Tuesday, March 17, 2009

80 Plates: Luck of the Irish

So today is (duh!) St. Patrick's Day, which seemed a perfect day to party like we're Irish, which my husband actually is 1/4 of the way. As I think I mentioned, neither one of us likes corned beef and cabbage, we're not like to drink green beer, and so it came to me like a bolt from the blue: Irish soda bread!

I thought I'd give you a quick background of Irish soda bread. According to Wikipedia:

Soda bread dates back to approximately 1840, when bicarbonate of soda was introduced to Ireland. Because the climate of Ireland hinders the growth of hard wheat (which creates a flour that rises easily with the assistance of yeast), bicarbonate of soda replaced yeast as the leavening agent.

There are several theories as to the significance of the cross in soda bread. Some believe that the cross was placed in the bread to ward off evil. It is also possible that the cross is used to help with the cooking of the bread or to serve as a guideline for even slices.

Soda bread eventually became a staple of the Irish diet. It was, and still is, used as an accompaniment to a meal.

However, there seems to be some controversary swirling around about Irish soda bread. Some claim that it's more an American creation, or at least an American bastardization of the real thing. You can read the fascinating story from an Irish chef here. My first brush with soda bread was in college. I ate it once on St. Patty's day, didn't care for it and haven't had it again. But it beats corned beef and cabbage! So it is what we elected to do. Incidentally, soda bread is one of the national dishes of Ireland. So how about that!?

Now, either I am a total trendsetting genius or I'm a lemming like everyone else, because I swear, everyone is making Irish soda bread today. Seriously. So much so that I could not get buttermilk at my local grocery store. For some reason, though, I've been reading a lot about, "If you don't have buttermilk, curdle some milk with lemon juice and it'll work just fine". So due to the fact that I didn't want to have to go to 3 different stores like my friend Lauren did, I decided to just go ahead and curdle it here at home. Plus, I can use milk and I probably couldn't have used whatever might have been left of the buttermilk.

If you want to use the recipe I used, please visit the website at Associated Content, where someone has posted their aunt's recipe, said aunt living on Ireland's Dingle Peninsula (does that sound like a made up place, or is it just me?).

If you look in the ingredients, you will see a bottle of lemon juice. Lemon juice in Irish soda bread, you ask? Well, that's how you curdle milk. I wanted to do this first, since my friend Jacalyn suggested that it had to sit on the counter for a while and curdle properly. This was supported by anecdotal evidence on the internet. Jacalyn also suggested that since I needed 2 cups of buttermilk, I might want to do it in two separate batches, so I did. I put in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 1 cup of milk.

Curdle away, boys!

Ok, so while that was curdling merrily away, I preheated the oven and got to work with the dry ingredients. I measured out 4 cups of flour and put it in the bowl of my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer :-) I decided to use the dough hook today since we are making bread, and figured it would give a nice little kneading (bread sure is kneady! *insert groans here*). I'm not sure if you'll be able to see it, but of the various shades of white stuff in here, you will see sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

Once I combined that, it was time to cut in the butter. I used a regular unsalted butter since I had already added a little salt to the dough. I have to say, the dough hook didn't do much for it to cut the butter in, so I switched to the paddle for that step. While it did mean I dirtied another attachment, it worked much better. Then it was time to add some dried fruit. I selected golden raisins, although the General is probably not going to like them, but I love golden ones better than the black raisins and I have them lying around from a previous recipe, so I figured I would go ahead and use them. I still have some (hooray!) for something else, but I'm not yet sure what.

Ok, so by this time, the 'buttermilk' was in pretty good shape. I read the directions carefully this time-as opposed to with the spaetzle where I dumped everything in--and discovered I had to whisk the egg and buttermilk together before adding them to the flour mixture.

Then I put the dough hook back on the Kitchen Aid and started slowly adding in the egg mixture. The directions said to do this by hand, but I was like, "What?! How do you pick up a liquid with your hand!?" so I let the machine did it.

Almost immediately upon the completion of incorporating the two parts of the ingredients, I was aware there was a problem. See anything strange?

Yeah, it's like a freakin' liquid! It was so sticky and gooey. Ugh. I figured the hook missed some flour on the bottom of the bowl, which it had and which I incorporated, but that was before I took the above picture! The problem became even more apparently when I turned it out on my "lightly floured" surface.

Attack of the killer blob

So I knew from reading the little article that the dude wrote to accompany his aunt's recipe that it was kind of ballparky at best--his aunt didn't use recipes, just did everything by feel. Still, it took me nearly another 1 1/2 cups of flour to get it to resemble anything close to bread dough and man did it make a mess! I got a little nervous that maybe I needed to add some extra leavening, but I wasn't really sure, so I left it alone. I transferred the bread to a parchment lined cookie sheet and cut the traditional cross into the top of it.

The directions said it should bake 50-60 minutes, but I found that when I took it out after 55, it was still a little gooey on the inside, so I let it go about 65 minutes. And voila! I made Irish soda bread!

Well, you know how it is, one of the best things ever is fresh baked bread, it just smells awesome! And how about the taste of it when it's slathered in butter, which then melts and gets all yummy? So I couldn't just sit there and look at it, I had to cut myself a little piece and try it.

Ok, so why I should be surprised that the cafeteria at my college had totally loused up the bread, I don't know since they basically loused up everything they tried to cook, or maybe my tastes have changed, or maybe it's just better hot, but whatever the case may be, this is/was one damned good piece of bread. Irish, American, Irish-American, I'll take it!

I can't wait to see what the General thinks!

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