Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bread that is not only delicious, but easy and versatile!

We all know I'm in love with my Irish heritage. If you don't here it is: I'M OBSESSED WITH BEING IRISH. Hopefully you get the picture. The food, music, BEER, culture, people, I love it all. One thing I love about Irish cuisine is that be it traditional or modern, it's relatively easy. So Sunday night, we had a bit of an Irish feast. And whenever we cook Irish food, we have to bake some Irish bread! I've been raised on a savory/sweet Irish soda bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins. This is not the traditional bread, but it's tradition in my family and supposedly tastes just like how my Great Grandma used to make it. And she's directly from Ireland, so it must be good.

There are what seems like millions of recipes for soda bread. It's easy to get lost in the mix, but I have found the easiest that also is versatile. You can switch it up a bit and make it savoury for dinner or sweet for a good afternoon snack with tea. No matter how I make it, one loaf lasts less than 24 hours and is a big request. I got it from Darina Allen's book Irish Traditional Cooking. If you have any interest in traditional Irish cooking, I highly suggest this book. But back to the bread. Like I said it is sooooo easy. Four ingredients. That's it. And you can easily switch it up as needed. I added cardamom, since that was a featured ingredient in my dinner, but I've done it sweet with cinnamon and then a simple egg wash on top with some sugar crystals. You can easily substitute in some whole wheat pastry flour (I do have a really good brown bread recipe like this) or add an egg in and just do a little less buttermilk or based on another recipe, I imagine stirring in a little honey would be good too. It's hard to mess this recipe up.

White Soda Bread
(adapted from Darina Allen)

4 cups flour
(1 tbls cardamom)s
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1) Preheat oven to 450*.
2) Sieve dry ingredients into a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, stir in a full circle to mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more buttermilk if neccessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky.
3) When it all comes together, turn it out on to a floured board and knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up. (It honestly takes about two seconds to do this, don't overwork the dough.)
4) Pat the dough into a round about 2 inches deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out. Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this.
5) Bake for 15 minutes, then turn down the over to 400* for a further 20 to 30 minutes or until cooked. THe best way to check is to tap the bottom of the bread; it should sound hollow.
6) Cool on a wire rack and enjoy! (If you prefer a softer crust, wrap a clean tea towel around the bread as it cools.)

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