Thursday, March 4, 2010

Quest for the Best Soda Bread

This March I decided I finally have to sort out the soda bread question. Maybe it's an urge to connect up with my Irish roots. Or maybe it's an excuse to use up some of the flours I keep buying.* Whatever it is, this month it's soda bread in my kitchen.
Okay, I admit it, the immediate trigger was a photo in this month's Bon Appetit of a slice of Mrs. O'Callaghan's soda bread slathered with yellow Irish butter. The loaf above is the result of Mrs. O'Callaghan's recipe. I think it's pretty gorgeous (and you should see Mrs. O'Callaghan, whose photo is also in the magazine but unfortunately not on the website), and we all liked the taste, especially slathered with Kerrygold Irish butter. The texture is slightly crumbly as opposed to the chewiness of a yeast loaf. But it's moist and hefty and rustic and the ideal vehicle for butter. Strangely, the comments on epicurious regarding this recipe all said it was too dry, many added extra buttermilk, and some people couldn't get it to come out at all. Mine was not too dry, but my only criticism is that it's a little on the sweet side, with 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Brown sugar! I suspect this is an Americanization because last time I was in the British Isles, brown sugar was not to be found. I wonder what Mrs. O'Callaghan really uses. But we ate it up in 24 hours. Four thumbs up.
Next I tried 101 Cookbooks' recipe for Irish Mum's Brown Bread. I got graham flour especially for it. Above is the result. It's a smaller loaf, with less flour and a bit wetter dough so I baked it in a loaf pan. I love the coarseness of the graham flour. The boys did not like it as much as Mrs. O'Callaghan's, probably because it has no sugar. But it has an egg, which I think makes it a bit stronger and maybe a tiny bit lighter. I can't wait to have some toasted with marmalade for breakfast tomorrow.
But I'm not done yet! There are still more recipes to try. I've been drooling over a recipe in the Silver Palate cookbook for soda bread with currants, and there's another one on epicurious with caraway seeds and another one with sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds! Probably not too Irish but worth a try.

*I just did a flour inventory. I have unbleached white flour, unbleached white bread flour, graham flour, whole wheat pastry flour, white whole wheat pastry flour, and wheat bran. And that's just the wheat flours. I also have masa harina, cornmeal, polenta, and almond meal. Gotta use it up before it goes stale.

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