Written by Chef Alan Zox, Ph.D, email@example.com Thursday, 13 March 2014 13:00
St. Patrick’s Day with all its celebrations, parades, and delicious food and drink are soon to be with us again. One of the most traditional foods associated with the holiday by the Irish and others worldwide is Irish soda bread. While popular year round the bread is especially appealing at St. Patrick’s day. We eat it hot from the oven with jam and sweet butter, on the side of a plate of corned beef and cabbage, for lunch time sandwiches or toasted for breakfast. But the problem with soda bread is that it’s so easy to eat in so many ways.
Soda bread is easy to prepare and to store and calls for inexpensive ingredients consisting of no more than flour, baking soda, and sour milk. It is a winning combination for home cooks and pastry chefs alike. Cost, availability and simple methods used in preparation make the bread popular. The association with St. Patrick’s Day grew as home cooks discovered they could more easily produce a better tasting bread at less cost in a shorter amount of time. In effect, taste became an element that could be controlled more easily.
Flavor and tastiness are excellent reasons for eating certain foods. The growth of corn syrup in thousands of prepared foods today is because the corn syrup used makes foods taste a whole lot better. Of course it’s not very good for you. It rots your teeth, puts on unwanted weight and creates an addiction to sugar that is unhealthy. But we love it because it sweetens the foods we eat.
There is no corn syrup in soda bread or very much sodium either. Rather there is beet sugar and sugar cane sugar. These ingredients in excessive amounts can become addictive. Try to stop eating your favorite sweet or savory pastry like a doughnut, a Beignet or a sticky bun. Not an easy thing to ignore. You are in trouble for sure. Of course I am half joking. We all have self-control, don’t we?
I know what I am saying from experience. As a young married man, I enjoyed cooking anything and everything I could get my hands on. I loved pleasing my wife and children with good food. As my family grew, I learned that my children especially loved baked goods like breads and rolls. I went on a hunt for a bread I could get my teeth around— one the whole family could enjoy. I discovered the Tassajara Zen Monastery outside San Francisco and its cookbook by the same name. They baked for Green’s at Fort Mason, a vegetarian restaurant I enjoyed, so I wanted to try their bread cookbook which today has become the Bible of breadmaking. I knew I was in trouble from the outset. I tell you this short story here so you can decide for yourself whether you want to risk stepping into the world of baking bread like soda bread and all the potential troublesome consequences that may arise.
I remember browsing through the book when it arrived and landing on the recipe for “4 loaves of bread.” It wasn’t soda bread but it was no less tasty and easy to make. Seemed like a snap. The Tassajara monks also attached a spiritual meaning to the kneading process of the bread which appealed to my inner desire for happiness. I recall they even had two risings. But,I could knock these loaves off in a couple of hours. And I did.
I gave one to our neighbor and another to some friends we often cooked with. The third loaf could freeze if we didn’t eat it first. I figured we could eat the fourth loaf during the week.
However, I discovered that by the next day, the fourth loaf was half gone. I had eaten it myself, slathered with butter. How could I resist? This went on for a while. After less than two weeks my pants were tight since I had gained 5 pounds. After another two weeks of eating the bread I had gained another 5 pounds and I couldn’t get into my pants. I decided to halt this almost unstoppable behavior.
While it’s true that my own vanity forced me to eventually stop baking, I also realized that I was close to being completely out of control. The smell alone is enough to gain weight. Freshly made bread is the best. I highly recommend having a go at it. Just appreciate the slippery slope you’re on and the dangers associated with baking.
This leads me back to soda bread and one of the best recipe for it.. Just be aware that once you make it, you may find yourself baking it., again and again.. As they say, Caveat Emptor; or in this case, baker beware. The holiday only comes around once a year, so enjoy your soda bread. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Irish Soda Bread
Makes A 1-Pound Loaf
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a large baking sheet.
2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and butter. Stir in 1 cup of buttermilk and egg.
3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead ever so slightly. Form dough into a round and place on prepared baking sheet. Cut an x into the top of the loaf.
4. In a small bowl, combine melted butter with 1/4 cup buttermilk; brush loaf with this mixture. Continue to brush the loaf while it bakes.
5. Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Check for it being done after 30 minutes.