Friday, March 16, 2007
IRISH SODA BREAD - "ST. PAT'S DAY" EVENT
Zorra at "Kochtopf" has had the great idea to create an event (see details) in relation with "Saint Patrick's Day", an Irish feast day that celebrates a Christian missionary named Saint Patrick (373-493), the patron saint of Ireland...
This feast takes place on the 17th of March, Ireland's National Day. Nowadays, festivities take place all around the world and this day is celebrated by many Irish people and non-Irish alike. On this special day, a carnival-like atmosphere prevails. There is generally a parade, large amounts of lager as well as other alcoholic beverages (colored green) are drunken, lots of Irish food is eaten and at least one green item of clothing is worn by the participants who really let themselves go completely.
For the round-up organized by Zorra, I have decided to participate with one of the most well-known and well-spread recipes that hails from Ireland: "Soda Bread". It is maybe not a very original choice, but it is nonetheless a speciality that has it's own interest...
As you might have already guessed, this bread which is called "Wheaten Bread" in Northern Ireland and "Brown Bread" in the Republic of Ireland (or "Damper" in Australia), is exclusively made with baking soda and contains no yeast at all. Thanks to the buttermilk and the baking soda, this quick bread will "rise" while baking, like any other "normal" bread. It is due to the lactic acid of the buttermilk which reacts with the baking soda, thus forming tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide gas.
This bread dates from 1840 when bicarbonate soda was introduced to Ireland. Because of the climate of this country, hard wheat which produced a flour that rose easily in combination with yeast didn't grow well. It is for that reason that baking soda came in handy and replaced the other more common raising agent (yeast).
Regarding the significance of the cross on the top of the bread, it is believed that it was done in order to ward off the devil. But, the cross also has a technical purpose which consists in helping the bread to rise properly while it bakes.
Since a few different versions of this loaf exist, many traditional Irish people will argue on the ingredients used in the fabrication of an authentic "Soda Bread". Now, thanks to modern adaptations, one can find them flavored with caraway seeds, spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, etc...) or enriched with chocolate chips, candied orange peel, chopped nuts, dried fruits (cranberries, raisins, currants, etc...)...
My "Soda Bread" recipe is more classic, plain and close to the way the original loaf should be, but it tastes nonetheless great! This bread is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. It's texture differs quite a lot from yeast-based breads. It is more crumbly and dense. It's flavor is very special as the baking soda gives it a special taste that borders with that of cakes (but not quite either). It is good and very practical, especially if you want to eat bread, but haven't got the time to prepare any. It is then that "Soda Bread" becomes very helpful, because it is made in a whiz and fulfills any demanding gourmet!
Source: "Ultimate Bread" by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno. For a complete review of this book, click here.
Makes 1 loaf.
250g Plain white flour
250g Wholemeal flour
1 1/2 Tsp Baking soda
1 Tsp Salt
30g Unsalted butter
1. Preheat the oven to 200° C (400° F).
2. Sift the flours, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl.
3. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until evenly dispersed.
4. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk.
5. With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour to form a soft, crumbly dough.
6. Turn out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough very lightly until smooth, silky and elastic, about 3 minutes.
7. Shape into a flattened round about 15cm (6 inches) across and 5cm (2 inches) thick.
8. Dust with flour.
9. Cut a slash, 2cm (1 inch) deep, across the top. Then, another in the opposite direction to make an "X".
10. Bake for about 35 minutes until hollow sounding when tapped underneath.
11. Cover with a cloth, then leave to cool on a wire rack.
If you don't have buttermilk at home, then take 300ml milk and add either 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar. Stir. Now, you have soured milk!
Eat this bread on the day it is baked or place in a plastic bag and keep overnight (find that it keeps well in this way...).
Eat this bread like any other loaf, with either jam, Nutella, cottage cheese, cheese, honey or as accompaniment to your meal.
(Connemara -Pic by Philippe Demay www.trekeath.com)