As a family activity, we sometimes lure daughter Eilene out of her room—away from playing her online games—to watch a show together. She introduced us to The Great British Baking Show. While she like the competition of the regular show, we prefer the more educational GBBS: Masterclass (sic)—where you learn more about how to make the actual recipes.
Two days ago, we watched how to make soda bread. Soda bread is a quick bread that traditionally uses only four ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt and buttermilk. The variation Paul made in the show with a mixture of whole meal/wheat and regular flour is usually called wheaten bread. There are many other variations that include butter, eggs, raisins, nuts and a variety of different flours—Scottish bannock is soda bread made with oat or barley flour.
While which flour you use is a matter of taste, what is important is that you do not develop a lot of gluten, as you mix your dough. Baking soda produces only a small amount of gas to raise your bread. If the gasses are struggling against a tough gluten web, the bread will not rise and you will end up with a flat, hard rock. Never knead a quick bread.
One trick I picked up from Baker Paul is dividing the loaf before baking. Most recipes you will find call for cutting a small cross across the tip of the loaf before baking. Paul cut all the way through the dough ball in each direction and slightly separated the quarters—about an eighth of an inch. This allowed the heat of the oven to get into the center of the bread and results in a more even bake—especially with a large loaf, the outer crust is in danger of becoming over baked before the center is fully done .
My usual quick bread uses Guinness instead of buttermilk—another possible variation. Today, because of the show, Jan wanted plain soda bread. Most recipes call for making two small loaves or one huge loaf, but today I only wanted one small loaf, so I reduced the recipe by half—feel free to double the amounts.
Note: To go with this bread Jan requested a clam chowder.
Karl’s Traditional Soda Bread
2½ cups AP flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1⅔ low fat butter milk
1. Preheat your oven to 375º F.
Note: It takes only a few minutes to bring together the dough for a quick bread. Since you are using a chemical leavening agent, there is no proofing time. As soon as you have formed your loaf, it goes straight into the oven to bake.
2. Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
Tip: You may sift the flour several times or use a whisk to evenly blend the dry ingredients.
3. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the buttermilk..
4. Mix in the buttermilk until all of the dry flour is just absorbed.
Tip: Use a spatula or your hands to fold the ingredients together.
Note: You do not want to use a stirring motion—as this would encourage gluten formation.
5. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead the dough 3-4 times.
Tip: NOT 3-4 minutes, just three quick kneads.
Note: You are only trying to make sure that all of the dry flour, in the middle of the dough ball, is incorporated.
6. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a baking sheet.
Tip: You may flour the sheet or use parchment paper to keep the loaf from sticking.
7. Use a knife or board scraper to cut the loaf into quarters.
Tip: Leave a very small gap between the pieces of dough.
Note: As the heat of the oven expands the bread these gaps will fill in and merge back into a single loaf. As well as allowing the heat of the oven to reach the center of the loaf, the open spaces give the gases, produced by the baking soda, more room to expand without resistance.
8. Bake your loaf at 375º F for 40-50 minutes.
Tip: Remove the loaf when a toothpick come out clean.
Note: Rotate the bread half way through to ensure even baking.
9. Transfer the finished loaf to a wire rack and let it cool slightly.
10. Slice and serve warm with Irish butter.