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!

Anyone for cider?

I have been bad, and yes, the blog has been super neglected (I know, excuses, excuses) but I promise it’s because I’ve been out and about doing blog-worthy things rather than well, sitting in front of a screen and blogging about them! There is still the promised sourdough recipe to come, but it’s waiting for me to find the charger for the camera so you can have handy-dandy stage by stage photos. Same goes for the crochet Angry Birds I’m making (ho yiss they are cool!)

So, yeah, get on with the cider Amanda. It is in the title after all.

So for the last few years my friends and I have busied ourselves over the August bank holiday weekend (come rain or shine!) making cider. To start with this was a fairly amateur operation, involving all our mums’ household blenders on the picnic bench outside, and less fruitpress, more squeezing-apple-pulp-with-your-hands-until-juice-comes-out. This doesn’t come recommended, as apple juice will stain your hands nicotine yellow for weeks if you have your hands soaked in the stuff literally all day. Please just take my word for it.

However, as we’ve got older and have more disposable income to hand, and our parents have bizarrely enough, got some random and useful power tools laying about the place, we’ve got more and more pro about it, and we now produce some delicious, clear, dry cider (more on the flavour later). Initially we acquired a little two-litre fruitpress that was a day’s work pressing all the apples, and couldn’t take a great deal of pressure – we were still squeezing the pulp by hand before each press. Next came the wood chipper. Oh the wood chipper. We lovingly sterilised the whole thing and never went back to home blenders again – not when you can get roughly 25 stone of apples (roughly 159 kilos) pulped in less than half an hour. Finally, this year Brunton number one got a 25 litre behemoth of a fruit press for Christmas, which has been laying dormant in the shed waiting for apple season. It is both great and glorious.

So, in the interests of blogging, recipe sharing, and encouraging homebrew cider binging, here is how we do it. Trust me when I say it’s super easy, and none of us have lost a finger/limb to the wood shredder yet. I promise.

Making homemade cider.

Although over the course of several years we have managed to beg, borrow, and steal plenty of nice equipment, you don’t really need that much specialist stuff at all, especially if you aren’t making it on a large scale. You will need:

  • Demijohns, or similar containers for the juice to ferment in
  • Siphon tube – this is literally just a long plastic tube.
  • Bottles
  • Hydrometer – this is the most specialist piece of kit, but essential for ANY homebrewing, so a worthwhile investment.
  • Fermentation locks – not expensive, but absolutely essential. I don’t even want to tell you about the year we used bits of potato as a stopper.
  • Corks with holes in for the fermentation locks
  • Sterilising fluid – milton for example. Sterilise like it’s covered in zombie virus.
  • Something to pulp the apples with (anything from home blender to wood chipper!) and something to juice them with.
  • Muslin or similar fabric to strain the juice (no one likes chunky cider)
  • A couple of big ol’buckets.
  • Fermentation stopper – such as Campden tablets.
  • Apples!

We try to use a wide range of apples to get a good flavour. Less sweet apples will make a lovely dry cider – obviously the sugary ones will give more for the yeast to chow down on = more alcohol. Go for a mix that makes a good tasting juice and you can’t go wrong from there.

In terms of the flavour you are aiming for, in all likelihood, a dryer tasting cider will be stronger. The more sugar that yeast noms up, the more alcohol is produced. If you want to keep a sweeter cider, you’re going to have to either stop fermentation earlier, or add back in some sugar somehow. We usually do this by adding some apple juice after fermentation has been stopped – this year we’ve experimented and pasteurised some of the leftover juice we pressed ourselves to be added back into the cider later.

We normally don’t do this, because unless you can keep everything nice and sterile, leftover sugar = risk of fermentation starting again. Fermentation taking place after bottling produces gas, which in turn produces the classic exploding bottles of homebrew legend. After adding in the juice, chuck in your fermentation stopper and bottle immediately.

Ok so that’s equipment and brewing 101. What about the recipe?

Well, there isn’t really a recipe as such seeing as the only ingredient is apples, but here goes.

  • Collect and wash your apples. Bruised apples are fine – hell, you’re about to blitz them! Apples with white spots on – not fine. Leave them for the wasps. A sterilising agent like Milton can be safely used on food, so we tend to leave our apples in the big ol’ bucket, with the sterilising fluid for as long as the bottle says. They can always be rinsed off later. In the meantime, you should also sterilise/clean your equipment.
  • Next, pulp your apples ready for pressing. A home blender will do the job just fine, but bear in mind that you’ll need quite a bit of juice, so it’s going to take several rounds of blending unless you have the almighty wood chipper.
  • Squeeze those apples! You can of course do this by hand. If you put the pulp in a big colander as you go, you can have the first bit of juice just drain out into your big ol’ bucket. Then either crush the pulp by hand, or crush it in your colander. If you’ve got a fruit press… well you know what to do. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • I would recommend straining your juice into another big ol’ (sterilised!) bucket. Tie your muslin across the top and pour the juice through. Ta dah! Strained juice.
  • Once you’re done pressing juice, time to get it out of that big ol’bucket and into your (sterilised) demijohns. Put in your bung and fermentation lock (don’t forget to put the water in the lock – and no, of course I’ve never done that…). Do not by any means use potato instead of a proper bung. It just doesn’t work.
    It will happy ferment itself from the natural years present in the fruit – no need to add yeast!
  • Save the last little bit and take a hydrometer reading – this will tell you the sugar concentration pre-fermentation. WRITE IT DOWN. Once fermentation has finished, the difference in sugar content will tell you roughly what the current alcohol content is by comparison.
  • Leave somewhere room temperature and dark to ferment. Feel free to taste it after a couple of weeks for sweetness – although don’t expect it to be super tasty at this stage! We tend to leave it to totally ferment – it takes a few weeks and you can tell once it’s done as the fermentation lock will have stopped bubbling. This will make dry cider, but you can sweeten it with apple juice, which makes for a very refreshing cider.
  • If you leave the demijohns to settle, you’ll notice a layer of scuzz on the bottom. This is normal. Once you’re done fermenting, you want to siphon off the good clear stuff into bottles, and leave behind the scuzz. Don’t forget to sterilise your siphon tube and bottles (zombie virus remember?)
  • Patience my friend! The longer you can leave that cider, the better it will taste. It will be drinkable by January, better by spring, and damned delicious by the time you’re busy making more cider next summer!

p.s.

You know that elderflower wine I yakked on about a few months ago? That is beautifully clear, delicious, and bottled up, along with the strawberry wine we made out of the strawberries in the garden this year. Who needs grapes anyway?