Monday, April 11, 2011

Meatless Monday: A Post That Almost Wasn’t

It started with a photo I saw while flipping pages of a food magazine as I pedaled an exercise bike. The smiling Irish woman was proudly showing off her loaf of whole wheat soda bread. I read the recipe. It sounded easy, and I had the requisite buttermilk, open and in need of being used. Without yeast, no time was required for multiple risings. 

Beard On BreadIt sounded too good to be true, and somehow familiar. I left the magazine at the gym, and once home, I checked our dog-eared copy of Beard on Bread for an Irish soda bread recipe. Aha! I found it — Irish Whole-Wheat Soda Bread made with: 3 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 level teaspoon baking soda, 3/4 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk.

James Beard held rock star status in my early years of cooking. Over the years I had amassed an impressive collection of his books. So confident was I in his wisdom that I would try a new recipe to serve to guests without hesitation. Here is James Beard’s preface to the soda bread recipe: “…Soda bread is very different from any other bread you can find in the world. It’s round, with a cross cut in the top, and it has a velvety texture, quite unlike yeast bread, and the most distinctive and delicious taste. Sliced paper thin and buttered it is one of the best tea or breakfast breads I know, and it makes wonderful toast for any meal…”

Irish Whole-Wheat Soda Bread fresh from the oven
How could I go wrong? I followed the directions carefully, kneading for 3 minutes, forming into a round loaf, making the cut in the top [too deep it turns out, but I don’t think that was a problem]. 35 minutes later I ended up with a golden brown loaf that sounded hollow when rapped, with a cross spreading open [too far as noted earlier]. It was, however, VERY heavy. 

I let it cool. I sliced it very thin. We ate some buttered with our meal. Tasty, but not bread as we knew it. I wrapped the remainder in foil and sliced some this morning for toast. It was better [online comments in recipe sites agree] and was a perfect vehicle for butter and jam.

I weighed what was left of the loaf — over 2 pounds! Eating the whole thing is going to require a lot of butter and jam. I then recalled James Beard’s love affair with butter. No wonder he found this “bread” wonderful!

I now know why the “Irish soda bread” which shows up in the supermarket for St. Patrick’s Day is made with white flour, sugar, butter, and currants. Traditional Irish Whole-Wheat Soda Bread is hearty fare, so hearty in fact that I almost didn’t blog about it. 

Here are a few hints if you decide to try this at home. This recipe is best made for a large group of forgiving friends. Be sure to make it a day ahead, wrap it tightly in foil, slice it VERY thin, have a working toaster, and stock up on butter and jam. If anyone is interested, leave a comment and I will post the complete recipe. 

Any leftovers can be left unwrapped until rock hard and then re-wrapped to become a perfect doorstop.

Have a great week. And please come back soon for more food news and culinary adventures.

I try to blog on food or food issues each Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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