The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

2 Sep

I had never heard of soda bread until we made it in my food science lab a couple of years ago.  Up until that day, I was only familiar with your classic sandwich breads (made with yeast) and the dense, sweet breads that my mom used to bake (banana bread with chocolate chips was my favourite!).  Little did I know that you could loosely combine these two types of breads and produce a sandwich-worthy loaf with little to no effort.

Soda bread is similar to many sweet breads (banana bread, loaves, muffins) in that the primary leavening agent used is baking soda.  There is no yeast involved, so you don’t have to put in the extra work of kneading and you don’t need to allow any extra time for rising.  In fact, the baking soda becomes active the minute it is in contact with something wet (in this case, buttermilk), so minimal handling is ideal as you want to get the loaf into the oven ASAP.

Before

After

 

Call me a nerd, but the joy of seeing a nondescript blob of dough transformed into a beautifully risen loaf of bread is what I consider to be one of life’s many greatest pleasures.  Yeast breads are a bit more rewarding given how much work goes into them, but this one gives you that same sense of accomplishment with very little effort.  The final product is more dense than your typical yeast bread but it still works well if you’re using it for sandwiches.  I like to eat soda bread as a side– it is the perfect accompaniment to a hearty soup or stew.

 

Freshly Baked Whole Grain Irish Soda Bread

 

Whole Grain Irish Soda Bread
(from the Foods and Nutrition 2232 Recipe Manual)

I’ve been tweaking this recipe to lower the amount of all-purpose flour used.  Most recently, I used only 1 cup of all-purpose flour and increased the whole wheat flour to 2 and 2/3 cups.  The bread tasted identical to the original recipe, the only change was that I needed to add a touch more buttermilk so that the dough was moist enough to work with.  Feel free to play with the recipe as you go– it’s virtually fool-proof!

1-2/3 cup all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup)
1 tablespoon sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups whole wheat flour (I used 2-2/3 cup)
2/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup wheat bran
2 cups buttermilk

Topping:
1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 tablespoon old-fashioned rolled oats

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together all-purpose flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; stir in whole wheat flour, 2/3 cup of oats, and bran.  Make a well in the centre; add buttermilk, stir until a soft dough forms.
  3. Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface (or onto a large square or wax paper).  Knead 5 or 6 times until smooth.  Shape dough into a ball; bat into a 8″ (20 cm) round.  Place on prepared baking sheet.  With a sharp knife dipped in flour (a serrated knife works best), cut a large 1/2″ (1 cm) deep cross on top of the loaf.
  4. Brush loaf with remaining 1 tbsp buttermilk; sprinkle with 1 tbsp oats.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until well risen and golden.  Loaf will sound hollow when tapped on base.  Immediately wrap in a clean, dry tea towel.  Set aside to cool (this prevents the crust from becoming too hard).

The only downside to this bread is that it does not last very long on the counter and tastes best if eaten within a day or two.  After a few days, it becomes crumbly and dry.  Since this makes a large loaf (~28 small slices or 14 large slices), I like to slice the loaf and freeze it the day of or the day after I make it.  To serve, microwave each slice for 10 to 20 seconds in the microwave and top with a dab of butter or margarine.

Makes 14 large slices.  Per slice: 145 kcal, 1 g fat, 3.7 g fibre, 255 mg sodium

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