Baking & Dessert

By Lindsay Hunt | November 17, 2010

I’m starting to consider myself a “kitchen traveler.”  Like armchair traveling, I visit a new part of the world from afar, except there is an additional benefit to exploring the globe via the kitchen: the food.

Three years ago, I was lucky to travel in Ireland.  I visited Dublin and the striking west coast near Galway.  The beauty of the lush rolling hills, bountiful sheep and craggy cliffs has stuck with me and I often feel a yearning for a country I barely know.

I returned for a few days this week, with a hearty Irish Soda Bread recipe that is perfect for breakfast or tea.  The whole-grain loaf tasted nutty and authentic. Although it was my first try, for a bit I felt like I was in the verdant countryside.

In America, this baked loaf is commonly associated with sweetness, but this version, truer to tradition, is low in sugar and packed with healthy grains.  The sweet, raisin-studded loaf called Irish Soda Bread in the United States is actually called “Spotted Dog” or “Spotted Dick” in Ireland.

Irish Soda Bread gets its name and its lift from baking soda, not yeast, which makes it a “quick bread.”  Don’t be surprised if you break open your steaming loaf and see a green tinge.  When one of the antioxidants in sunflower seeds, flavanoids, mix with an alkali, the baking soda in the recipe they turn yellow.  Another antioxidant, anthocyanin, reacts by turning blue.  These two together give you the green tinge.

I enjoyed this loaf immediately from the oven, steaming and slathered with butter and dark berry jam.  As I closed my eyes sipped a mug of black tea, I was almost in Ireland.

From Greg Patent’s A Baker’s Odyssey

  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour or graham flour, plus more for shaping
  • 3 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup wheat bran
  • 1/4 cup oat bran
  • 1/4 cup untoasted wheat germ
  • 2 tbsp flaxseed
  • 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 large egg
  • About 1 3/4 cups buttermilk

Directions

1. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 425°F. Coat a heavy baking sheet with vegetable cooking spray or line it with a silicone baking pan liner or aluminum foil.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the fat particles are very fine. Stir in the baking soda, salt, sugar, wheat bran, oat bran, wheat germ, flaxseed, and sunflower seeds.

3. Beat the egg lightly with a fork in a 2-cup glass measure. Add enough buttermilk to come to the 2-cup line and stir with the fork to combine well. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dough gathers into a thick, wet-looking mass.

4. Sprinkle your work surface with whole-wheat flour and scrape the dough onto it. Dust the dough with a bit more whole-wheat flour. Pat the dough into a circular shape about 7 inches across and 2 inches high and transfer it to the prepared baking sheet. Don't be concerned about evenness-the loaf should look rustic. Make a cross-shaped indentation on top of the loaf going right to the edges. I use a plastic bench scraper and press it into the dough very gently; don't actually cut the dough. During baking the indentation expands, giving the top of the loaf an attractive pattern.

5. Bake the bread for about 40 minutes, until it is well browned and sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf should register 195° to 200°F. Cool the loaf on a wire cooling rack, and serve warm or at room temperature. Cut into quarters and slice each quarter with a sharp serrated knife.

Storing:

The loaf keeps well at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for 2 to 3 days. The entire loaf or quarters of it can also be frozen when completely cool. Wrap in plastic wrap, place in heavy-duty resealable plastic bags, and freeze for up to 2 weeks. Thaw completely before unwrapping. If desired, refresh the bread in a preheated 300°F oven for 10 minutes.

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