Embarrassingly easy bread

I was Celebrating International women’s Day on 8 March with a bread anyone can make (5 minutes mixing plus 30 in the oven).

Ideal for women (and men) who want something simple and homemade after a day at work , caring or home-schooling.  It is perfect with a bowl of comforting soup for supper.

I first learned soda bread with Wendy in Virginia Beach, USA.  Being Irish herself, she was proud to teach me one of the classics from that country.  Like any bread, it has three key ingredients: flour, a rising agent, liquid.  Wendy used a wholewheat-type bread flour, baking soda and buttermilk.  But there are many variations:

  • For the flour: white, brown, wholemeal or other bread flours will work as does plain (all-purpose) flour.
  • For the rising agent: baking soda, bicarbonate of soda or baking powder will all work.
  • For the liquid: if you can’t find buttermilk, ordinary milk with the juice of half a lemon and a slug of vinegar will work; alternatively try plain natural yoghurt or, if you make your own, the liquid left-over when the yoghurt is strained.

I’ve previously blogged this recipe using the strainings from making yoghurt plus self-raising flour – as it says in the name, flour and rising agent combined.  On that Monday, I and a group of other visually impaired people from all over the UK, America and Australia tested a new version using plain natural yoghurt as being easier to find than buttermilk and less faff than adding lemon and vinegar.  You can see our on-line live bread bake-in and the end results:

https://youtu.be/d2OfawOg-uk

One of the Americans with an Irish background wrote: “I had never heard of adding yogurt to soda bread before, but when you explained it as a buttermilk substitute it made perfect sense. The bread came out delicious and with a level of moisture I‘ve never had before making soda bread, as you know it’s a dryer type of bread traditionally. “Phew! I’d survived the test.

250g self-raising flour.

200g plain natural yoghurt.

1 level teaspoon salt.

Pre-heat the oven to Gas 6, 200C.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly oil.

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together with your hand to create a soft dough that can be formed in to a ball, leaving the bowl clean.

Place the ball on the baking sheet, cut a cross in the top and bake for 25 minutes and then turn the loaf over and cook for a further 5 minutes.

The loaf will sound hollow when you knock the baked bottom; the crust will be rough, craggy and crisp; the internal temperature will have reached at least 85C.

This bread is best eaten fresh and warm but, if you have any left over, slice and store in a bag for later today/breakfast toast.

You could add herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and other flavourings to ring the changes.

We will be making lemon Victoria sponges at our next Exclusive Baking Blind event on 12 April – you are welcome to join us.

 

Super scones.

Last weekend I was cooking for a special tea party: just a few friends carefully spaced out in the garden to keep everyone safe.

The damson chutney I wrote about a few weeks ago was perfect with sausage rolls hot from the oven and blinis topped with simple smoked salmon mousse had different texture, taste and temperature.  But the tea-time stars were the scones – only my second attempt in decades.  I’d been pondering about the logic of soda bread that uses a rather acid liquid to activate the bicarbonate of soda.  Self-raising flour already has the same raising agent and makes a very respectable soda bread with just the liquid added.  Why shouldn’t the same principles work with scones?

I use the liquid collected after straining the home-made yoghurt but buttermilk, plain yoghurt or milk with a little vinegar and lemon juice should do just as well.  I added some extra baking powder just to make sure.

500g self-raising flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

Half teaspoon salt

80g caster sugar

80g butter

2 eggs

Up to 250g yoghurt strainings.

5 handfuls sultanas

Zest of one orange

 

Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and rub in the butter.

Crack in the eggs and add half the liquid.

Add the sultanas and orange zest.

Mix the dough with your hands, adding more of the liquid to create a soft dough that is not wet and sticky.

Place the dough on a floured surface and gently press out to the thickness of two fingers.

Cut out scones using a well-floured cutter, reshaping the scraps to cut again.

Place the scones on an oven tray lined with baking parchment and give them 5 minutes or so for the baking powder to start working.

Cook for 15 minutes at Gas 7.

 

These were split in half and served with last year’s strawberry and Cointreau or cherry jams, topped with clotted cream (Cornish style).  And then a super fruit cake that had been injected with lashings of brandy.  Yum.

 

Scones the Devon way (left) and Cornish way (right)

 

 

 

BOGOF

If your self-isolating hoard of UHT milk tastes awful in tea, here’s the answer: homemade yoghurt plus the vital ingredient for a simple bread.  Two for the price of one.

The yoghurt is blissfully simple: just heat half a litre of UHT milk to 43.5 degrees Celsius and pour in to a container with a lid.  Stir a tablespoon or so of plain natural yoghurt (ideally without any additives) in to the milk.  Put on the lid and keep at the same temperature for 8-10 hours.

I’m lucky enough to have a sous-vide water bath that will maintain the pre-set temperature but you could experiment: perhaps a vacuum  flask wrapped up in a freezer bag or insulated cooler.

Pour the yoghurt through a sieve  lined with muslin and leave to drain to reach the consistency you want: the longer it drains, the less you make but the thicker it becomes.

Don’t waste the milky liquid that drains off.  Mix 250g of plain flour with 2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda and a good pinch of salt.  Pour in just under 200ml of the drained liquid and form the mix into a soft dough.  Quickly knead into a rough ball and place on to a floured baking sheet.  Slash a cross into the top and cook in a pre-heated oven  at Gas 6, 200C for about 30 minutes.  Knock the bottom to check if it sounds hollow – if not, return it to the oven upside down for a couple of minutes.  Eat the same day with homemade soup or it will toast well for breakfast.

You can experiment  with the yoghurt: try adding orange zest at the start , add milk powder for thicker results.

When life feels tough, it can be very satisfying to try something new, that’s created with the simplest ingredients and that you can perfect to impress family and friends when you see them next.