast, and unlike most breads, once you get the ingredients together, you bake it right away, there's no waiting. The breads crust is coarse and firm, the inside is dense and moist. It lends itself particularly well to mopping up a stew, or simply toasted with butter.

Here's a recipe I use. (Most recipes call for buttermilk, I prefer using yogurt.

Irish Soda Bread

This recipe makes 1 loaf a little over a pound and a half
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons cold butter cut into small pieces
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup oats. Quick or Old fashioned, not instant
  • 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
  • Milk if needed
1. Preheat oven to 375. In a bowl mix all purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter until fine crumbs form. Stir in whole wheat and oats.

2. Add yogurt, stir gently. If mixture is too dry to hold together, stir in milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, just until dough holds together. It should not be sticky

.3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured board and knead gently 5 times to make a ball. Set onto lightly greased baking sheet, or baking sheet lined with a Silpat liner, or parchment paper.Pat dough into a 7 inch circle. With a knife cut a large x on top of loaf

.4. Bake in 375 degree oven until well browned, about 45 minutes.Cool on a rack.

"[Breadbaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells...there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread."M. F. K. Fisher, The Art of Eating