Chocolate maple cake

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This afternoon, Brunton number one declared that he had a hankering for something sweet. His immediate reaction was to grab some Angel Delight from the cupboard – if you didn’t grow up on this stuff, it is a sweet, powdered custard that you whip up with milk and leave to set. Although it may have been my favourite thing when I was about six, I’m less of a fan now (although top tip – if you have guests over for dinner and have forgotten to make pudding, mix the chocolate one up with double cream and melted dark chocolate, it’s remarkably good). Instead, I decided to whip up a chocolate cake.

Rather than do a plain chocolate sponge which I have always found to turn out a little dry, I decided to mix it up with a little maple syrup. So here it is – chocolate maple cake!

Chocolate Maple Cake

Ingredients:

– 175g self raising flour
– 50g cocoa powder
– 225g butter
– 225g caster sugar
– 4 medium eggs
– 80g dark chocolate
– 2 tbsp maple syrup

For the icing:

– 3 tbsp maple syrup
– 200g icing (confectioner’s) sugar
– 80g dark chocolate
– 2 tbsp butter
– 50ml milk

Method:

– Grease a 22cm cake tin and preheat the oven to 180°.

– Cream together the butter and sugar – beat until it is pale and fluffy.

– Beat in the egg until smooth, then slowly fold in the flour and cocoa, incorporating lots of air.

– Melt together the chocolate and maple syrup, and slowly fold into the cake mixture.

– Pour into the tin and bake for 40 mins, or until a skewer comes out clean.

For the icing:

– melt together the butter, chocolate, and two tbsp of the maple syrup.

– Beat this mixture into the icing sugar and mix in the milk. Leave to cool.

– When the cake is cool, slice it in half through the middle. Beat the last tbsp of maple syrup into the icing and spread half over the middle of the cake. Sandwich the two pieces together and then spread the remaining icing over the top.

Top tip: While spreading the icing, it will lift easily off the cake, picking up crumbs. To stop this, try and spoon it evenly on the cake, and then wet the knife you use to spread the icing to stop it sticking.

The brand new Hot Pink Apron and why the feminist in me loves the internet

Those of you who have been following the blog will hopefully have seen that the all-singing all-dancing rebrand of the Hot Pink Apron website is all up and running, and the first few articles of this month’s issue are already online. It’s something I’m really proud to be part of and has already been amazing fun just in getting the first issue live. I’ve read all about Dana’s efforts in the kitchen and the trials and tribulations of being a mum of two small kids for the last couple of years with a certain envy – everything she cooks looks so damn tasty. If anyone knows how to make child-induced sleep deprivation look good, then it is definitely Dana.

That’s not the only reason I’m proud to be taking part in this project. As a kid, my mum was always keen for me and my siblings to learn to bake cake. If you can’t train your children to make and feed you delicious baked goodies as your own little kitchen slaves from an early age, then you are definitely doing it wrong. Whether out of some notions of gender equality or a three-cakes-are-better-than-two mentality, my little brother soon learned to be a baking pro alongside me and his twin sister. Whenever he had a yen for cake, my little bro always produced the lightest, fluffiest sponges, with far more patience than either of his sisters, and a natural talent for baking. Where my brother was a pro at victoria sponge, I excelled at muffins, and my sister surpassed us both with her skill at cookies and cake decorating. Needless to say, mum and dad were kept well stocked in cake through our childhood.

Presenting our baked goods to our parents one day, not for the first time dad praised little bro’s exceptionally light hand at cake and proudly told him, ‘All the best chefs are men’. Naturally argumentative and pedantic, and with the beginnings of feminism in mind, I objected to this. Granted, male athletes will usually run faster, jump higher and swim faster than their female counterparts. This is biological inevitability. But baking? I incredulously pointed out to dad that when asked what their favourite food is, most people will reply ‘so-and-so-meal, just how mum/nan does it’. Both my parents carefully explained that home cooking was good and all, but there really weren’t that many famous/celebrated female chefs. When things got competitive, men were just better at it. Ever impressionable, I swallowed this perceived truth (almost) whole, and for years believed it to be true that all the best chefs were men and my brother probably just had some natural advantage at sponge cake. Who knew?

As I got older I started to recognise something of a self-fulfilling prophecy about these statements.  The ‘fact’ that all the best chefs are men is not driven by a meritocracy, where the women just fail to cut the mustard – we often just aren’t expected to try. If a woman does try to make her way in a “man’s” field, she can expect to be met with a whole lot more resistance. It’s worth pointing out that my parents are pretty liberal minded and told their daughters and sons alike that we could do anything we worked hard enough to achieve. Some gender stereotyping is so ingrained it doesn’t even feel like prejudice – just fact.

While rebranding Hot Pink Apron, a huge amount of time was piled into how to market ourselves as writers, and as a magazine as a whole. We are keen to use the magazine to connect together foodies from every walk of life, irrespective of gender. But nonetheless I’m very proud of the voice Hot Pink Apron gives us as ladies. We represent everything feminism wanted for its daughters – some of us are stay at home mums on a career break to raise kids, some are doing both. Some of us have full time jobs and no intention to have kids. We are marketing specialists, academics, musicians and mothers, and from behind a computer can tell the world that being women doesn’t stop us doing any of these things. We are all talented with food and nobody is shouting us down with cries of ‘don’t you ladies know the best chefs are men?!’.hot pink apron

The world of feminism has been revolutionised by the internet, where anyone (for better or worse) can carve a niche for themselves, and it is hard to censor them out. We are free to define ourselves the way we want ourselves to be seen, and we are free not to give a hoot whether we are doing what women are ‘supposed’ to be good at. My great-grandmother could never have imagined a great-granddaughter who went to university, got a job AND got married, and wrote for an online magazine, yet I am conspicuously doing all those things and so far, no one is showing any signs of stopping me. Feminism and the internet make an awesome, Hot Pink combination.

Hot Pink Apron – A new chapter

We just got a little nuttier

It all started with pine nut biscuits.

Well, sort of.

A couple of weeks ago I had a hankering after biscuits – pine nut biscuits to be precise. My father in law had just served up a delicious risotto scattered with them, and sure enough the next day I wanted them in biscuit form. A bit of googling revealed that the Italians were already on the case, and the resulting biscuit was a ‘pignoli’. The only hold up – it needed almond paste, which I had no idea where to buy. Undeterred, I decided to make my own.

The biscuits were something of a mixed success (taste: gorgeous. Texture: not unlike cinder toffee. Needs work!) and lamenting my misfortune to hunger after such a complicated recipe on facebook (where else) an interesting email pinged its way to my inbox.

proposal

I was excited. Dana is one of my husband’s Canadian cousins, and her blog, Hot Pink Apron, is one of the reasons I started blogging. Whatever this proposition was, I had already decided that I wanted in. I waited by my email, hitting refresh like a madwoman, but it was hella worth it.

Hot Pink Apron up to this point has been Dana’s baby. Having let the career take a back seat while she raises two gorgeous girls, Hot Pink Apron has been an amazing creative outlet for a lady with some serious talent with food. It’s garnered a bigger and bigger following, and has started producing all kinds of opportunities to review food, restaurants and kitchen products. It’s as much about being a parent, a misfit (in the best possible way) and being a unique and interesting person as it is about food, and it’s easy to see why the blog has so many dedicated followers these days.

The proposal Dana sent me was to turn an already-popular one-woman blog into an even-better collaborative magazine. My (slightly wobbly) attempts at pignoli were apparently attention-grabbing enough to grab me on board, and I’m so glad to be here. Sit tight for the next Bruntonian adventure, because Hot Pink Apron is about love of life, good food, local produce, and laughing often. I’ve already been introduced to some fabulous people as part of this project, and I can’t wait to get started on making it every bit as awesome as it looks.

Launch date is 4th April and will involve a new shiny website, and a bucket load of new content from the lovely ladies behind Hot Pink Apron. Come on over – trust me, you’ll love it here.

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Getting ready for Christmas part 3 – Fudge!

So I’ve been promising this recipe for a while and have finally  found the notebook it’s scrawled into. This recipe is a little trickier than the truffles in as far as there’s more that can go wrong, but it’s super worth it. As usual, this will be a long winded recipe that will hopefully steer you clear of the pitfalls I have already come across.

Fudge

Ingredients

– 1 can condensed milk

– 115g butter

– 450g Soft brown sugar

– 150ml milk

– Few drops vanilla essence or other flavouring

Method

– Grease, and preferably baseline a tray to set the fudge in. I have a sheet of teflon which is ideal for the job.

– Melt the butter, and mix together the ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Try to mix as thoroughly as you can to avoid lumps. Take a short break to pick the condensed milk tin clean.

– Put the pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. As with the Turkish Delight, you will need to get this to softboil stage in order to have it set. This takes around 15 mins or so of fairly intense boiling the mixture, and the magic temperature is 115*. I personally think the most consistent way of achieving this is with a sugar thermometer but have made it without one before – just google ‘softboil sugar’ and there are plenty enough videos of how to test sugar temperatures.

The difficulty here is that stirring tends to lower the temperature, but this stuff will burn to the bottom of the pan if left unattended. We have a lovely double ring gas hob for really packing heat into something – if you don’t, then the best thing you can do is at least get it to reduce a fair bit – that 15 mins of heavy boiling should do the job.

– Once it has reached softboil temperature, take off the heat and tip into a fresh, cold saucepan. Although this will add to the washing up it’s very difficult to cool it without it. Put the original saucepan in to soak straight away. You also want to add your vanilla at this point.

– Your next task is to beat the fudge mixture until it sets. This takes time. Your arms may fall off. You’ve been warned. It needs to crystallise and cool – you’ll be able to tell when it’s done when the texture is grainy, and not glossy. You can double check by cooling a spoonful and seeing if it sets nicely.

– Once it has been set, spoon the fudge into the tray you prepared earlier (if you’re like me, you didn’t, but we can pretend you did. You should go prepare that tray now). Smooth it out, and wait for it to cool. Slice up, and eat. Nom nom nom.

Getting ready for Christmas part 2 – Chocolate Truffles

This is a recipe I found on a forum back in the day when I was about 17. I have no idea where the original came from any more, but I had never seen anything like it at the time and have been using it for years. Now that people like Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith (whose recipes, incidentally, I can’t stand since the great coffee cake disaster of ’06…just ask my poor nan!) have websites, there are a proliferation of similar recipes all over the internet now. They’re very simple to make and taste delicious. Great for Christmas, or in fact, just for scoffing. Either way, they’re going in the hampers!

(Pictures to follow on Friday once I have actually made them – just thought I’d give you all the recipe as early as possible!)

Chocolate Truffles

Ingredients

– 225g dark chocolate (milk doesn’t set so well – plus you’re adding loads of cream. Dark is fine milky chocolate lovers.)
– 250ml thick double cream
– 55g butter
– Unsweetened cocoa powder to dust
– Flavouring of your choice – more on that at the end!

Method

– Chop the chocolate into small chunks. A pain in the backside, but important to have it set properly.

– Put the cream into a heavy bottomed pan and slowly bring to a gentle simmer. The intention is not to boil it to death, just get it hot. Tip in the butter, and keep simmering until it is melted.

– Pour the cream and butter mixture over your melted chocolate in a heatproof bowl. The smallness of the chunks of chocolate is important here because you want the chocolate to gently melt under the influence of warm cream – slowly and gently. This will make it set better. Don’t cheat by just nuking your chocolate – if it persistently won’t melt, make a bain marie by putting it in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, and stir constantly. Don’t let the water touch the bowl – we’re going for a gentle heat here.

– Sometimes it separates a little at this stage. I don’t fret too much as once it’s chilled this usually resolves itself with a bit of stirring. Leave to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, and then give it a little time in the fridge until it’s quite firm and cool to the touch.

– Spoon out the mixture into truffle sized pieces and with COLD HANDS (run under the cold tap if necessary) roll out into a surface dusted with cocoa to get a good shape. Keep refrigerated (fresh cream won’t keep that long at room temperature!).

– Eat. Or give away as presents. Or serve at your Christmas party. If you have the self restraint.

I said I’d talk about flavourings didn’t I?

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten. You have a few options here – your imagination is the limit. Some flavourings are better added to the cream, some are better added to something approximating the finished mixture.

  • If you want to add cinnamon or similar, I’d recommend adding this to the cream as it heats up, then strain the cream before tipping over your chocolate to remove any chunks. This will make a lighter, more delicate flavour.
  • Whiskey, rum, and most spirits are pretty delicious with chocolate. I add a tablespoon or so to the cream just before pouring over the chocolate as it is the easiest way of incorporating the liquid.
  • On the other hand, citrus, such as orange, is easiest to add to the hot mixture – a tbsp of juice plus a little finely grated zest is good. Decorate the top with a tiny sliver of sliced peel, or candied peel if you can get it.
  • Chilli! Chilli chocolate is the business. Add some finely chopped chilli to the mixture and decorate with a thin slice of chilli so everyone knows these chocolates are HOT.
  • Cracked black pepper – also nice. Go for something fairly coarse.
  • Mint – I add a touch of mint essence to the cream. Be sparing.
  • Alternatively, roll your finished chocolates in flaked almonds, or stir in chopped nuts – hazelnuts are good, as are walnuts.
  • I personally can’t abide coconut but there are some depraved individuals who might consider ruining some perfectly good truffles by rolling them in dessicated coconut. I’ve heard they exist, anyway.

Hopefully these are enough ideas to get you started! Fudge recipe will go up shortly – once I find it!

Getting ready for Christmas – or how to make Turkish delight

The dried strips These are the ingredients - wine does not go in the Turkish Delight but is recommended as part of the process The chopped up Turkish Delight All dusted and ready to serve

Last year at Christmas Brunton Number 1 and I had no money. We had negative money, in fact. He was a student, I was a temp, and we were both in our overdrafts. Instead of cementing our debts further with expensive Christmas presents, we made hampers of home made gifts for our friends and family including booze, chocolates and fudge. This year we both have reasonably well-paid jobs, and for the first time, we have money. Having begun asking what our relatives wanted for Christmas though, the resounding answer was: ‘moar sweeties’.

I’ll probably supplement some of the hampers with other non-edible home-made gifts but they will be the basis of all our Christmas presents this year. Some of the items have been specifically requested again – Irish Cream in particular – other things are being replaced or added to with more challenging recipes, the first of which is Turkish Delight.

My mum loves the stuff. She can scoff in seconds what a lesser woman wouldn’t be able to stomach. For those poor souls who haven’t encountered the delicacy that is real Turkish Delight (or Lokum as it is properly called) it is like the inside of a jelly bean, but lightly flavoured with lemon or rosewater, and usually full of hazelnuts and pistachios and dusted with icing sugar. The chewy, soft texture is basically the most luxurious foodstuff there is – and real Lokum bears no resemblance whatsoever to Fry’s Turkish Delight before you ask.

The maker of the original recipe of this delicious sweet came up with the idea mid 1700’s – and his descendants still run a shop in the same premises today. It swept across the Ottoman Empire as a delicacy and quickly became popular in England, best exemplified perhaps by Edmund’s deception by Turkish Delight at the hands of the White Witch in The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Modern recipes recommend the use of gelatin as the setting agent – I don’t. I tried making one of these recipes, and you will achieve something with the same consistency as one of those jelly concentrate cubes, and the flavour is nothing like as rich. The real stuff is set with starch. First of all you prepare a sugar syrup, then cornflour is boiled with water to form a gel. The two are mixed together and then boiled and reduced to form the slightly springy, yet ultimately squishy texture of real Turkish Delight.

What you will find by doing it properly is that the sweets may have a tendency to ‘sweat’. You’ll make something that looks gorgeous, dust it in icing sugar, all for it to be instantly absorbed. After a day or two, the box you put it in will be covered in sugary water and your beautiful plump Turkish Delight will resemble nothing more than pink, rose scented mush. This is a bitch.

I have since tried the recipe again with a few amendments and a bit more science to much more success. I would recommend being slow, patient and careful all the way through this recipe – it’s the only way to ensure you keep the firm texture.

Yay, science!

So apparently Lokum is the confectionery of choice for the discerning geek. First – sugar syrup. Mix together more sugar than would ordinarily dissolve in water and heat the water. It will now absorb your sugar (win!). Keep going and the water will evaporate, leaving behind an increasingly dense sugar mixture. The boiling point will keep rising and at the magical 115*c, you will have reached the ‘softball stage’, that is, the point at which if you tipped a drop into cold water, it would form a soft, pliable ball when cool enough to touch. 3* too high, and you have ‘hardball’ stage sugar and it will form a solid, crunchy sugar. This is not desirable for soft squishy Turkish Delight. If I impress anything on you today, let it be to buy a sugar thermometer. They cost around £15 and are the only way to do it without risk of scalding your fingers trying to test the damn sugar. Confectionery is a precise art, and it requires precise measurements.

The cornflour gel is also a lot of fun. Under heat, the starch molecules begin to break up, and can be persuaded to take on more water. You’ll be merrily mixing away something with the consistency of skimmed milk, and then in a matter of seconds you can stand your whisk up in it. Crazy stuff.

Your mission after this point is to boil and reduce the mixture and drive out as much water as you can without making the Lokum too dry. This is what will ultimately determine whether or not you get sweating mush, or plump delicious sweets. After you have made your Lokum if you dust it with sugar/cornflour too quickly, you’ll draw out all the liquid and make mush. The recommendation is to leave it to air dry first, then lightly dust in cornflour, and leave for half an hour to form a protective crust of sorts before smothering with icing sugar.

I normally credit recipes that aren’t mine to the appropriate sources but in this case I have honestly read the whole of google on ‘Turkish Delight’, ‘Lokum’ and variants thereof so I don’t really know where to start. This recipe uses a basic mixture I found here, but amended a little and with enough of my own experience and advice thrown in I’m pretty happy to say that this is tried, tested and edited. So here’s the recipe!

Turkish Delight (Lokum)

Ingredients:

– 400g caster sugar
– 70g cornflour (cornstarch if you’re from the other side of the pond)
– water
– ½ tsp cream of tartar
– 1 ½ tsp lemon juice

To dust:
– extra cornflour
– icing sugar

To flavour:
– I split mine in half and used 1 tsp rosewater (and some red colouring) in one half, and ¼ teaspoon lemon essence (a bit strong actually, you could use even less!) and a little yellow food colouring. You can chuck in pretty much anything though, and lightly toasted pistachios or hazelnuts are traditional as well.

With regard lemon essence – it’s more than worth your while to get something reasonably fancy – namely the ingredients should only be oil, and lemon oil. It will be strong tasting, delicious, actually made of lemons, and won’t have any additional stabilisers etc that will affect the stabilisers you’re already using in the mixture. Be sparing with it – it’s usually strong.

Method:

Preparation

– Be anally retentive. There aren’t that many ingredients and it’s easier to have them weighed out ready. You’ll also need to cover a mould in oiled greaseproof paper for your Lokum to set in. Make sure you oil it with something fairly flavourless like corn oil – do not use olive oil.

Make your sugar syrup

– Mix together the sugar, lemon juice, and 185ml water. It doesn’t look like much water but that’s the idea. The lemon juice isn’t for flavour – it’s a stabiliser. The citric acid will help stop crystals forming in your sugar syrup and it’s pretty essential.
– Put on a medium heat and bring to the boil. Brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to avoid sugar crystals forming.
– Use your sugar thermometer to test when it gets to 115*. Try not to stir it too much or you may struggle to get the required 115*. This takes time. The water has to evaporate for this to work and that isn’t instantaneous – it can take up to about 25 mins. Once it has hit the magical 115*, remove from the heat. Give it a few minutes to cool and decant into a pyrex jug, and soak the pan in hot water IMMEDIATELY or you will live to regret it.

Make the cornflour gel

– Cornflour is weird. Under heat it will go nuts for water and form an odd sort of wallpaper paste. Mix your cream of tartar, cornflour and 250ml water thoroughly before heating. If you don’t mix thoroughly you’ll get lumps that you will be able to do NOTHING ABOUT.
– Whisk constantly over a low heat, taking care to get right to the edges of the pan. All of a sudden it will start to get lumpy – man up and whisk harder. Get it so that it is so thick that your whisk/a wooden spoon will stand up in it unaided. Again, your aim is to drive out excess liquid, so make sure it really is crazy thick. This is your main setting agent. Take off the heat once it’s sufficiently cooked.

Mix it up!

– Gradually pour in the sugar syrup, beating until smooth after each addition. Take your time. This recipe will not reward you for rushing.

– Boil gently on a low heat for half an hour and stir constantly. Most recipes at this point will tell you to stop once it’s golden brown – mine was golden brown from the start when I added the sugar syrup. This advice is balls. Keep going until it’s so thick that when you drag the spoon across the bottom of the pan, the mixture doesn’t rejoin the gap. My sugar thermometer read somewhere between 82-88*C (ish) for this whole section if this helps. Getting this sufficiently set is the key to stopping the sweets going mushy.

If you’re making double the quantity – double the cooking time. If it’s not sufficiently gloopy, give it another 10-15 mins. You can always test it by taking a bit out and cooling it down – it should be chewy like the inside of a jelly bean.

– Add your flavouring and colouring of choice. Smooth out into your moulds but DO NOT TOUCH THE MIXTURE IT WILL BE LIKE SUGARY NAPALM. It sticks, and it retains its heat remarkably well, and it will unforgivingly burn you. Use an oiled silicone spatula if you need to, but not your hands.

– Leave to set overnight. Again – no rushing.

Do your washing up right away. You’ll regret it if you don’t!

Finishing off

– Get the Turkish Delight out of the moulds. Getting them out is a tricky process because it sticks terribly. I ran a sharp knife under it a little at a time, dusting with cornflour as I went until it was all free from the greaseproof. The dusting is essential because otherwise as soon as you let go it will stick to the greaseproof again.

Put the blocks of Turkish Delight on some fresh greaseproof lightly dusted with cornflour, and dust lightly with cornflour on top. Slice into strips, and dust the exposed sides with moar cornflour. I’ve heard other recipes recommend dousing them in sugar and letting it dry them out, but to me this sounds like it will only produce wet mush like mine did. Air drying seems to be key. Suffice to say do not put them in the fridge or any other moist environment.

To to try to avoid the sugar sweating you may need to give this a while: if you give it a couple of days to reach a sort of equilibrium that seems to be best. Save yourself hours of wild goose chase online and believe me that two days seems to be the recommended drying time. It may need slightly less if you’ve got a dry mixture (I overboiled mine a bit, so it was quite dry, and only took a day). You’ll know if this is the case if when you lightly dust it with cornflour, it doesn’t absorb it up over the next couple of hours.

Once they have dried, cut your slices into chunks, and dust again with cornflour. After half an hour, dust with 3 parts icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar if you’re north American) one part cornflour.

Store in more icing sugar, on greaseproof paper. They should keep for at least a week.

Nom nom nom!

Next stop – fudge!

Soda bread

So I had always assumed soda bread was really difficult.

Having made some now, honest to god I have no idea why I thought that. It’s easy. Super easy. Not even ‘Yes, but Amanda of course you would say that, you make bread all the time’ easy. It is just out and out superbly simple, and remarkably delicious. I can genuinely say that it took longer for the oven to heat up than it took for me to make the dough, and we have a good oven.

While I was at university I decided to start making my own bread based on a dislike of that soggy cardboard texture, and the discovery that a standard shop-bought white loaf has about one teaspoon of suger per slice and no nutritional value whatsover. That shit just ain’t good for you.

I spent about 6 months enjoying my own white bread before getting the confidence to stray into brown bread, and seeded loaves. Neither of these is really any more difficult than a white loaf, but I just have a hatred of failure with baking projects. That said, it took me about two years to discover that there is a whole world of bread out there beyond the standard loaf, and have begun branching out into sweet loaves, soda bread, sourdough and still have plenty more recipes to cross off the list with my new found confidence. My original idea for this blog was to just post bread recipes, and along with the chickens, the bread posts are by far the most popular. I like to think you all love coming along on other Brunton adventures as well, but for those of you who love a good bread recipe, trust me when I say this is a good’un, and definitely a really great recipe for those of you new to making bread.

So let’s get down to business.

For soda bread, you only need three ingredients – flour, buttermilk, and bicarbonate of soda (it’s in the name, kids). Buttermilk is a bit of a pain to get hold of, so I used greek yoghurt watered down with a slosh of whole milk and it was still super delicious. So to start with, this bread is not intensive on specialist ingredients. Always a winner for me – I’m too damn lazy to source out anything difficult to get hold of!

It’s got a very different flavour to normal bread – and actually when I first tasted it I was rather taken aback. Soda break is a blank canvas people. There are plenty of soda bread purists on the internet who (probably quite correctly) say that it is only true soda bread if it is flour, buttermilk, and soda. To me, it is a bread which cries out not to be eaten plain, but lives to be combined with other flavours, so I’ll add some variations here. Equally, you don’t need to fanny around with fancy flavours – keep it simple and have it toasted with lashings of jam, or with some strong cheese. Probably best not to do both at once.

It also requires no real kneading – a bonus if you’re in a rush, and even better if you’re not used to making bread. I’m not saying that there isn’t an art to perfecting a really awesome soda bread – but for the casual beginner it doesn’t require a practised kneading technique. In fact, the quicker you get that badboy in the oven, the better.

The Recipe

  • 500g bread flour. White or brown, your choice.
  • 500ml buttermilk, or live yoghurt. If you’re using yoghurt, I did 400ml yoghurt, 100ml whole milk in order to get a wetter texture – it takes longer for the flour to absorb the yoghurt and you want to make this fast.
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

note: If you really don’t have any live yoghurt, I’ve seen on forums people adding a splash of vinegar to activate the bicarb. I would have thought this would curdle it somewhat, but you can always experiment and let me know how it goes!

Method:

  • Pre-heat your oven to 200*. I always ignore this instruction and figure I’ll do it later, but you really want your oven ready and hot for the instant your dough is ready – i.e. in about five minutes time. Pre-heat that oven now.
  • Measure out your flour and whisk the bicarb into it – it both saves sieving the flour and mixes the bicarb well.
  • Make a well and tip in your yoghurt-milk mix or buttermilk. Combine quickly.
  • Tip out onto the side and quickly knead – no more than a minute. You’re not looking for the smooth elastic dough of regular bread – you are making sure you’ve got the ingredients well mixed and that the bicarb has got chance to get to work. It will look lumpy, but so long as it’s mixed well, that doesn’t matter.
  • Roll into a round loaf shape and tip onto a floured tray, then cut a deep cross in the surface – about 2/3 the way through is fine.
  • Whack it straight into the oven and bake for 35-45 mins (depending on what your oven is like). It will be nicely brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom when it’s done.

You’ve made soda bread!

Some variations

  • Cheese and red onion

Just knead in a few generous handfuls of grated cheese and a little bit of fried onion when you knead out the dough, and bake as normal. If you’re brave, you can always caramelise the onion with a splash of port by flambeeing it (not for the faint-hearted – lots of flame!)

  • Just cheese

As above, but no onion. (duh)

  • Chilli

Chilli bread is tricky – I found that just adding fresh/lightly fried chilli wasn’t enough – it just lost its heat as it baked, if not the flavour. Try adding a dash of cayenne powder, and a chopped up chilli as you knead for some spicy bread. You could even go nuts with the spice and lob in some cumin and coriander to go with a curry.

And now you know how to make sodabread!