Monday, March 10, 2008

Soda Bread

This is the real thing too. To be fully appreciated you make it the day before it is served. That gives the bread a chance to calm and settle in both flavor and texture.

This is the recipe from my aunt in Ireland. It's what she serves. The additions and variations that I go into at the back end of it come from all over. Even Liverpool, the Irish colony in Britain.


3 1/2 cups cake flour (the finer grind helps with the texture)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt (kosher or sea salt)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450°

Sift the dry ingredients together at least 3 times. You have to achieve an even distribution of the soda. It's critical. Place the sifted batch into a large mixing bowl (leave yourself plenty of stirring room, you won't have time later to be delicate) and form a depression in the middle of the dry stuff. Pour 3/4s of the buttermilk into the depression and begin to stir briskly. You want a dough that is very soft and raggy. With the rags and lumps being very squishy. You want to feel that if you added another glop of liquid you might have a batter. Add the remaining liquid sparingly. If you over add liquid don't be afraid to toss a handfull of flour into it. It's fucking Soda Bread, not rocket science.

Speed however, is important here. The chemical reaction of the soda and the buttermilk has begun and you want this puppy in the oven while it is still churning internally. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it quickly. We aren't looking for the traditional smooth and elastic ball of dough. What we want is a mostly cohesive lump of sog that will contain the bulk of the ingredients. That's all.

Shape it into a slightly domed hemisphere of about 6 to 8" round. Use a very sharp knife to cut a 3" cross in the top. Use a very sharp knife because you do not want to squish or compress any of the lovely CO2 bubbles which are forming madly away inside your ball of goo. Gently transfer this to a lightly floured baking sheet (corn meal makes for a great sheet duster too) and carefully put it into the middle rack of the oven. We take care at this part because the CO2 bubbles are very vulnerable at this point. We want them to be there so we are going to be gentle, aren't we?

Bake at 450° for 10 minutes, then without opening the oven, reduce the temperature to 400°. Bake at 400° for another 30 minutes.

To check your loaf for doneness thunk it sharply with your finger. If it sounds hollow, it's done. For a crusty, crunchy loaf (my favorite), cool it on a rack. For a softer crust wrap immediately in a cheesecloth.

This is one of the ultimate breadsops ever invented. It will clean every drop of broth from a soup or stock from a stew. It's murder on gravy.

Spotted Dog

Is simply soda bread with a handfull of raisins added at the kneading. If you must, you can also add a teaspoon of sugar. I don't, but it's been done. This is more of a teabread.

Treacle Bread

2 tablespoons dark molasses
1 cup buttermilk
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
healthy pinch of ground ginger

The directions for treacle bread are the same. Remember Speed Saves This. Don't lollygag or dally. Turn to and turn it out. It will be great.

big brass blog


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A common substitution for buttermilk is regular milk (forget how much & that'll be crucial, of course) plus an acidic liquid such as lemon juice. While the flavor might be slightly different, do you think the substitution would work from a mechanics perspective?

6:24 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

you could use regular milk, adding about a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar, but buttermilk works best. i use Knudsen® because it is a churned rather than a cultured buttermilk.

buttermilk is also the best choice on McCann's Irish Oatmeal of a morning.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Sherry Pasquarello said...

thanks much. i'm saving this. : )

8:49 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I like your recipe style, MB. Kind of a "combat-humouring" approach.

I do see a cookbook in the future, drawing from your many influences, including jungle cuisine (tinned goods + spices). . . The next Emeril?

9:22 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

using the old 'c' and 'k' rats i always kept little bags of things like garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, cayenne, powdered milk, salt (a precious, precious commodity in the jungle) and pepper. they could turn a can of potted beef into a reasonable (reasonable for the jungle) beef stroganoff. although i also had a reputation for 'eating gook'. i could travel days and miles on fish heads and rice, just like nate and charlie. i doubt they had the dexamil though.

9:41 AM  
Blogger BadTux said...

Okay, so if I'm understanding you correctly, make this the day *before* making the Irish stew. So, maybe, make this on Friday evening, then the Irish stew the next morning.

Must... go... find mop... to mop up drool...

10:35 AM  
Blogger Sherry Pasquarello said...

i couldn't stand it. i have it baking as i type, but it's not going to wait til tomorrow. i haven't that much patience with fresh bread, or chocolate.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I was going to ask about the buttermilk you use. The stuff in the stores here is awful. I read the label after some cornbread did not turn out well. I just ordered some buttermilk culture and will try it out. Of course, the biggest challenge, as with cheese making, is to get the right milk.

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The soda bread i've been eating for 30 years is made with whole milk (rather than buttermilk) and has an addition. Raisins, and a light sprinling of sugar on the top.

I'm just glad you don't use caraway seeds (blech!)


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