☘️ Irish Soda Bread ☘️

Since I’m moving to Galway and I’m over here now looking for an apartment, it seemed appropriate to feature a bread from Ireland. From what I read when doing my history homework for this post, traditional Irish soda bread became a staple of the Irish table as a result of –you guessed it– the potato famine of the mid 1800s. Bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) was used as a leavening agent as early as the late 1700’s in the Americas and became readily available in Ireland by the 1830’s.

For this to be considered a bread, it must only contain FOUR ingredients: flour, salt, soda and buttermilk. Any other additions turn the bread into a ‘tea cake.’ Many modern recipes add not only a bit of sugar but a handful of currants or raisins. Since I’m not one for ‘bits’ in my bread, I use a recipe that adds just a little sugar but nothing else. Here’s my take on Aran soide.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups buttermilk (or milked soured with 2 Tbsp lemon juice or vinegar)
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 Tbsp sugar (making it a tea cake…)

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 400 F.
  • If you do not have buttermilk and you will need to sour milk, add two tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice to just under two cups of milk and allow to sit for five minutes, while you prepare the dry ingredients.
  • In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, mix together flour, baking soda, salt and sugar.
  • Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk/soured milk.
  • Mix to create a sticky dough.
  • When the dough has formed, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead lightly by hand – about three or four times.
  • Form a large ball and cut into two halves if you prefer smaller loaves.
  • Shape the loaves into round balls, slightly flattening the tops.
  • With a sharp knife, slash an ‘X’ into the top of your loaves.
  • Place loaf or loaves on parchment lined baking sheet, or place large loaf in an oiled cast-iron pot or skillet.
  • Brush with buttermilk (and melted butter if you prefer.)
  • For a more traditional baking method, cover your cast iron pot with a lid for the first 30 minutes and then remove for the last 15 minutes of baking time. Total bake time for large loaf is 45 minutes.  If you are making two smaller loaves, bake for about 35 minutes.
  • Bread is ready when the center X looks baked through and a toothpick comes out clean. As well, you can tap the bottom of the loaf and it should sound hollow.
  • Cover with a tea towel, moistened with sprinkles of water, and allow to cool for at least ten minutes before breaking into your loaves.
  • Serve warm with salted butter and honey.

A Cafe In New Orleans

It is Fat Tuesday today, Mardi Gras or if you are Pennsylvania Dutch (German) — Fasnacht Day (Fast Night Day), the last day before the start of Lent, which if you are observant is not supposed to be a whole lot of fun. Thus Fat Tuesday, is the last day to party hard and indulge in sweets and other goodies before the restrictions apply.

Beignets are pastries made from deep frying choux pastry dough (light, moist dough that will puff up when fried). When a heavier yeast pastry is used, they are referred to as boules de Berlin or Berliner doughnuts. (Fun fact: Remember when President Kennedy said ‘Ich bin ein Berliners’ [we are all Berliners]? – he was telling everyone they were doughnuts. Speechwriter, you had one job…)

In New Orleans, the Cafe du Monde is famous for its beignets. And what other city in the USA is more famous for its Mardi Gras celebration than New Orleans? So in La Boulangerie this week, we ‘laissez le bon temps roulez’ and made beignets. I trashed my kitchen and developed diabetes in one fell swoop…

Beignets (makes about 2 dozen):

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten and at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • vegetable oil for frying

Method:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast and one tablespoon of the sugar in the warm water for about 5 minutes. It’ll get foamy. Add the milk, egg, vanilla, butter, the rest of the sugar, baking soda, salt, and flour. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until a sticky dough forms. Transfer the dough to a floured surface, dust with more flour, and either flatten by hand or roll to an 1/8 inch thickness. Using a knife (or I used a pizza cutter) cut the dough into 2 inch squares. They don’t have to be perfect. Mine were all different shapes and sizes.

Preheat the oil such that a drop of water will sizzle when you test it. I realize that’s not very precise… do your best. Err on the side of too cool rather than too hot.  Gently drop the squares, a few at a time, into the hot oil. Once they have risen and puffed, flip and cook on the other side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and repeat with the remaining dough. Generously dust with confectioners’ sugar.  Eat until they’re gone or you’re in a sugar coma, whichever comes first!

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

This past weekend, some friends invited us for a casual brunch. My contribution to the affair was a fresh-out-of the-oven cinnamon bread. A lot of people like to put raisins in their cinnamon bread but I skip them. The bread is divine without little squishy things to mess it up. But if raisins are your thing, feel free to add them at the filling stage. The bread got completely wiped out at the brunch and we enjoyed it so much, I made a second one on Sunday morning!

Cinnamon Swirl Bread:

For the dough:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup milk

Filling:

  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Method:

In the stand mixer, combine all dough ingredients with the dough hook attachment. (Of course you can knead by hand if you don’t have a mixer with the dough hook). After a smooth dough forms, allow to rise in the bowl, covered with a towel, for an hour and a half.

After rising is complete, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll (with a pin) into a rectangle 18×24″. Mix together filling ingredients and spread onto the sheet of dough, leaving a one inch border all around.

Starting with a short end, roll the dough into a log. Pinch the ends closed and fit it, seam side down into a lightly greased 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ bread pan.

Cover pan and allow bread to rise for about 2 hours, or until the loaf crowns just above the rim of the pan. I have also left the loaf overnight in the fridge to pop in the oven in the morning. Fresh cinnamon bread for breakfast!

Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, tenting with aluminum foil about halfway through the bake time.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire rack before slicing.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

It’s snowing in Bucks County. We’re supposed to get 3-5 inches before it changes to a wintry mix and then to rain. By tomorrow the temperature rises into the 50’s so it will all melt away. Anyway, a snow day calls for some comfort food. This banana bread with chocolate chips is just the thing. I adapted this recipe from a standard and in mine I eliminate the nuts.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Ingredients:

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened, plus butter for the pan
  • 1½ cups all‐purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed with a fork until smooth (4 if they’re small)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semi sweet morsels
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Steps:

Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9- x 5‐inch loaf pan with butter.

Mix together the dry ingredients. With a hand mixer, a whisk, or in the food processor, cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs, vanilla and bananas. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients, just enough to combine (it’s okay if there are lumps). Gently stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until nicely browned. A toothpick inserted in the center of the bread will come out fairly clean when done, but because of the bananas this bread will remain moister than most. Do not overcook. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes before removing from the pan.

French Baguettes

I brought this recipe over from my author site. I had posted it when I was writing Breaking Bread, so this might seem familiar to some of you. The baguette is the most basic of breads, with the simplest ingredients but the most wonderful results. The composition of a traditional baguette is nothing more than flour, salt, yeast and water. You need no complicated tools, this can all be done by hand. Though it takes time to get from start to finish, most of that time is spent waiting for the rise. The actual working time is quite short. Here’s what you do:

We begin with a “starter” – a water/flour/yeast mixture that gives the yeast a head start in the consumption of the carbohydrates in the flour. The byproduct of ‘yeast eating sugar’ is CO2 and that is what makes bread rise.

Starter:
1 cup  flour
1/2 tsp yeast
1 1/4 cup lukewarm water (comfortable enough to dip a finger in)

Combine in a large bowl, cover and let rise 2-3 hours, until it gets bubbly.

When the starter has done its thing…

Add in:
1 tsp yeast
2 additional cups of flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
Enough water to make a smooth dough (usually not more than another 1/4 cup)

Hand form dough into a smooth ball. (Or you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook) Place dough ball in a bowl dusted with flour, dust top with flour. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel. Let rise 40 minutes or until doubled in size.

When doubled, cut dough in half, keeping as much air in the dough as possible. Fold and roll dough pieces into 2 baguettes. Place on floured baking sheet*, cover and let rise an hour.

Heat oven to 425. Just before placing baguettes into the oven, slash the tops of the loaves diagonally several times. Moisture is the key to crusty loaves so either spritz the loaves with water or place a pan of water** on the lower rack of the oven to make steam as the bread bakes.

Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

*I actually use a baguette pan. I have a similar one for Italian loaves. These aren’t necessary but they do preserve the traditional shape. I hope these turn out for you if you try them. They are the perfect accompaniment to a hearty soup or stew. Bon appetit!

**I’ve recently switched to this method and I think it’s superior to spritzing. Place the pan in the oven while it is heating, so you already have steam by the time the loaves go in.

Spur of the moment Apple Cake

I recently was tasked with bringing an apple pie to a gathering. I’m really a novice with pie crust and am not confident enough to make a crust from scratch when I’m serving it to others. If the host is willing, my apple cake –a recipe I made up on the spur of the moment with ingredients I had on hand– is a surefire winner.

Here is my Spur of the Moment Apple Cake:

2-3 cups apples, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1 shot apple jack (maybe apple brandy, although I haven’t tried that)*
1 shot lemon juice
1/3 cup oil
8 oz. sour cream
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Grease and flour a bundt pan
  • Sift together flour, baking soda and spices
  • Whisk together oil, egg, sour cream, lemon juice, apple jack and sugar
  • Combine with flour mixture to form batter
  • Stir in apples
  • Bake in bundt pan for 55 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean

*Last year, I made hard apple cider with locally grown apples. I ‘distilled’ a couple of bottles’ worth by freezing the cider and draining off the water several times to create apple jack, a semi hard liquor. At some point I’ll post about beer and cider making in detail.

Welcome to La Boulangerie

I’m not trying to become a food blogger but I do want a place to organize some of my own recipes. I figured while I was at it, I might as well share some of them. Just like my character Maya in Breaking Bread, Book Five of the Bucks County Novels, I love to bake and the idea of owning and operating a French Bakery Cafe is a (not so secret) fantasy of mine. I hope you will enjoy some of my recipes. I won’t post super regularly, only when I have something new to share.

Thanks a million for joining me!