One of the things that I appreciate about the Wheel of the Year is that although there are suggested dates for celebrating the turning of the wheel, the important aspect is that it match what is happening on the earth wherever you live. Just as groundhogs recognize the fluidity of the transition from winter to spring in North America, in Ireland there is an understanding of the battle between Brigid and the Cailleach that determines when winter will release its grip. So if you are living in a place where the snowdrops have not yet pushed their heads up through the last of the snow, know that there is hope and bake bread anyway.
If baking bread has seemed like a step past comfortable, I would encourage you to give this recipe a go. Soda bread is a quick (REALLY!) option for making a tasty free form loaf. Plain might be a year round choice but all sorts of herbs, spices, cheese, and nuts can be added as the occasion suits, even sugar and raisins for a specialty loaf known as Spotted Dog.
You will need:
2 1/4 cups/340 gr. whole wheat flour
2 1/4 cups/340 gr. all purpose flour
1 1/2-1 3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 1/2 cups/600 ml. whey or buttermilk ( possibly a little bit more when using buttermilk )
“In my kitchen filled with care, I welcome Earth, Fire, Water, Air“. Bread has, to me, always been the perfect project for this greeting. Grain from the earth, fire (or at the very least heat) bakes the bread, water based liquids to mix the grains and air from the leavening agents used to make the bread rise. Gather your ingredients, create separation by putting on an apron and washing your hands. Open your heart and welcome the compassionate spirits.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Weigh out the flour. My scale bowl does double duty as the mixing bowl but if yours doesn’t, simply transfer the flour to a bowl that works for you and add the salt and baking soda. Stir well to mix.
Add the liquid all at once and stir together. I find that whey moistens the flour more quickly and more thoroughly due to its lighter viscosity. Additionally, since the yoghurt had just finished dripping the whey was at room temperature. If your whey or buttermilk is in the fridge, taking it out a little earlier and letting it warm up a little helps as well.
Dust the counter with more flour and while you are at it throw a little over a baking sheet as well. This will help stop the bread for sticking while baking. Turn the dough out on top of the flour on the counter.
I divided the dough in half and with a minimum amount of fuss molded the halves into balls with clean, dry hands. This is a moist dough and even if the balls start out three inches high, they will slouch down before getting into the oven. After placing both halves on the floured baking tray, it is time to “let the fairies out”. Darina Allen of Balleymaloe Hotel & Cooking School uses this term for cutting the cross on the top of the loaf. When using scissors to cut, I found it easiest to cut the center line first and then each side separately.
Bake for 35 minutes and remove to a cooling rack once the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
Soda breads are a staple in Ireland because the wheat grown there is a soft variety and does not work as well with yeast. The added bonus is that soda bread stays fresh a little longer and can be ready in a jiffy ( technical term ) when a loaf is needed to extend a meal. The combining of flours offers up a lighter version than what would have been a more traditional version of 100% whole wheat made several hundred years ago. If you would like to give that version a try, here is the recipe.
If I in any way, inferred that spring has sprung here…..I just looked out the window and everything is white again. I am feeling bad for the snowdrops.
50/50 Soda Bread from My Kitchen Wand
The dough from this full recipe went into a greased and floured 3.5 by 12 inch pan. It baked at 350 degrees and was done in 45 minutes. A regular sized loaf pan may take a little longer as the mass being baked will be wider.
Easy to slice. Great for lunch sandwiches and morning toast.
It works just fine for French Toast as well but will be a little heavier in texture so make sure to allow the bread to sit soaking in the egg mixture for as long as possible.
If a round loaf is not what you are looking for then know you have options available.