Brown Soda Bread topped with Oats

Brown Soda Bread loaf ready to bake!

Soda bread is my go-to when ‘a wedge of ballast’, to quote Mark from Peep Show, is urgently required and time is of the essence. It can be prepared in an instant (20 minutes max) and needs no time to prove, as it doesn’t contain any yeast; so including baking time can be on the table within an hour of turning on the scales!

A number of countries count soda bread as a staple in their diets, including Serbia, Scotland and Poland; none as famously though, as Ireland.

Irish flour has a low gluten content and so is not well suited to making yeasted breads. Around the mid 1800s, bicarbonate of soda was introduced as a raising agent in Ireland. The fact that there was no long tradition of yeast cookery in rural communities, as there was already in other European countries, meant that baking with bicarbonate of soda caught on; its speed and ease of use were just an added bonus for Irish bakers.

Soda farls, baked on a griddle, and wheaten and soda breads are still very popular today in Ireland and around the world. Brown soda bread, like the one pictured above and below, is usually referred to as ‘wheaten bread’ in Ireland and is sometimes flavoured with sweet ingredients. The name ‘soda bread’ is reserved for the savoury variety which uses only white flour. However, despite it containing wholemeal flour, this bread has a savoury flavour and so I have called it ‘soda bread’. It also doesn’t contain buttermilk, an ingredient used in traditional Irish soda bread, as I didn’t have any in the fridge in my hour of need! So I am not claiming this is a strictly Irish recipe by any means!

The buttermilk in traditional soda and wheaten breads is used to activate the bicarbonate of soda, as it contains lactic acid. Some form of acid is needed to get the bicarbonate of soda releasing carbon dioxide, which is the gas that causes the bread to rise (think back to those school science experiments involving sodium bicarbonate and vinegar!) Since I had no buttermilk to hand, I needed to concoct a similar mixture which contained both fat, for a soft, moist crumb, and some acidity, to create the rise. All that I had in the fridge was a 300ml tub of double cream. I was slightly pensive about using vinegar on account of its harsh flavour, so I opted for lemon juice to bring acidity to the mix. This didn’t bring the volume up to what I needed, so I topped it up with water; I thought this would be fine, as buttermilk is more liquid than double cream, so I knew it would not affect the balance of moisture in the bread.

Anyway, enough of the preamble! Here’s my recipe for brown soda bread! It has a lighter than air crumb and crisp, crumbly crust. Delicious eaten warm, straight from the oven. I dipped mine in a steaming bowl of fresh tomato soup. Gorgeous!

Ingredients:

  • 300g Plain Wholemeal Flour
  • 100g Plain Flour
  • 1.5 Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 0.5-1 tsp Salt (depending on personal taste)
  • 300ml Double Cream
  • 1 Lemon, thoroughly squeezed
  • 25g Butter, melted
  • Water to top up to 400ml (a little more maybe needed if the dough seems too tight)
  • 25g Jumbo Oats

To make the bread;

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Prepare one baking tray by flouring lightly.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and set aside to cool.
  3. Sieve the dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl.
  4. In a measuring jug, measure the cream and add the lemon juice. Mix well with a fork.
  5. Add the cooled melted butter and use the fork to combine with the wet ingredients.
  6. Add water to the cream, lemon and butter mixture to bring it up to a volume of 400ml.
  7. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the cream and lemon mixture.
  8. Mix well using one hand. You may need to add a little more water at this point to help the dough come together.
  9. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a minute or so, just to incorporate the ingredients. Do not over knead here!
  10. Form the dough into a smooth ball.
  11. Generously scatter the work surface with oats and roll the ball over them, pressing gently so the oats stick to the surface of the dough.
  12. Place the ball of dough onto the prepared baking sheet and dust lightly with flour. Make a deep cross in the dough using a sharp knife. The depth of my cuts were around half that of the ball (see picture above).
  13. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes.
  14. The bread is ready when it makes a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.

As I mentioned above, by far the best way to enjoy soda bread is eaten warm, straight from the oven, with a generous slab of butter. This bread is so quick and easy to make, and if you do happen to have it in the fridge, you can substitute the cream, lemon and water mixture for 400ml of buttermilk. Although I found that the double cream made for a deliciously moist, soft crumb! Let me know how yours turns out!

Baked Brown Soda Bread

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Spelt and Mature Cheddar Cheese Scones

scones

This morning I was craving a good, hearty, savoury breakfast. I had just settled my little man for his morning nap and wanted something quick and easy to fill the gaping hole in my stomach! Images of toasted English muffins, topped with poached eggs and lashings of Hollandaise flickered in and out of my mind; but baking muffins was out of the question due to time constraints and the next best thing seemed to be savoury scones! Scones are super quick and easy to make. They involve no rising or chilling time and so the dough can simply be mixed, rolled, cut and baked. I love baking with spelt flour (see my ‘Daily Spelt Loaf’), on account of its nutty flavour; plus, I wanted to add a touch of healthy wholegrain – these were for breakfast after all! I searched for a recipe online and went with the first one that cropped up. However, I changed this considerably as I didn’t have self-raising flour, which the recipe called for, and it didn’t include spelt flour either (Click here for the original BBC Food recipe).

As I eagerly measured, rubbed and rolled I was, in a hungry stupor, running through endless serving suggestions. As you can see from the picture above, I went with some crispy back bacon (and a squidge of ketchup!); but I also considered a slice of cheese with a dollop of spicy mango chutney and a handful of salad leaves (rocket would rock!); or a slice of salty salami and some of those yummy cocktail gherkins. Let me know what you go with!

So here’s my recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 190g Plain Flour
  • 35g Wholegrain Spelt Flour
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 55g Butter
  • 25g Mature Cheddar, grated (plus a little extra for topping)
  • 150ml Milk
  • 1 Egg, beaten (for glazing)

To make the Scones:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
  2. Weigh out the flours into a large bowl. Add the salt, baking powder and bicarbonate and mix thoroughly using a whisk or fork.
  3. Add the butter to the flour in small cubes. Using your fingertips, lightly rub the butter into the flour with a lifting and rubbing motion to help aerate the mixture. It should have the appearance of fine breadcrumbs once fully combined.
  4. Add the grated cheddar and mix through with a fork. You may need to break up any large clumps of grated strands so they are evenly incorporated.
  5. Add the milk and stir with a metal spoon, bringing the ingredients together into a soft dough. You may need to add an extra 10g or so of flour at this point if the dough is too sticky to work with.
  6. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead very briefly to produce a cohesive ball of dough.
  7. Roll out using a floured rolling pin, until roughly 3cm thick.
  8. Cut rounds using a corrugated cutter and arrange on the prepared baking sheet.
  9. Brush the tops of the scones with beaten egg (not the sides as this could inhibit their rising), and grate a little cheese over the top of each scone.
  10. Bake for 12-15 minutes. You could turn once after the first 10 minutes to ensure your scones brown evenly.

I hope you enjoy baking and eating these as much as I did – they’re SO easy and quick! The result is a light, almost fluffy scone with a great savoury taste – great for lunch boxes and snacks too. I reckon my little man will be pleased to wake up to one of these 🙂

 

On the Importance of Cooking and Baking with Children

I should preface this short essay by saying that I wrote it two years ago and have just stumbled across it again whilst browsing through my drafted posts. It is all as true now as it was then, so I’ve … Continue reading

Dark Chocolate and Macadamia Tear-and-Share Loaf

Chocolate and Macademia Tear and Share

Pulla is ubiquitous in Finland, where my partner, Jani, was born. The daily ritual of having coffee (kahvia), often together with family or friends, would not be complete without a variety of sweet buns and cakes to accompany it. Not to mention the rarity of breakfast in the absence of a ‘pitko’, or braided loaf, slathered in butter. Jani even likes to save the ends, leaving them until they are stale and dry, so he can make ‘köyhät ritarit’ or ‘poor knights’, slices of week old pulla soaked in milk and then fried in butter. Yes, the Finns are renowned for their gargantuan consumption of both butter and sugar. The excuse touted by most is that they need lots of calories to survive the punishingly cold winters. Well I need no excuse to make a big batch of pulla once in a while. The great thing about it is that it is very versatile. At its base, it is a simple sweet bread dough, the addition of crushed cardamom seeds gives it its signature taste.

It was during one of our pulla-making sessions that this loaf was born. This recipe makes a very large batch, 5 or 6 medium braided loaves; or 2 or 3 loaves and a batch or 2 of ‘korva puustit’ or ‘beaten ears’ (small cinnamon buns). I had a bag of dark chocolate chips, half a large bar of dark chocolate and two-thirds of a packet of macadamia nuts left over from several recent baking exploits and these gave me all the inspiration I needed to transform this wonderful pulla recipe into something even more naughty and a just a bit special.

The recipe I am about to share with you has been passed down through Jani’s family for generations. As I have said, it yields a large batch, so feel free to halve or even quarter the quantities to suit your appetite!

To make traditional Pulla, add 3 teaspoons of crushed cardamom seeds to the mix before kneading. I have omitted them in the recipe itself, as they can overpower the taste of the chocolate (although you may prefer to leave them in).

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg Strong White Bread Flour
  • 1.5 kg Plain White Flour
  • 1350 g Caster Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 litre Milk
  • 100g Fresh Yeast
  • 3 tsp Cardamom Pods, crushed (for traditional Finnish Pulla)
  • Approx 200g Dark Chocolate Chips
  • Approx 200g Dark Chocolate
  • 100g Chocolate and Hazelnut Spread
  • 200g Chopped Macadamia Nuts

To make the Bread

  1. Whisk the sugar and eggs in a large bowl until well incorporated.
  2. Heat the milk over a low heat until lukewarm. Remove from the heat and crumble in the yeast. Stir until dissolved. Too much heat here can kill the yeast so ensure that the milk is only just above hand temperature.
  3. I also melt the butter at this point, in a separate pan, and leave it to cool whilst I’m mixing the other ingredients.
  4. Add the milk and yeast mixture to the eggs and sugar and stir to combine. (Add the cardamom at this point, if required).
  5. Now, this is the part which is tricky without two people. If you are going solo, sieve the flours together into a separate bowl and then use one hand to tip the flour, little by little, into the wet ingredients, whilst kneading with the other.
  6. Since the mixture is extremely wet to begin with, I use a kind of grabbing or clenching action with my kneading hand to begin to incorporate the flour. Once all the flour is incorporated, add the melted butter and knead into the dough. I only begin to use my conventional kneading technique when the dough is firm enough to tip onto a lightly floured surface.
  7. It will take a while to develop the gluten since the amount of dough is so large, and also the recipe calls for plain flour as well as strong, which has a far lower gluten content. Hence you will be kneading for a good 20 minutes to achieve a cohesive dough with a nice sheen to it.
  8. Once kneaded, place the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl for its first rise. This will take 2-3 hours.
  9. Once the dough has doubled in size, it is time to shape it and add the filling. Fold the dough in on itself until most of the air has been knocked out and you have a rough oblong.
  10. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough (giving it a quarter turn once and again) until it is approximately 5mm thick and, again, a large roughly rectangular shape. Depending on the size of your kitchen workspace, you may need to divide the dough into two or even three pieces before rolling.
  11. Spoon large mounds of the chocolate and hazelnut spread onto the dough and spread using a knife or the back of the spoon, almost to the edges.
  12. Scatter the chopped chocolate, chocolate chips and chopped nuts evenly over the dough.
  13. You may have seen Paul Hollywood ‘tacking’ one edge of his dough, about to be rolled up, to the surface so as to make it easier to make a tight roll. You could do this, although I managed fine without this method. As tightly as you can, roll the oblong starting from the longest edge, into a long sausage.
  14. Using a scotch scraper, cut off the two ends, as these will have less filling and may be strangely shaped if the oblong was slightly uneven (you can pop these on a tray and make some small buns out of them!)
  15. Then, start by cutting the sausage in half, then these two pieces in half again, then halving these, and so on and so on…Divide the sausage into small equal sections about 6cm in length.
  16. Arrange these in generously buttered tins, placing them first around the edges, leaving about 1.5cm gap between each on all sides as the buns will rise into each other whilst proving, then place more buns in a second ring within the outer one, and then maybe a couple in the centre (see photo of finished loaf for pointers).
  17. Cover each tin with a tea towel and leave the buns to prove for around an hour until doubled in size again.
  18. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  19. Once the buns have risen. Wash the tops generously with beaten egg and sprinkle liberally with caster sugar.
  20. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the top is a luscious brown colour (keep a good eye on them as sometimes the sugar glaze can begin to catch) and the top feels firm but with a good spring beneath.

Enjoy this loaf still warm from the oven or the next morning with a big milky cup of coffee! Let me know how it goes 🙂 x