Introduction: Easy Soda Bread
Need a quick bread? No time to proof your yeast or let the bread rise (and rise again?)? Sometimes a simple bread is all you need.
This delicious soda bread harnesses the leavening powers of baking soda to provide its life. This recipe is an amalgamation of passed down recipes, several recipes pulled from cookbooks, and a few of my own twists, using ingredients in the pantry while attempting to keep it relatively healthy.
It's not traditional in any sense as it blends Irish, Welsh, and some Middle Eastern flavors together, but it makes a wonderfully all-purpose bread that pairs surprisingly well with a wide array of foods.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 45 minutes
Step 1: Ingredients
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (close to room temp)
- 1 cup skim milk
- 1 tablespoon vinegar (I use date vinegar)
- 2 tablespoons date molasses
some quick notes on the ingredients
I've found that about half whole-wheat and half white is the perfect mix. any more whole wheat and it falls apart, any less and it loses some character.
Traditionally, many soda breads call for buttermilk. I don't usually have buttermilk on hand, but I do have milk and something to sour it with. I use date vinegar as it provides a subtle yet interesting character. You could easily substitute lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. And if you really wanted, you could probably use buttermilk as well.
I love date molasses. It has a richness and sweetness vastly different than other sweeteners. Its higher in nutrients than many, and as it is pure fruit, it has a lower Glycemic Index score as well. But you can use any sweetener you prefer, from white sugar to honey to agave nectar. The beauty of this recipe is its ability to be modified without difficulty.
Step 2: Pre-heat the Oven
Pre-heat the oven to 375º F (190ºC).
Set the baking rack roughly in the middle of the oven.
I'm using a baking stone which should be preheated along with the oven. A stone isn't necessary and doesn't add a significant amount to this recipe, so you could get away with any baking sheet.
Step 3: Sour the Milk
Souring milk seems counter-intuitive, i know, but you're basically creating buttermilk. It ends up lighter (and healthier) and I don't usually have buttermilk around.
Simply pour the milk into a non-reactive (i.e. glass) container and add the tablespoon of vinegar. Give it a mix and let it rest for 10 minutes. enough time to get your other ingredients together and get the oven preheated.
Step 4: Mix Dry Ingredients
Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl that is large enough to fit all of the ingredients, dry and liquid.
Step 5: Cut in Butter
After letting the butter warm slightly, cut it in to the dry ingredients until the pieces are slightly smaller than peas. I prefer using a pastry blender, but you can use forks, two knives, or whatever you like.
Step 6: Add Liquid Ingredients
After the butter is fully incorporated, pour in the milk and add the molasses. Begin stirring with a spoon to incorporate. At a certain point, it becomes necessary to mix - or almost knead in the bowl - by hand to fully incorporate the ingredients. This dough is somewhat dry and takes a bit of working to fully mix.
Step 7: Knead the Dough
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface - I use my counter top - and give it a steady kneading for a minute or two. Kneading should be gentle, just enough to wake the gluten. If your hands and wrists hurt from kneading, you're kneading too hard. It doesn't need much work, just enough to get it to hold together; the dough should still be somewhat loose.
Step 8: Score the Top
Neatly tuck the dough into a somewhat oblong ball (think rugby) and score the top in both directions roughly half an inch deep with a knife.
Step 9: Bake!
Set the loaf on the preheated baking stone or baking sheet, close the oven, and let it bake on its own for 45 minutes. The bread should develop a rich golden top and when it's done, tapping the bottom should sound slightly hollow (although not as hollow as other breads, as this one is fairly dense).
Place it on to a wire cooling rack to cool to room temperature.
Step 10: Slice and Enjoy!
The bread has a dense, crumby, slightly crumbly texture with a chunky flake crust. It keeps well in a zip-loc bag and stays fresh for a few days. Because of its simplicity, it's become one of our main go-to breads. It makes great chunky toast and holds up nicely to accompany soups and stews. The slight amount of sweetener makes it sweet enough for sweet breakfasts, but it still has enough of a savory undertone to work with almost any meal!
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