Thursday, January 24, 2013

Not a baker you say? Try Irish Soda Bread!

I love homemade breads, but they can really be a pain.
A hard truth I’ve had to swallow is that high-quality bread is very expensive in the United States. Of course, when I’m met with a challenge like that, I jump straight to the recipe vault and try to create my own version.
I like to know where the ingredients of my food come from and how they are being prepared. Thus, I put myself through making things like hot sauce, jam, breads, crackers, etc. and find that they are much easier than I initially thought.
This particular bread also has some significance in Louisville, where the Irish are a part of our city’s history. The neighborhood Irish Hill was named for its original inhabitants of Irish (and German) Catholics who built up the working-class neighborhood as immigrants to Louisville in the late 1800s.
Today we see most of that Irish background in names and places, such as the Irish Rover on Frankfort Ave or what I like to call the Celtic Quarter on Bardstown Road where Molly’s, O’Sheas, and Flannagans entertain the Highlands on the weekends. Don’t get me started on the St. Patrick’s Day Parade … man, this city is awesome.
I digress … the homemade bread we are making today does have roots in that emerald island across the Atlantic, but it is also a very sensible bread to make at home. The ingredients are simple, easy to find, very affordable, and easily manipulated. The dough is soft and pleasant without requiring much kneading or beating or slapping or resting like most breads do.
This bread provides a dense loaf that saves well through the week. Plus, if you happen to find it a little stale, all you have to do is add some butter to a pan, warm it up and toast it in the pan with butter until revived. I don’t know if you’ve ever made bread at home, but if you spent 12 hours making 4 loaves and you found three of them stale the next day, you would probably be a little discouraged (I'm talking to you Homemade French Bread). Our dear soda bread nips that problem in the bud.
It makes a fantastic accompaniment to eggs, a good snack with apple butter, and of course the perfect companion for afternoon tea. So, get that dutch oven or iron skillet out and let’s get baking!
  • White Soda Bread
4 C All purpose flour
1 t Baking soda
1 t Salt
14 oz. Buttermilk

That is really all you need to make delicious bread.
If you don’t happen to have buttermilk and don’t feel like weathering the storm to get to your local supermarket, you can actually curdle your own milk with either lemon juice or vinegar. A tablespoon and a half in 14oz. of milk should make the milk curdle; you will see it separate and thicken after about 5 minutes. Stir it up and you’re ready to go.
Of course, actual buttermilk is the best … and because we have access to it, that’s what I recommend.
I cooked this in my iron skillet because it is non-stick and provides an even cooking surface for the bread. A greased and floured cake pan would work. Traditionally, it is cooked with a cover on (such as in a dutch oven), but I cooked mine without a cover and it turned out beautifully.
Preheat your oven to 425º
Sift all of the dry ingredients into a bowl and combine. Create a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the buttermilk. Mix to combine into a sticky dough and lightly knead with floured hands, adding a bit of flour to make the dough more manageable. Do not over-knead because you will lose the gasses necessary to make the bread rise.
Form the dough into a round flat shape and cut a cross into the top of the dough and put it in the oven. After 30-40 minutes you should have a golden loaf bursting forth from your happy iron skillet or baking vessel.
However, you can’t get too excited because the loaf needs to rest. Technically, you are supposed to wait until the loaf is completely cooled, but seriously, who can do that? I cool it on a wire rack until I can handle it without discomfort. If you cut it too soon, the inside won’t be so spongey when you steal yourself a slice. It’s okay though, even if you are impatient, slather some butter on that happy warm piece of heaven and you’ll be content, I promise.
Wrap it in a tea towel to keep it moist. I found that wrapping it in foil and a tea towel lengthens the life of the bread. Enjoy warm with a hot cup of tea or cocoa on these winter nights. It is great to have around the house for pop-in guests at this time of year. There’s nothing better than sitting down to share tea or coffee with fresh homemade bread.
I hope you enjoy!

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