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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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

Orange flavoured Cassata alla Siciliana Cake

Orange Cassata Cake

Upon my return from the beautiful Italian island of Sicily, I promised I would experiment with baking some Sicilian treats that I could share with you all.

Cassata is a traditional Sicilian cake and can be found everywhere on the island, from cafés to pasticcerias to restaurant dessert cabinets. It is traditionally a sponge cake, moistened with fruit juice or liqueur and filled with this cake’s namesake – ‘cassata’, which is a mixture of sweetened ricotta cheese, mixed peel and chocolate (it can be flavoured with vanilla also); and decorated with a layer of marzipan and icing, usually in pastel colours.

As you can see from the picture above, mine is far from traditional in the icing stakes! But it’s creamy ricotta filling and fruity flavour echoes its more authentic Sicilian cousin.

My inspiration came from Dan Lepard’s glorious tome, ‘Short and Sweet’. Indeed I followed his sponge recipe entirely, only deviating when it came to the filling, to which I added marmalade rather than mixed peel; and moistening the cake. He describes this as the ‘Sophia Loren’ of cakes, which I can only imagine denotes its elegance and refined and delicate flavour as well as its Italian roots. I hope you enjoy making this wonderful cake…

Ingredients:

For the Cake:

  • 125g Softened Unsalted Butter
  • 125g Caster Sugar
  • 3 Eggs, lightly beaten
  • Grated Zest of 3 Oranges
  • 200g Plain Flour
  • 2 1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 25g Cornflour
  • 75g Icing Sugar
  • 75ml Cold Milk
  • 50ml Orange Juice (or Grand Marnier) for moistening

For the Cassata Filling:

  • 500g Ricotta
  • 150g Icing Sugar
  • 50g Dark Chocolate
  • 2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Tbsn Marmalade (Fine Shred)

For the Icing:

  • 3-4 tablespoons Orange juice
  • 125g Icing Sugar

To make the cake:

  1. Line two 18cm cake tins with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (160 degrees for a fan oven).
  2. Cream together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the beaten eggs little by little to the butter and sugar mixture, beating thoroughly after each addition.
  4. Fold in the orange zest.
  5. Sift the flour, baking powder, cornflour and icing sugar together into a separate bowl.
  6. Alternately fold a spoonful of the dry ingredients and then a tablespoon of the milk into the sugar and butter mixture until all ingredients are evenly combined.
  7. Divide the batter equally between the two prepared tins and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the centre of each cake feels springy to the touch.
  8. Leave to cool in their tins for 5 minutes before turning out onto wire racks.
  9. When the cakes are almost cold, poke some small holes into the surface of each with a cocktail stick. Drizzle the orange juice, or orange liqueur if you prefer, into each sponge to moisten.

To make the filling:

  1. Beat the ricotta with the icing sugar until smooth and fully combined.
  2. Finely chop the dark chocolate and stir in until the flecks are evenly distributed.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and marmalade and stir well.
  4. Place in the fridge to chill until needed.

To make the icing:

  1. Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.
  2. Gradually add the orange juice and stir until smooth and at ‘ribbon’ consistency. This means that when a spoonful of the mixture is lifted and trailed over the icing in the bowl, it will leave ‘ribbons’ on its surface and won’t simply blend in – if it disappears as it hits the icing in the bowl, add some more icing sugar until it thickens to the correct consistency.

Assembling the Cassata Cake:

  1. Place the bottom layer of sponge onto a plate. Spread with a generous layer of the Cassata filling.
  2. Carefully place the second layer on top.
  3. Using a metal spoon, drizzle the orange icing onto the cake.

I hope this cake will give you all a taste of Sicily and maybe even inspire you to visit the island one day! It is truly a charming and captivating place. Don’t forget to let me know how you got on 🙂

Karelian Pies

Karelian Pies

These rich, buttery, rice-filled pies are a Finnish staple. They originated, as their name suggests, in Karelia (Karjala), a region of eastern Finland; where my partner Jani grew up. Now they are in every Finnish supermarket, sold both fresh and frozen, and are eaten for lunch or as a snack topped with anything from the traditional ‘egg-butter’ or munavoi, to ham, cheese or just a thin layer of unsalted butter. There are two traditional fillings: rice, as my recipe contains, or mashed potato. If you have some left over mash, whip in some extra butter and salt and use it to fill these crisp, wholesome pastry cases – another delicious way to eat these!

When I first came across karjalan riisipiirakat, on holiday in Finland, I found it really strange eating pastry with a starchy filling topped, as if it were bread, with ham or cheese. Jani maintains that because of the harsh winters in Finland they needed as many calories and as much energy as they could cram into one small pie, and this is how Karelian Pies came about! I don’t know, but they certainly taste amazing and add some extra sustenance to lunchtime if there are slim-pickings in the fridge.

So here goes…

Ingredients:

for the pastry:

  • 250g Rye Flour
  • 1 Tsp Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 200ml Water
  • Plain Flour for dusting
  • 75g Unsalted Butter

for the filling:

  • 150g Pudding Rice (Short-grain)
  • 250ml Water
  • 750ml Milk
  • 1 Tsp Sea-Salt

To make the Pies:

  1. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  2. Start by making the filling. Place the rice in a saucepan and cover with the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add the milk and continue to cook over a low heat for 30-40 minutes until most of the milk has been absorbed and the mixture has the consistency of thick rice pudding. Don’t forget to stir occasionally, as the rice may stick if left untouched.
  4. Add the salt and stir well before setting aside to cool whilst you make the pastry.
  5. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
  6. Put the rye flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and add the oil.
  7. Gradually add the water, mixing by hand until the ingredients come together to form a dough.
  8. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a long sausage shape.
  9. Using a Scottish Scraper (or a large knife), divide the dough into 20 pieces and roll each piece into a ball.
  10. Using a floured rolling pin, roll each into a thin round, roughly 10cm in diameter.
  11. Place two tablespoons of the rice filling into the centre of each round, leaving about 2cm of pastry around the edge.
  12. Using both hands, begin to lift the edges of the pastry in towards the filling and pinch together with your thumb and forefinger. Repeat this until the edges of the pastry are upstanding and are encasing the filling (see picture above).
  13. Pour the melted butter into a wide shallow bowl (I used a large Tupperware tub for this), and, using a slotted spoon, lower each pie into the butter so it is fully immersed, then place on one of the prepared baking trays.
  14. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and crispy around the edges.

I really hope you love these as much as I do! Please let me know how you get one making these and what you think 🙂

Wholesome Wholemeal Loaf with Oat Bran

Wholemeal Oat Bran Loaf

Whilst flicking through one of my Scandinavian baking books, I noticed that a few of the recipes call for oat bran or wheatgerm and this intrigued me. I’m all for healthy baking and, as I’ve said in previous posts, I am a lover of baking with a variety of different flours. So this bread incorporates a number of them, with a dash of oat bran for extra fibre-y goodness! The recipe that inspired this loaf was that of Norwegian ‘grovbrød’; a rustic brown loaf, great with thin slices of smoked fish and a squeeze of lemon. I chose to use rapeseed oil rather than olive oil as it has a more neutral flavour and I wanted to let the flours and grains do the talking. You needn’t add the honey, but I always think it adds to the flavour of wholemeal loaves.

Ingredients:

  • 100g Strong White Bread Flour
  • 300g Strong Wholemeal Flour
  • 50g Rye Flour
  • 40g Oat bran
  • 15g Rye Flakes
  • 350-390 ml Tepid Water
  • 10g Fast Action Dried Yeast
  • 10g Salt
  • Tbsn Honey
  • Tbsn Rapeseed Oil and extra for kneading.

To make the bread:

  1. Measure out the flours, oat bran and rye flakes into a large bowl.
  2. Add the yeast to one side and the salt to the other, avoid mixing the two as direct contact can retard the yeast.
  3. Add the honey and rapeseed oil to the bowl.
  4. Add roughly 350 ml of the water and begin to mix with one hand. Continue adding water until the flour is lifted from the sides of the bowl and the dough begins to come together.
  5. Tip the dough onto a lightly oiled surface.
  6. Knead until the dough is no longer sticky and has a silky, elastic texture. This may take substantially longer than a white dough to achieve this texture, so don’t give up! Also, this dough will seem tighter than other wholemeal doughs, I think this is on account of the oat bran, which soaks up a lot of water and makes the texture more dense. However, with some working it will become smoother and more like conventional wholemeal dough. I used a slightly different kneading technique, rather than holding with one hand and stretching with the other, I used both hands to roll and then fold the dough. As I say, this will take longer, but will achieve the right result in the end.
  7. Leave the dough to rise in a lightly oiled bowl covered with a tea towel. Find a warm place for this one – rye flour doughs take marginally longer to rise, and I find that a warmer place than usual helps this process along.
  8. Once the dough has doubled in size (after 2-4 hours), tip onto a lightly floured surface and pressed firmly into an oblong. Fold in the edges and press again to form an oblong the length of your 2 lb loaf tin. Roll the oblong and place into the tin, with the seem facing downwards.
  9. Leave to prove until doubled in size (around an hour and a half). Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Place a baking tray in the bottom to heat up.
  10. When your loaf has doubled in size, dust with wholemeal flour and cut a slash lengthways across the top with a sharp knife.
  11. Boil a kettle full of water and pour into the heated tray, leaving it in the bottom of the oven.
  12. Bake your loaf on the middle shelf for 35-40 minutes. When the loaf is done it will sound hollow when tapped underneath.
  13. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

This bread is delicious eaten, as the Scandinavians would, for breakfast or lunch with slices of mild cheese (I like Emmental), some ham and maybe a pickle or two. It is equally as delicious with smoked salmon or Gravad Lax and a squeeze of lemon. I even love it toasted and slathered in butter with some sharp and sweet marmalade and a cup of tea – delish!

Enjoy Budding Bakers! Don’t forget to let me know how you get on 🙂

Tastes of Sicilia

photosiciliy

I have just returned from beautiful Sicily, where I spent a wondrous week with my other half and our little man, sampling many a foodie treat and tanning ourselves shamelessly on the local beach! We even squeezed in a few days worth of sightseeing – Sicily has so much to offer both in terms of its spectacular landscape and its rich history and culture. You can look forward to some Sicilian treats, or at least some Sicily-inspired experimentation, coming soon.

Amongst the traditional fare we tasted were ‘Cannoli’, crispy sweet pastry shells wrapped around lightly sweetened, creamy ricotta; wonderfully crisp pizzas baked in a ‘forno a legna’, meaning wood-burning oven (these can be found all over Italy, but the Sicilians have their own particular flavour combinations – aubergine and seafood feature heavily on most Pizzeria menus) and ‘Cassata’, a moist sponge cake filled again with sweetened ricotta and moistened with fruit juice or liqueur.

Almonds or ‘mandorla’ are everywhere in Sicily! Almond wine, almond milk, almond granita, almost nougat, you name it, an almond has been involved in it! I happen to adore everything almond, though my better half prefers to steer well clear; so  this was excellent gorging territory for me. As well as sampling almond wine, I tasted some devine ‘paste di mandorla’ directly translated as ‘almond paste’. These were similar to amaretti biscuits but with a soft, crumbly and almost moist texture – beautiful!

I have come back feeling truly inspired by, as well as sorry to leave, this special island. More about Sicily’s baked goodies to come…