Friday, March 23, 2007

Irish Soda Bread - to go with Irish Stew

In New York City the Irish deli's bake Irish Soda bread with raisins for St. Patrick's day, and I always asked "how come you don't make it year round?"

Most Irish Soda Bread today is made with sour milk masquerading as buttermilk - so you'd think a restaurant has a good milk recycling reason for Irish Soda bread - I suspected some food mafia is in place to prevent that sort of common sense.

Corporate Butter Milk:
Any Irish Soda Bread recipe will call for a cup or two (1/2 to 3/4 pt) of buttermilk. Here's the scoop on Buttermilk, never forget, there is REAL Buttermilk and CORPORATE Buttermilk, which tastes nothing like the real deal, but there you go, corp-conned again.

Wikipedia says rightly, "Buttermilk is the liquid left over after producing butter from full-cream milk during the churning process. It has a slightly sour taste." Further, "It is quite popular as a refreshment in Northern Europe and South Asia, particularly in Afghanistan, Punjab and the Pashtoon belt in Pakistan and in India. "

Wiki seems to be in agreement with me about the con job on corporate buttermilk: "Most of the modern, commercially available, "buttermilk" in supermarkets is not genuine buttermilk, but rather cultured buttermilk, that is, milk to which lactic acid bacteria have been added to simulate the traditional product. "

And so, fellow food travelers, Real Buttermilk is the popular refreshment I was so fond of, and Corporate Buttermilk is what I suspect Frog vomit, more correctly, Slappy squirrel vomit tastes like. Again, I kid you not..."Traditional buttermilk is quite different from cultured buttermilk: it is thin and slightly acid, while cultured buttermilk is thick and tart." Yecch!

Real Buttermilk:
Real Buttermilk is very healthy. In older-bud-wiser days, "pure cow's milk and buttermilk are described as ‘divine’ food or best source of nourishment for those on a spiritual quest." In fact, long term fasting is usually done in the East on Buttermilk alone. From the annals of the Himalayan Academy we see: "Buttermilk acts as a tonic; it pacifies the doshas and aids in digestion if taken after a meal. Vata people fare best with sour products to which a little salt has been added. The pitta person adds sugar or honey, and kapha types add ginger, black pepper or black chilies. Commercial buttermilk is too sour for consumption and should be avoided. "

If you purchase sour cream or real cream, and you keep it in the refrigerator for days, (OK, in my house it's weeks) and it gives off that thin liquid on the top - that's real buttermilk... drink up! Or save it for Irish Soda bread. Like the real Irish, I mean, real people every where do...

As for the Western debate about drinking cow's milk: "Children may have a glass of milk per day, adults may get their milk through the consumption of ghee, buttermilk and curds. Milk should be considered as a whole food not a beverage." Duh! How could anyone drink a glass of milk and call it a beverage, it hits your stomach like a lead balloon it's that protein and fat rich and heavy.

How to make Sour Milk that's closer to Buttermilk:
"In baking, regular milk can be substituted for buttermilk by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar or 1 3/4 teaspoons cream of tartar per cup of regular milk. Allow the soured milk to stand for ten minutes before adding to recipes." That's also why some Irish Soda bread recipes call for Cream of Tartar.

Thank you to my best reference site for conversions:

1 pint = 2 cups = 16 fl oz = 450 ml (Can usually be rounded to 500 ml)

How to make Irish Soda Bread, and variations:
Never been to Ireland, but have flown over as part of umpteen transatlantic flights, and every time - we're not yet at cruising altitude so still quite low - I could not believe how green it is... I could hardly believe the green. You've got to see it: it's like the bitter in bitter melon, you can't believe how bitter, bitter is until you've tasted bitter melon.. and so, you've never seen green until you fly over Ireland. That's how come I instantly knew their cows have to make some pretty special milk, and their creams and buttermilk must be to die for.

That being said, you now know why you're never going to recreate real Irish Soda bread outside of Ireland, but this is a fair approximation.

A word about leavening agents: baking powder, soda and cream of tartar
Soda bread is a quick bread, and its basic ingredients are flour, baking soda, (some call for baking powder and cream of tartar) and buttermilk.

The acid (sour taste) in the buttermilk reacts with the alkaline base of the baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and that causes the leavening, the rising of all quick breads. It must be mixed with acidic ingredients to work. Baking powder contains baking soda and a powdered acid, so it can work without other acidic ingredients, so you don't need buttermilk if you use baking powder, but the baking powder won't be hurt by buttermilk. Use your judgment when mixing and matching ingredients, you'll more often be right.

Quick breads call for a pretty hot oven around 425 degrees, but some bake them with less heat. Most Soda Bread recipes call for a crap load of flour - 4 cups. But it's worth it.

Optional ingredients:
Some put in molasses (aka treacle), caraway seeds, raisins or currants, even apples, and if you're like me, you're going to try to see how you can sneak in Mr. Coconut. But straight-up, plain Irish Soda bread is great with Irish Stew - and so can be served at almost every meal, the way dinner rolls are served in Corporate restaurants.

I keep a stash of plain Irish Soda bread along with Mr. Cornbread and they all freeze quite well if you have to go that route. It goes well with Irish stew, see recipe index, the combo is amazing.

4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon BAKING SODA
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon BAKING POWDER OR 1 tspoon of CREAM OF TARTAR
(Note: you can just use one generous heaping tsp of BAKING SODA)
4 Tablespoons of melted butter
(Note: you can go with cold butter if you have the energy to crumb it into the flour)
1 cup raisins
(Note: you may want to soak them in whiskey, and add the sugar here, plus I add a bit of lemon)
1 or 2 eggs lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk

(Black and Crispy clause: If you're going to sample the whiskey while making this, beware after the whiskey prep, I once thought one egg looked so lonely, used two, and mistook baking powder for baking soda. I was rewarded with a wonderfully soft, cottony texture - tasted and looked great, but not the Soda bread texture...)

Oven at 425 degrees C., grease a round pyrex pan, or a large cookie (baking) sheet.

Sift and mix the dry ingredients, and make a well. (If you are expert, you can "cut" the hard cold butter into the flour mix until it's crumby - I don't because I always overwork everything and it doesn't rise).

In a separate bowl, beat the egg, add the cool melted butter (else the eggs will cook), and the raisins etc. etc. etc. caraway seeds, mix well, and add to the other well.

Mix decisively and quickly, running your wooden spoon against the side of the bowl, turning using your wrist as your spoon travels to the center to deftly spiral inwards, release and do again. Try to get everything mixed within 30 seconds, until you begins to form ball and you can hardly mix anymore. Some people say turn out onto a floured board and knead for 30 seconds more, but it's likely to soft for this and you do not want to overwork it, one minute of kneading will ruin it. Scoop the whole dough out onto the baking surface you've chosen, take a serrated knife and make a deep X on the surface. This is to let the fairies out.

Pop it in the oven for 35-40 minutes, if the dough was a bit soft you might have to run it for an hour, but it's done when stick inserted comes out clean (it will) and sounds hollow when tapped.

If it starts to brown up too fast, put an aluminum tent foil over it somewhere in the middle. Some recipes call for 325 for an hour to 1 1/4 hours... try it both ways.


acwo said...

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keep it up!

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