Sunday, April 9, 2017

Soda bread

I love long-fermented sourdough bread and breads that take hours or even days to prepare and develop flavor. I love making all kinds of sweet, yeasted breads like Greek tsoureki and French brioche, and even my doughnuts get a long overnight proofing in the fridge. But I don’t always have time for that, no matter how delicious and enjoyable the outcome.

There’s something to be said about a bread that takes only an hour from start to finish, a bread that has a beautifully crunchy, hard crust and a soft and fluffy, closed crumb. With a nutty flavor from the whole wheat flour, a sharp edge from the buttermilk and a subtle, bitter tang from the baking soda, it’s a delicious bread that is hearty and light at the same time, but don’t expect it to be like a yeasted bread, because it’s not. It’s a different animal; it’s the Irish soda bread.

The most common kind of soda bread in Ireland is made only with whole wheat flour, that’s why they call it simply brown bread or wheaten bread, but the addition of white flour brings a lightness to it that is rather welcomed.

For me, it’s the kind of bread that I would make on a Sunday morning to promptly have for breakfast or brunch, slathered while still steaming hot from the oven with the best butter I can find. Or use it to make a nice hearty sandwich with a few slices of ham or salami, good fatty cheese like Emmental, Gruyère or Cheddar, or go the Greek route and serve it with some feta, olives and juicy tomatoes, especially if I make it in the summer.

Hope you enjoy it too!

Soda bread

It’s the easiest and quickest bread to make when you’re pressed for time or when you simply don’t want to spend the whole day tending to your bread dough. It takes no more than a minute to put together, which means no kneading at all is required, and takes 45-50 minutes to bake. Within the hour, you have bread!

This quick bread is made without yeast and the leavening agent is only the baking soda, so how fresh your baking soda is, makes a difference in the resulting texture and flavor of the bread. I would suggest that you use a freshly opened package, because baking soda tends to get stale and less active easily and sometimes, even if it is still active and your bread rises, it may give off a strong and weird smell and taste.

Yield: 1 loaf (750- 800 g)

250 g all-purpose flour
250 g whole wheat flour
1 level tsp baking soda, sieved (to avoid lumps that won’t break and will cause an unpleasant flavor in places inside the bread)
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp caster sugar
420 ml buttermilk
Whole-wheat flour for dusting the dough and baking surface

Special equipment: fine sieve, wire whisk, baking sheet, baking paper

Preheat your oven to 200°C.
Line a baking sheet with baking paper and dust with plenty of flour the center where you’re going to place the bread dough.

In a large bowl, add the flours and the sieved baking soda, and whisk. Add the salt and sugar, and whisk again. Make a well in the center with your fingers and pour in the buttermilk. Mix with your hands to moisten the flour for a few seconds with the buttermilk and empty the sticky dough on a clean and lightly floured work surface. Gently fold and roll the dough a couple of times to bring the mixture together and shape it roughly into a ball (you can use a dough scraper if you like). Don’t knead or fuss with the dough, just bring it together and form a ball. This whole process of making the dough will not take more than 1 minute.

Transfer the dough onto the floured baking paper, flatten the top gently with the palm of your hand and cut with a long knife the dough ball into four, almost all the way down. You do this in order to ensure that the inside of the bread will bake properly. Dust the bread with plenty of flour and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven.
Bake the bread for 45-50 minutes, until it has taken on a nice and rich, dark, golden-brown color (perhaps even darker than you would think it should have). It should also sound hollow when tapped at the bottom.

Take it out of the oven and put it on a wire rack to cool slightly.

Eat it while still warm with plenty of butter, use it to mop up the juices of your favorite stew, soup, braise or salad, have it for breakfast with your desired toppings, or have it plain.
It’s best eaten the day you bake it but it keeps well the next day.

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