don’t have time for things unsaid, for baking bread

Stumbled across Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course book recently with the opportunity to take it home – someone was having a cleanout-of-stuff. While I was initially pretty taken with Ms Smith gazing mildly out at the reader from the cover picture while holding an egg aloft (I’m not even exaggerating), a quick flick through didn’t really show me anything hugely exciting (not even her recipe for ox kidneys) and my cookbook-shelf is both narrow and overflowing already – to have a book I wasn’t completely in love with lurking round trying to fit in would just be annoying. So I left it. But not without photocopying one recipe first.

Her Soured Cream Soda Bread made significant eye contact with me – I love the Jilly Cooperish way she calls it ‘soured cream’ which somehow sounds posher and more petulant than regular sour cream (not to mention “bicarbonate” which Nigella often calls it too, is this a British thing? I remember seeing it once in a book when I was younger and didn’t realise it was the same as baking soda, I pronouced it “bicker-bonnet”…anyway). Soda Bread is a traditionally Irish creation, and according to Wikipedia, it all kicked off when baking soda was introduced to Ireland in 1840. It doesn’t indicate who specifically had it in their head that what the Irish really needed in their lives was a boatload of raising agent pulling into their harbour, but nevertheless they ended up with it and this is what they cleverly made of it.

Like a giant scone, soda bread is quickly made and benefits from minimal handling and fast eating. Delia’s recipe is a bit unusual in that it uses sour cream instead of butter, and while I’m normally like “BUTTER WHERE IS IT WHY ISN’T THERE MORE IN FRONT OF ME” I was also a bit interested in what the sour cream would bring to the table.
Soured Cream Soda Bread

450g/1lb wholewheat flour (I used white, it’s all I had)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
150mls sour cream
150mls water (plus maybe a little extra)

Set your oven to 220 C/425 F. Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly, whisk together the sour cream and water and pour into the dry ingredients. Stir together with a spatula, adding a little more water if needed. Carefully, lightly knead, turn it onto a baking tray lined with paper or a silicon sheet. Slash a cross in the top with a sharp knife and bake for 30 mins. Cover with foil if it darkens too much. Cool a little first before eating – this will help it slice easier.

Delia very coolly tells you to knead the dough. What she doesn’t tell you is that it’s difficult to work with, to the point where you half-expect it to don a feathery leotard and insist Miley Cyrus-like that it can’t be tamed. By the time I’d finished attempting to shape it into something that resembled any shape – let alone the “round ball” with “the surface smooth” that she talks of – there was dough clinging to my arms and hair and I looked like the guy at the end of the Comfortably Numb segment of The Wall. Once you’ve got that out of the way though it’s delicious stuff – the soda and sour cream giving it a distinctively light, slightly tangy tang that goes mighty well with the salty creaminess of butter. It’s quite a dense loaf but – and I don’t know if this was just because I didn’t get the top smooth – quite crumbly round the edges. It goes quick – Tim and I basically ate all but a small remaining shoulder of the loaf for dinner with cheese, hot sauce and gherkins.

The next day a person I work with handed me a recipe they’d photocopied from a newspaper for American-Irish Soda Bread, which is apparently what happened to Soda Bread once people started arriving en masse from Ireland to American and looked distinctively sweeter, eggier and fruitier than its ancestor-recipe. I very unhelpfully left the recipe behind on the day I was determined to make it and managed to cobble together a rough recipe from what I could remember plus a bit of online research. Ended up with a completely different finished result to the previous bread – but still seriously delicious in its own way. Of course I didn’t write down the recipe I came up with so what follows is me trying to remember something I’ve already forgotten once before – you’ve been warned.

Irish-American Soda Bread

4 1/2 cups plain flour
3 tablespoons sugar
50g butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (I just happened to have these, but leave them out if you don’t)
70g currants, golden sultanas or just plain sultanas
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Set your oven to 200 C. In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour, then stir in the sugar, baking soda, seeds and fruit. Make a well in the centre and crack in the eggs, pour in the liquids and using a spatula, carefully draw it all together without overmixing to create a soft dough. This stuff really can’t be kneaded, so get a baking dish – the sort you’d make brownies in – and either sit a silicon sheet inside it or get put a piece of baking paper in it extending over both sides – and dump the dough into it. Dust the top with excess flour and try cutting a cross in it, although it probably won’t show at the end. Bake for around 30 minutes, although keep an eye on it – might need less or more time.
This is completely different to Delia’s recipe – it spreads out into an enormous loaf with a golden crust. The strangely anise-like caraway seeds pop up occasionally to stick in your teeth but give a sophisticated flavour to the loaf while they’re at it. The relaxed sweetness and dried fruit make it seem like a morning-with-cup-of-tea kind of creation, and it toasts well in a sandwich press or under the grill (and then spread with butter and honey!) which is just as well because it loses its springiness quick.
Tim was out on Tuesday night when I made this, and it wasn’t till a full 24 hours later that he tried it. To be fair, the loaf was most definitely on its way to stale-ville. His reaction was something to the effect of “Mmmm, this isn’t dry at ALL!” and I replied “Well if you hadn’t abandoned me and my unleavened bread,” and wasn’t sure where to go from there and even though neither of us were being overly serious I started laughing anyway because that’s not the sort of thing you get to yell at someone every day of the week.
Speaking of Tim, he and I saw Exit Through The Gift Shop on Friday night at Paramount cinema, it was in the Film Festival earlier this year and as time went by it racked up considerably positive reviews from people whose opinions I take notice of. Luckily Paramount has it on offer because we completely missed it first time round. It’s directed by difficult-to-pin-down artist Bansky and follows Thierry Guetta, a man who feverishly films everything around him, and his attempt to…well I don’t know, just get by and enjoy himself. Naive that I am, it didn’t even occur to me that it would be a hoax but theories are scooting round the internet from various reviewers that it’s all a giant fake. I don’t really care – it’s brilliant to watch whether it’s true or not, and if it comes to a neighbourhood near you I definitely recommend it.
Title via: the incredible Idina Menzel singing Life of the Party from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party. It’s hard to talk about this musical without mentioning the rest of the amazing cast (Julia Murney, Taye Diggs, Brian D’arcy James) but this song is a big moment for Idina alone in the show. Feel free to humour me (but benefit yourself greatly!) by listening to the shinier album version as well as viewing footage of her actually performing it hard. The ending is mind-blowing.
Music lately:

Cold War by Janelle Monae from her album The Archandroid. I love the urgency, and how the words in the chorus are repeated in different ways with emphasis on different parts, and also the whole thing. She’s doing well for herself, but how this lady isn’t the best-selling, most-awarded artist right now (along with Idina Menzel, naturally) is beyond me.

Benny Tones feat Mara TK, Firefly from Chrysalissilky soulful local goodness.
Next time: I did not get ANY baking done this weekend. Partly because I ended up being kinda busy. But also for a very stupid reason, which I’ll probably tell you about again next time anyway, but the short version: I got the new Nigella Lawson cookbook, was so excited about my weekend revolving around it, and then I left it at work. D’OH! And next week I have something on every single night so it’s even further out of my reach. But the next thing I make in the kitchen will absolutely be from it.

10 thoughts on “don’t have time for things unsaid, for baking bread

  1. Kay says:

    Hey, I have all those ingredients for the soda bread recipe here! I think I'll have a go. Time to start channelling the Irish ancestry.

    I am very impressed that you have less than six degrees of separation from Roger Water's chef!


  2. Hannah says:

    Laura! Why do you keep doing this to me? Do you want to know how many Soda Bread recipes I have bookmarked already? 11. Now 12. And I've not made a single one…

    Loving the caraway and fruit version, particularly as I adore caraway right now. Oh Laura. I simply don't know where to start.


  3. Jess says:

    I grew up with that picture of Delia Smith and her egg staring out from the book cover at me. It was probably my mum's most-used recipe book. When I ventured forth into cooking as a child, it was Delia's Summer Collection that I usually used. Even when it wasn't summer! What a rebel. Anyway… oh Delia. So proper, so steady, so unchanging. She also owns a football stadium I think. Or maybe it's a football team. One of those things.

    Sodium bicarbonate… is it not called that in NZ? I thought baking soda was an American name and bicarb soda or sodium bicarbonate was a British + British colonies thing.


  4. Boffcat says:

    I, too, didn't realise that non-Americans also called it baking soda! (Doesn't that get a bit confusing, with baking powder being rather similar? Maybe I'm just easily confused.) Bicarbonate of soda (or bicarb soda) is indeed what the British call it, possibly because traditionally its uses go far beyond baking.

    I guess the sour (sorry, soured!) cream in the Delia recipe is, once it's been diluted by the water, essentially the equivalent of the traditional buttermilk? Mmmm, soda bread…


  5. neon stars says:

    I love soda bread. That comes from living in Ireland for a few years. I totes recommend it as a side for soup etc. It goes all melty and delicious. It definately doesn't keep awesomely but it's so delicious I end up eating it before it goes funny anyway 🙂


  6. Rebecca says:

    dear Laura, I have just been making rhubarb and custard muffins from a recipe I found on the internet, and it made me think of looking up your blog.
    You are a mad professor of the experimental science that is baking.
    PS I'm now more intrigued by Obey Giant than I am by Banksy thanks to that film!


  7. Claire says:

    Hi Laura,
    Most of the soda bread made in Ireland is made using traditional ingredients. You'd never get soda bread for sale here with caraway seeds, sour cream etc added! Soda bread seems to be one of the few breads around that isn't adapted/changed as you usually just have it with ham or cheese, or served along with soup.
    I've added the recipe for soda bread that I always use – its from the Ballymaloe House (a well-known restaurant & cookery school based in Co. Cork)
    Claire (in the West of Ireland)


    450 g/1 lb plain white flour, preferably unbleached
    1 level teaspoon salt
    1 level teaspoon bread soda, finely sieved
    400 ml/14-fl oz buttermilk, approximately


    First, fully preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/regulo 8.

    Sieve the flour, salt and bread soda into a large, wide mixing bowl.

    Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk into the flour. Using one hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle drawing in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky.

    The trick with all soda breads is not to over-mix the dough. Mix the dough as quickly and as gently as possible, keeping it really light and airy. When the dough all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured work surface. Wash and dry your hands.

    Gently roll the ball of dough around with floury hands for a few seconds, just enough to tidy it up. Then pat it gently into a round, about 5 cm/2 in high.

    Place the dough on a lightly floured baking sheet. With a sharp knife cut a deep cross in it, letting the cuts go over the sides of the bread. Then prick the four triangles with your knife: according to Irish folklore this will let the fairies out!

    Put this into your preheated oven for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 200°C/400°F/regulo 6 for a further 25 minutes, or until cooked. When the bread is cooked it will sound hollow when tapped.

    Cooking time: 35 minutes, approximately
    Yield: Makes 1 loaf


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