Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Crusty Irish soda bread



Nothing beats the smell of fresh bread baking. The aroma escapes from the oven and wafts around the house, making mouths water and tummies rumble. It's almost impossible to resist cutting a slice from the loaf after it emerges from the oven and smothering it in melted butter.

There's something therapeutic and relaxing about making bread. The simple combination of flour, yeast, salt and water is transformed through vigorous kneading from a crumbly mix to a silky dough that magically doubles in size as you let it prove. While you do need to set aside several hours to make bread, it's not difficult and is a welcome antidote to the stresses and fast pace of modern life.

Sometimes, though, you want fresh bread but don't have the time to wait for the bread to rise and bake. Enter Irish soda bread, which doesn't use yeast but instead uses bicarbonate soda, instead of yeast, as its rising agent. It's like a giant crusty brown scone but has a thick texture similar to sourdough. It tastes best when it's eaten warm or toasted. Freshly cooked and smeared with butter, it's a perfect partner to my seafood chowder.

IRISH SODA BREAD

450g plain white flour (or use a combination of white and wholemeal)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon sea salt, ground to a powder
1 teaspoon sugar
300ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Sift the flour, bicarb soda, cream of tartar and sea salt into a bowl and stir in the sugar. Add the buttermilk and mix with a knife or your fingers to a soft dough. If the dough is too dry to come together, add a little extra buttermilk or a tablespoon or two of warm water but don't overmix.

Flour your hands and briefly knead the dough. Pat the dough into a mounded round and place onto a floured baking tray. Cut a deep cross in the top of the loaf. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Cover the top loosely with greaseproof paper and bake for another 15 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

This bread is best eaten on the day it's made but it does freeze well.

This recipe is based on a recipe by Jill Dupleix

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