Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Great Hag Soda Bread Fest

There wasn’t a reason for me to learn how to make soda bread.  Being married to a Dubliner who’s also a cook, I live in a world where freshly made soda bread slathered with gorgeous stuff . . . well, it’s a requisite for civilised life.  If I hadn’t stumbled across a recipe in Mary Berry’s Foolproof Cooking for a savoury version, there never would've been the Great Hag Soda Bread Fest.

The double spatula method for prissy folk like me.
Soda bread is actually quite easy, if you pay attention to what you’re doing.  An essential caveat in Hag-dom, as you’ll see.  

500g pain flour
1t baking soda
1t salt
284ml buttermilk
200ml milk
Optional: herbs, berries or nuts 

Preheat oven to 220C/200 fan/Gas 7.  Mix the dry ingredients (including dry herbs if you’re using them), then slowly add the buttermilk, making sure it’s mixed before you add the milk.  Turn out on a floured surface to make sure the dried ingredients in the bottom of the bowl are fully mixed but only mixed – DO NOT KNEAD.  Add fresh herbs, nuts & berries, if you're using them.  Put on a paper lined baking tray.  Some people cut a cross into the top while some actually nearly quarter the loaf.  I often forget to do either.  Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, then cool on a wire rack. 

Now about that paying attention craic.  Here’s what soda bread looks like when you confuse baking soda with baking powder – a middle with the consistency of cheese (I think that means raw).  
And this was my Christmas mistake, no less.

In usual Hag-not-paying-attention-to-detail form, I didn't research the ingredients for my first batch of Foolproof savoury soda bread. You can see from this picture that the cranberries are fresh.  Don’t use fresh unless you like your cranberries really REALLY sour.  Dried cranberries have just the right balance of tart & sweet.

Fresh cranberries, the pucker's friend.

One day I decided to make a loaf with herbs & one without.  I made the second loaf from memory, so put in too much milk.  As the loaf began to bake, it started to spread out & go flat.  I lifted the partly cooked mess by the baking paper & dropped it into a greased loaf pan.  It ain’t pretty, but it tasted fine.

Like trying to squeeze into a girdle.

HAG IMPROVS (aka variations).

We noticed that my bread was lighter than Siobhán’s & wondered if it were a difference in recipe or cook – too enthusiastic mixing can change the texture of your soda bread.  Her recipe called for 2 cartons of buttermilk rather a mix of buttermilk & regular milk, as well as only 425g of flour.

Siobhán tried my recipe with the same results that I had.  Our conclusion is, if you want a denser bread (great for making sandwiches or dipping in soup), then use 2 buttermilks & less flour.  If you want something a bit lighter for your jams & spreads, try using one buttermilk & 200 mls of regular milk.

Siobhán often replaces 50g of regular flour with whole meal.  This makes the bread more ‘rustic’, heavier in texture, with a stronger wheat flavour. It's also more crumbly, so sometimes your sandwich'll fall to bits.

Cranberry & herb.
SAVOURY SODA BREAD.  Different herbs retain their flavour better through the cooking.  Rosemary is incredibly strong, while basil remains subtle.  Start with 3T & modify to suit your own taste.  

Most of the herbs we think of as Mediterranean make the bread taste great with any tomato based dish, be they soups or pasta or meats.  The Foolproof recipe’s 50g sundried tomatoes & 75g olives also enhance Italian herbs.

Adding berries makes this a great bread for sweet spreads like jam.  It’s even better when toasted for breakfast or a late night snack.  Berries with sliced almonds . . . well that’s pure ecstasy.  I tend to use 75g of each.

As a non-cook, I’d rated the idea of making soda bread as the soufflé category of difficulty.  Pretty silly when you consider how many homes relied on soda bread for a mainstay of their diet.  So if the thought of making soda bread intimidates you, trust someone who spent 60 years outside the kitchen – it’s one of the easiest recipes I’ve tried so far, yet one of the best tasting breads there is.  

What could be better?  

Plain or savour?  Both!

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