Soda bread and Rejuvenation
It’s been a while! How are you all?
The last few months here at Darby O’Shea HQ have been busy, but mostly really, really fun. Lately I’ve been feeling really great, happy, relatively relaxed. I’ve actually been feeling really young. Symptoms of this phenomenon include, but are not limited to:
- I’m nursing a big bad celebrity crush. Like googling-pictures-of-him-bad. And wanting-to-watch-all-his-old-movies-even-if-I-probably-won’t-like-them-bad. I am embarrassed.
- I’ve been listening to songs on repeat like I did in middle school, but with less rewinding, thanks to iTunes replacing my old collection of cassette singles. (Yes, I’m that old.) in this case I’m not listening to walking on broken glass or the Macarena or boyz to men on repeat (it was a deeply silly time of life.) but rather Mumford and Sons (specifically “Winter Winds“) and Regina Spektor (“How” is a really, really great song.)
- I’m picking back up old hobbies, even though I don’t really have time or money to support them. Knitting, sewing, all kinds of fun.
- I’m thinking a lot about clothes and all the fun things I’m going to wear on vacation in December.
- I’ve reverted to a steady diet of junk food. (Admittedly, junk food looks different these days than it used to. Indian takeout has replaced hot pockets and “homemade” from-a-box calzones and greasy Alfredo sauce and cream cheese spread thickly on saltines, those staples of middle school snacks.)
- I laugh louder and more easily. I snort while doing this.
- I may or may not occasionally twirl while walking across the apartment. (Isn’t that what sock-feet and wooden floors are for?)
It may seem silly, but I think I can put all these happy, silly little changes down to finally having recovered from grad school. It’s been six months since that long slog ended and I’m only now feeling like its actually over. I’ve got more energy and am more uniformly happy than I’ve been since … College? Can that be right?
Now that I’ve thoroughly embarrassed myself, lets talk about food.
A couple years go, I had a flash of this kind of happiness and hopefulness. It expressed itself in soda bread, admittedly not a great recipe. I’ve made a few other attempts since then with different recipes and varying degrees of success. This time I have found a good one, one that captures the taste and almost the texture of the soda bread I so enjoy munching when we are in Ireland.
It’s funny. All of the actual Irish recipes I’ve tried call for unseemly quantities (this one wanted a ridiculous TEN cups of flour). When I read one of these recipes, I imagine an appallingly stereotypical and anachronistic scene involving turf fires and glowing hearths and huge families and wide floury aprons. But I think in reality these recipes are so huge because it’s physically impossible to eat fewer than four slices of warm soda bread fresh from the oven, slathered with salty butter and topped with a slab of sour, crackly Dubliner cheese.
Great. Now I’m salivating. In public. And out of reach of any soda bread or cheese.
With no further ado, the recipe.
NOTE: I think you could easily halve the recipe, but I wouldn’t quite halve the soda, lest the bread not rise – also every recipe I’ve used calls for two teaspoons of soda, regardless of whether it requires ten cups of flour or six or four. Also, full disclosure, I haven’t tried this, so no guarantees. I also find traditional American whole wheat flour a little too heavy. Use stone ground (Bob’s Red Mill is good.) or, if you can find it, Graham flour. It comes the closest to the texture I’ve found in real soda bread.
Rich Soda Bread
slightly adapted from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook
- 5 c Whole Wheat Flour, stone-ground or Graham where possible
- 5 c Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (I use King Arthur)
- 1 T Salt
- 2 t Baking Soda
- 3-4 c Buttermilk (I needed closer to four cups, but you should use your judgment.)
- 1/4 c Old Fashioned Oatmeal
- 1 Egg
- 2 T Butter
- Preheat the oven to 450.
- Whisk together the flours, salt, soda, and oats.
- Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles cornmeal.
- Whisk together the egg and buttermilk.
- Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Pour in 3 cups of the buttermilk mixture and, using your hands, sweep the flour mixture into the buttermilk mixture until it is incorporated.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape roughly into a round, two inches tall.
- Deeply slice the top of the dough. An X is traditional. Darina Allen also instructs us to prick the corners “to let the fairies out.”
- Lightly flour a baking sheet, place the dough onto it, and bake for 15 minutes at 450. Then, turn the heat down to 400 and bake for a further 25-30 minutes. The bread should be brown and crispy and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.