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!

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An adventure in Anglesey Abbey / Baking brown bread / The elderflower wine

So. Brown bread. This was a nemesis of mine for a while in as far as it can be a little trickier to pull off than a white loaf, but still very achievable for a beginner. Brown flour contains less gluten and so is less stretchy and therefore a bit different to knead, and will rise a lot less. You can of course add gluten, but I personally feel as though this rather defeats the object of making it for yourself.

Getting the flour

On this occasion the baking represents an actual adventure in Bruntonia. The husband was back from university for the bank holiday weekend, and I felt like getting out and doing something, so we cycled to Anglesey Abbey. This is something like 6 miles outside of Cambridge, and a marvellous example of an English stately home. The house there is beautiful, but the real triumph is the grounds and gardens. Having risked the hayfever long enough, we also went to visit the Lode Mill.

There has been a mill on the site for around 1000 years, the current mill is around 300 years old and a masterpiece of restorative work. Most of the workings of the mill are still original, and still being used. You can buy freshly ground flour from there, which I was of course, super excited about. I talked off the ear of the poor guy in the mill about the absorbency of the flour (makes a huge difference to the amount of liquid you need to add!) as well as the fineness of the flour, which was very impressive. The other important aspect is the ratio of white to brown flour – as I have mentioned, brown flour isn’t as gluten-y, so a good way to compromise delicious wholegrain goodness and a loaf that doesn’t resemble a rock is to mix it with a bit of white flour. In this case, I recommend about 1:2 white to brown flour, but it is of course down to personal taste.

Anyhoo, having been escorted away from the mill (you have honestly never seen someone so excited about a bag of flour…) we went to the cafe and tried some cream tea and scones baked with lode mill flour (it was the jubilee weekend after all!). I was suitably impressed, and have made a couple of loaves of bread with my flour since. It is mega delicious, but I have to make it last until I feel ready to take a 12 mile round trip on the pushbike to get some more!

We also signed up to the National Trust as members while we were there, cementing the idea that Chris and I are basically old people already. All the same, their membership is bargainously discounted, especially for young people.

The ingredients

  • 300g strong brown flour
  • 150g strong white bread flour
  • 30g cake yeast / 1 tbsp dried active yeast / 2 7g sachets ready yeast
  • 150 ml warm milk
  • 150 ml warm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • seeds (optional)
p.s. for something more like Hovis best of both (in colour, not in additives!) do 125 brown flour, 375 white.)

The recipe

If using dried active or cake yeast, you should start with this first. Cake yeast will need to be mixed with 1 tsp sugar. It starts life as a block, but as you mash in the sugar, it will go to a runny liquid. Add the warm milk and whisk together, then give 15-20 mins to wake it up. For dried active yeast, add 1 tsp sugar and the warm milk, and do the same.

Mix together your dry ingredients, then add the yeast mix and the water. Then it’s time to knead baby! Kneading is stretching out the dough – stretch but don’t break it. My fresh flour had an almost sandy texture, but absorbed liquid well to make a beautifully smooth dough. You can read my original bread-baking post here (includes guide to kneading) or watch this video here. It will take a good ten minutes.

Roll the dough up to a ball and lightly oil it. Put it in a bowl covered in a damp cloth for about an hour and a half, or until double the size. Then knock the air out of it, and lightly knead again. At this stage I like to knead in 2tbsp each of sesame, poppy, and sunflower seeds, leaving a few to scatter on top once it’s in the tin. Put into a lightly oiled tin and leave for a further 45 mins to 1 hour.

Bake at 220*c for 10 minutes, then bake at 180*c for a further 15. I then take it out of the tin and bake for another 5 mins to get a good crispy crust.

Leave it to cool and then chow down!

Finally… the wine

The wine has been a bit of an adventure in as far as it got a little mould on the surface. Not the end of the world, provided it hasn’t taken hold too much. It’s normally a natural yeast, which normally has poor attenuation and will die off as soon as it gets alcoholic, so I’ve given it two chances. Anyway, I sterilised a bucket, cloth and a demijohn, and strained off the flowers, raisins and citrus through the muslin. I then siphoned it off into the demijohn, by far the easiest way is with a siphon tube. Just sterilise it first! It will now sit there with a fermentation lock on top and bubble about for another 3 weeks, or until fermentation finishes. I’ll update you then!

p.s. I’ve made more cordial

I thought I had way too much, but it turns out I don’t. There;s still loads of elderflowers, so I’m making a top up!

Cinnamon buns – A Father’s day post

So basically I tried this recipe out a week or two ago when I had a late night hankering for cinnamon buns. They do take a couple of hours to make, so I wouldn’t recommend them as a late night recipe, but they are very good! It’s father’s day this Sunday in the uk, and my dad has both a sweet tooth, and a love of home baked munchies. Basically, my mum taught my sister and I to bake at an early age so she would never have to make cake for herself again. So far, so good in that respect! In any case, this weekend I am having a go at teaching mum some bread-baking.

So the dough for cinnamon buns is precisely somewhere between bread dough and cake. The dough is a recipe from BBC Good Food which I have tweaked until it is a bit more to my liking, the sauce is pretty much a customised fudge recipe. As with my general bread baking post, I still advise that a high quality yeast (such as Allinson’s dried active yeast) is essential to decent bread – especially for a rich, heavy dough like this. The crowning glory of good yeast is still always fresh cake yeast if you can get it though.

Ingredients

For the dough:
– 450g strong white bread flour
– 2 x 7g sachets ready yeast/1tbsp dry yeast/30g cake yeast
– 150ml warm milk
– 50 ml warm water
– 1 beaten egg
– 1 tsp salt
– 50 g caster sugar
– 50g melted butter

For the sauce
– 1/4 cup molasses sugar (dark as you can get it)
– 1/4 cup dark brown soft sugar
– 1/2 cup caster sugar
– 1 cup boiling water
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
– 2 tsp vanilla essence
– 2 tbsp butter

The recipe

  • Start out with the dough. If you’ve used quick yeast, stir together all the dry ingredients, then beat in the wet ingredients.

OR

If you’ve got fancy live yeast, put it in the milk with 1tsp of the sugar for 15 mins to wake up. Add to the dry ingredients along with the egg, butter and water.

  • Knead for about 10 mins, or until springy to the touch – this is a weird dough as it is so rich, so knead fairly lightly to start with and build it up – the approved technique is to stretch but never split the dough.

Leave to prove for 1 hour. In the meantime, make your sauce!

  • Mix together the sugars in a heavy saucepan. Pour on the boiling water and mix thoroughly – simmer for 3 mins. Add in the butter and boil for a further 8 mins. STIR CONSTANTLY OR IT WILL BURN! It should start smelling fudgey and delicious. Mix in the vanilla and cinnamon. Leave to cool. Try to resist tipping it over some ice cream and gobbling it straight away!

Back to the dough…

  • Your dough should be done proving for now so knock it back and roll it out into a long rectangle. Indent all around the edge, just under a centimetre from the edge – stops the sauce from pouring off! Tip over the sauce – be as generous as you dare. Lots of it will soak in as you bake the bread so pour plenty (but not all) of the sauce onto the dough.
  • Roll it up lengthways like a swiss roll and cut into eight pieces. The sauce will inevitably be all over your counter top unless you’re neater with the dough than I am! Line a 23 cm cake tin with greaseproof paper (you will need it if you want your tin to ever look the same again…) and put the pieces in side by side. Leave to prove somewhere warm for 30 – 40 mins.
  • Preheat your oven to 220*c. At this point I smothered my buns in crumbled pecans as a last minute moment of inspiration, and poured over some extra sauce 🙂 Once they’re done proving (they should fill the tin) bake for 10 mins, then cover the tin with foil, and bake for another 10 mins at 180*c. You should even have a little leftover sauce for that ice cream as well!

Enjoy!

p.s. Incidentally, I’m starting off some elderflower wine this weekend. I’ll be posting it as a two-parter recipe mid-week next week, as the elderflower season is far from over and there’s still time to make some for yourself. Think elderflower cordial… but with booze.

Baking your own bread

This is now basically part of my weekly routine. About 18 months ago, I read about just how bad for you processed white bread is and decided to learn to make my own bread. As it turns out, although getting the dough to my taste took a little while, the technique for bread making isn’t too difficult. I still love white bread – which is easier to make than brown – but have really enjoyed having fresh bread where I have seen exactly what has gone into it. Even if you don’t have time to make your own bread every week, it is a lovely skill to have, even for the occasional treat.

The yeast

As well as the quality of flour, the yeast is what will mainly determine the quality of your bread. You can buy dried quick yeast which is very convenient, but definitely not the best in terms of quality. It has the advantage that you can keep it in the cupboard pretty much forever, and you can literally just throw it into the bowl and it’s ready to go. However, better quality yeast will give you richer tasting bread.

Supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco will often give you a chunk of fresh yeast for free/a few pennies, and this is by far the Rolls Royce of yeast. On the downside, it will only last you about two weeks in the fridge, and needs to be given a bit of time to get up to room temperature and to ‘wake up’ in some warm sugary water. I’m making my first experiments with caked yeast next week, so will report back!

The middle road option is live granulated yeast. I strongly recommend Allinson’s tinned Dried Active Yeast – it keeps well, tastes pretty good and is easy enough to use. Like the live yeast cake, it will want a little bit of ‘waking up’ time (about 15 mins) but the results are far superior.

 The recipe

So let’s start at the basics… white bread!

You will need:

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 300ml warm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp quick yeast OR 1tbsp live yeast

 – If you’re using quick yeast, then mix together all the dry ingredients, and then rub in the butter. Gradually add the water – it’s best to mix it with your hands.

 – If you’re using active yeast you’ll need to do a little more preparation. For the granulated yeast, whisk a teaspoon of sugar into half the warm water, then whisk in the yeast. Leave it somewhere warm for 15 mins to froth up! Add to the dry ingredients, then use the remaining 150 ml to swill out the bowl the yeast was in, and add it to the mixture as well.

 – You’ll then need to knead your dough! This video shows you how to knead dough very well but if like me you can’t be bothered to click links, the idea is to stretch out your dough so that it rises properly. Place it on a lightly floured counter and hold the dough against the counter with one hand. With the heel of your other hand, stretch the dough out away from you along the counter.  You want to stretch the dough not break it, so stop before you end up with two separate balls of dough. Be firm, but gentle! Fold it back into a ball and turn 90*. Wash, rinse, repeat! It will take about ten minutes in total. The dough will look and feel smooth, elastic and springy. When you poke your finger in it, the dent should stay there and slowly spring back.

 – Well done! Now leave the dough to prove: put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl covered with a damp cloth until doubled in size. On a nice warm day this takes about an hour, in winter I give it an hour and a half. Get the kettle on!

– Once your dough has risen, tip it out of the bowl and knead it lightly. This is called knocking it back. The idea is just to gently squash out the dough, not to pulverise it. Once you have done this, either smooth it off into a nice round for a ‘farmhouse’ loaf (god alone knows why it’s called that – surely they have loaf tins on farms!) and put it on a baking tray, or put it in a lightly oiled loaf tin. Rub a little oil over the surface of the dough and prove for another 40 mins.

– Preheat the oven to 200* when the dough has nearly done proving. Bake at 200* for 10 mins, then turn down to 180* for another 15-20 mins. The bread is done when it sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom. If you’ve done it in a tin you’ll obviously need to take it out to test this – putting it back in the oven without the tin will make a crispier crust so if it needs a little longer bear this in mind. If you want a nice crunchy crust you should give it abother 3 mins or so without the tin.

 – Here’s the difficult bit – once that bread is done, DO NOT CUT IT UP UNTIL IT IS COOL(ish). It continues steaming and cooking while it is hot for one thing, the bread will risk going a bit dry if you cut it too soon. Similarly, the bread will still be steamy and sticky – if you crush the loaf while it is hot, it will stay that way! I usually try to get it so that the first slice you get is just warm enough to melt a little butter 🙂

And that ladies and gents, is how you do white bread! Enjoy 🙂