Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bread, Beauty is Thy Name!


Whatever the hands of man take up with love is holy.
-George Seferis

Comrades and faithful readers, I have finally done it: I have baked the bread I've been talking about for months! I know what you're thinking though...you're looking at the picture and wondering if I've gone mad because, clearly, "That's not bread, that's cake!"

My response to you is simple: welcome to the glory of Irish Soda Bread.



What brought this on? You see, yesterday was the first unofficial day of spring break; time now stretches before me and my schedule, especially on the weekend, doesn't need to be nearly so rigid. So, I designated yesterday a "home day" and gave myself some time to think so as to let the ideas percolate while I took care of more pressing matters. All this basically means is that, while I did no writing, I did the laundry, not to mention a huge pile of dishes, swept the floor and baked bread for breakfast. Since I'm still cooking with Ina (I think I could cook with her forever and be incredibly happy), I made her Irish Soda Bread, which she likes to dress up with currants and orange zest. While I had the orange zest, I lacked currants; cranberries, however, are equally good.



One reason I went with this particular bread is that it's infinitely less time-consuming than other kinds of bread. Since you're using baking soda instead of yeast (which is where the soda in its name comes from), it's basically a simple process of mixing the dry ingredients, adding the buttermilk and egg mixture and then minimal kneading. There's no need to wait for anything to rise, no need to punch anything down and then to let it rise again. To a certain extent, it reminded me of making scones--from the very moist consistency of the dough to the crumbly finished product that goes oh so well with a nice slathering of butter.



Another thing I will say is this: apparently, some people take their Irish Soda Bread very seriously, namely The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread, which I know, based on their description of what Irish Soda Bread is supposed to be, would never approve of the version Ina and I made. Thanks to the egg and sugar (the recipe called for 4 Tbsp. Because of the cranberries, I wanted to add only 2, but, since the Greek wanted more, we compromised on 2 1/2. Such is the way of things when four hands are obviously better than two), they would call it cake. Oh well, some people can just take themselves way too seriously! Irish Soda Bread, like most things in this world, should and can be whatever you want it to be. And, in fact, in the past few months, I've seen countless takes on this bread: there's Oat Soda Bread, a Six-Seed Soda Bread, Skillet Irish Soda Bread and yet another Oat Soda Bread, slightly different from and inspired by the first. It was thanks to the various recipes that I've read and considered that I decided to make my own oat flour and substitute it for one of the 4 cups of flour that the recipe called for. This, I think, ultimately made it less heavy and added to both its texture and flavor.



Mainly, I'm just happy because I'm getting things done. Maybe it takes me a fair amount of time to complete certain tasks (or even getting around to them), but here's to slow and steady winning the race!

Irish Soda Bread

slightly adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa at Home
Yields 12 + slices, depending on their thickness


3 cups bread flour, plus extra for cranberries
1 cup oat flour, made from Old-Fashioned Oats in the food processor
2 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried cranberries


-Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
-Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
-Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
- Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.
-With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup.
-With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture.
-Combine the cranberries with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough.
-It will be very wet.
-Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gently knead it a few times into a round(ish) loaf (the dough is very hard to handle, so make sure to dust your hands with flour and be prepared not to be able to really shape the dough).
-Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
-When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.
-Depending on your patience, you have two options here: 1) Cool on a baking rack or 2) Serve almost immediately with butter at room-temperature.

2 comments:

  1. it always feels good to get things done.

    i've never made irish soda bread before, but if bread tastes like cake.. im in :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I don't think you'll be disappointed, although I will say that the bread is at its "cake-iest" when it first comes out of the oven.

    ReplyDelete

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