Monthly Blog Post: Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers October 2016

soda-bread-portrait-imgOur recipe this month was for Rose’s Royal Irish Soda Bread.   Since I had never had soda bread, I took it upon myself to do a bit of research on the topic. My first finding is that this bread would not be considered to be an authentic Irish Soda Bread in the mind of a purist. In fact, I learned through an article in Epicurious (AKA Bon Appétit) that soda bread purists will tell you that this is not the real thing. Indeed, there is a society dedicated to the preservation of Irish Soda Bread – who knew?

According to an article published in the Tampa Bay Times (which includes this recipe) Irish Soda Breads, as Rodney Dangerfield would say just don’t get no respect. These are humble breads –prepared with the most basic set of ingredients: flour, salt, buttermilk, and baking soda. Any additions like butter or raisins are not true to the original recipe. These were considered to be luxury add-on items. As stated by Irish chef Rory O’Connell in the Epicurious article, when modified with these luxe items it should be considered as “_____ [you fill in the blank] bread on a soda bread base”.

I would consider this to be the simplest bread we have made thus far as there is no yeast, therefore no need to allow the bread time to rise. The finished product has some similarities with the scones we made back in June. You can find that post here.

plain-soda-breadAs usual, Rose provides solid techniques and at least one variation. If you’ve followed my Bread Bible posts, you know that I always like to try the variations, and I actually baked this recipe twice. My first time around, I omitted the raisins as I wanted a more authentic bread as described in the Epicurious article. I also used a blend of 50% all purpose flour and 50% whole wheat flour. Rose provided a whole wheat blend as an option, and for this bread, I used King Arthur’s white whole wheat due to its milder taste. This bread became a lovely golden brown throughout. It reminded me of cornbread perhaps because of its texture and the buttermilk and baking soda combo.

raisin-soda-loafThe second time around I stuck close to the original recipe. I used King Arthur’s all purpose flour and instead of soaking the raisins in Irish whiskey, which I didn’t have, I used dark rum. I figured that nobody would really know the difference, as the flavor from the alcohol is subtle. I still ended up with a very golden bread, I suppose because although the raisins were drained there was a tiny bit of brown fluid to color the dough.

I will note two products that I used which I had not had experience with before. For both loaves I used an organic “cream top” buttermilk from Kalona Farms. kalonaAccording to their website, they use sweet cream to produce their buttermilk which they say “…allows us to not only improve the health benefits of our product but it is also more sustainable. We now can use every drop of sweet cream buttermilk that is created when we produce butter. “ I am not a buttermilk connoisseur and would never drink the stuff, but it did have a nice smell and produced a very tender result. Kalona has an interesting story. They are based in Iowa and source their raw materials from a community that is largely comprised of Amish and Mennonite farmers. Here in Southern California we typically have a single brand of buttermilk, in our grocery stores. It is typically sold in one-quart cartons, it is mass produced, and it is not organic. The Kalona product caught my eye because it was the exact opposite –it’s available in a pint size bottle, it’s not mass produced, and it is organic.  I plan to purchase this again for future baking projects.

Both versions were moist and delicious due to the addition of butter, and this is another area where I did a bit of experimentation. For the loaf without raisins, I used Trader Joe’s unsalted butter. When shopping for ingredients my intention was to try the Kerrygold brand as I had not used it before. When I got home I realized that I had accidentally picked up their garlic and herb butter instead of plain unsalted butter. I ended up using the garlic butter on the freshly baked loaf and it tasted really good.

I went back to the store before baking the second loaf and bought the unsalted Kerrygold for that loaf. I believe the butter and buttermilk combined in the second loaf to create a very moist loaf with a nice sweet buttery flavor. I plan to use the Kerrygold in some additional baking projects so that I can continue to compare the results. I did research butter taste tests, and the one test I read ranked Kerrygold third or slightly ahead of my regular Land o’Lakes butter. I’ll also plan to seek out Plurga and Presidént butters for further experimentation during the holiday season. If you have any opinions on these I’d love to hear them.

The final point I’d like to share is that I am a strong believer in using modern tools in my cooking and baking projects. With our busy modern lifestyles, we need to boost our productivity in the kitchen wherever possible. For this soda bread, I used my Breville Sous Chef that I purchased this summer. I used the same technique as described in my June post on making scones. The key with this approach is to use the plastic blade (not the steel blade) and to pulse the ingredients very briefly so that you still have buttery bits. These are necessary for the proper texture so don’t over process it. You want to add the liquid through the feed tube quickly and not over mix. It is okay to use a little flour when shaping the dough (a few spoonfuls) but you don’t want to add too much and toughen the dough up.

Once the dough has been shaped, slash the top and pop it into your pre-heated oven quickly. I did find that I needed a few extra minutes (less than five) in the oven so that a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry.

There you have it – an easy but delicious bread.   By the way, I did find an interesting recipe for a seeded version from Noreen Kinney that I look forward to trying. You can find that recipe here. Let me know your thoughts and whether you have tried soda bread. I want to hear all about it!

Monthly Blog Post: Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers September 2016

This month I discovered a superstar ingredient that has really taken my hearth bread baking up to a whole new level. You might wonder how that could be when using such simple ingredients – flour, yeast, honey, water, and a touch of salt. Read on to learn more about this important discovery.

Our September recipe was Rose’s Basic Hearth Bread. Although this was the first hearth bread during our bake-along, I have baked this recipe and several others many times over the years. This type of bread is a staple for me, and many years ago I invested in a La Cloche clay bread baker. My baker is similar to this version from King Arthur Flour, the only difference is that mine is unglazed.

My well used La Cloche baker
When baked in the La Cloche, your bread develops an absolutely awesome crunchy crust. I typically preheat my oven an hour before baking, with the La Cloche cover in the oven as it preheats so that by the time I’m ready to put my bread in the oven the cover is good and hot. The accumulated heat in the lid creates steam when you put the bread in the oven which leads to the fabulous crust. I’d highly recommend a La Cloche type baker if you plan to bake this sort of bread on a regular basis. A less expensive tool that I’d also recommend is an inexpensive lame to artfuly slash the top of your bread. The plastic version I use from Sur La Table retails for $9.95, while a more impressive version with a black walnut handle from King Arthur retails for $34.95. I baked this bread according to the recipe directions with minor modifications to account for the La Cloche. For example, it is not necessary to add ice cubes to the oven to create steam, and after 30 minutes of baking, I removed the cover and baked the bread for an additional five minutes.

In addition to a crispy crust, one of the things I love about a bread like this is the flavor. Rose’s use of a starter which you can allow to ferment for up to 24 hours before mixing the dough creates a wonderfully developed flavor in the finished bread. For this go around, I allowed my starter and flour mixture to ferment for 1 hour at room temperature, and then refrigerated it for about 10 hours. I had great results with 10 hours of fermentation, but I do wonder what would have been with 24 hours. The point is to start your starter or sponge as early as you possibly can for awesome flavor development. As you may recall, last month I forgot to add the salt as I rushed off for a mani-pedi, but I made sure to include it this time.

Now let me tell you what I think really took this bread to a whole new level for a white bread. Rose includes ¼ cup of whole wheat flour in addition to the bread flour which she says acts to enhance the flavor. I’ve done this in the past, and the results have been good – this time I used King Arthur’s white whole wheat, but the real superstar ingredient was a new one for me. img_0140I had decided to try King Arthur’s Artisan Bread Flour, and I’ll admit I had my doubts as it is a good bit more expensive than their regular bread flour. The price on the website for the regular bread flour translates to $.99 per pound versus $2.65 per pound for the Artisan version without tax or shipping. According to the blurb on the front of the bag,

 “This medium-protein flour balances strength and flexibility -– perfect for baguettes and pizza dough. Use it to bake European-style hearth breads with crisp crusts and airy, flavorful interiors.”

While the sentence about balancing strength and flexibility makes me think about what a good workout regimen should do, this flour absolutely delivers the baking results advertised. By the way, this flour has a five star rating on the King Arthur web site with over 170 reviews. Indeed, it is so delicious that I will need to step up my exercise routine to compensate.

Freshly baked bread elevates the humble tuna sandwich
Case in point, I decided to elevate the humble tuna salad I prepared for lunch with this bread. It was so good, I had to eat a slice of the bread by itself afterwards. By the way, as a bonus, I’ll share below how to make a flavorful, but low fat tuna salad to accompany the bread.

This bread recipe is a great one to use to build your expertise with making hearth breads, and the Artisan Bread Flour provides the opportunity to achieve super delicious professional level results. Honestly, I had dinner last night in a well-regarded local Italian restaurant and decided to eat one slice of their hearth type bread to compare. Theirs was good, but honestly mine was even better.

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P.P.S. – just learned that this recipe was previously published on at this link.

Bonus Skipjack Tuna Salad Recipe

The tuna salad shown here uses:

  • 2 5-ounce cans of Wild Planet Skipjack Tuna with the juices
  • Approximately ¼ to 1/3 cup chopped onion to taste, I use brown, red, or green onions based on what I have on hand
  • 8-10 pitted Greek olives, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped dill or parsley to taste
  • Approximately 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • Lemon pepper seasoning to taste, I use one by Scott’s Food Products

Note that you do not drain the tuna, instead you use the juices and just a tiny bit of mayo which keeps the fat down. Stir the ingredients up and enjoy with veggies, crackers or on a sandwich.