I thoroughly enjoy exploring new cookbooks, especially the ones that give me a new perspective on familiar dishes or techniques. I am just as happy today with my trio of British cookbooks as I was when I bought them two weeks ago, especially with Mr. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
My lunches for the past two weeks (I am a very dedicated brown bagger) have come from his River Cottage Everyday, and his recipes have even made it into friends' dinner parties after a few dishes caught the eye of my various visitors as they idly flipped through the book as it lay about in my living room.
But the real revelation that he has facilitated for me has been regarding bread...one of my favorite subjects...soda bread to be exact.
As the dear Mr. F-W points out in the preamble to the recipe, sometimes when the bread box is empty, all you want to is replenish it quickly. No rising, no waiting, no starter, no proofing. Just immediate fresh bread. His solution of soda bread is one I would never have thought of.
I've always considered soda bread to be a component appropriate strictly for the breakfast table, as the versions I've had generally seem to have currants, which somehow makes me think of scones, which in turn makes me think of early morning pastries. But this does not have to be the case! Raisins may be omitted, savory elements may be added, and you have a bread appropriate for any time of day.
Simply combine flour, baking soda and yogurt (along with a few other choice ingredients),
stir like mad, but not for too long!
Knead for a few seconds at most, cut a hot cross bun like cross in the top (although perhaps not so deep as I did...my loaf opened up a bit dramatically) and voila, you have your daily bread in less than an hour.
Classic Soda Bread
from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Everyday
500 g flour (or enough to make a sticky but not too sticky dough)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
400 ml buttermilk or yogurt thinned with milk
A little milk, if necessary
Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and stir in the salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk, stirring as you go. If necessary, add a tablespoon or two of milk to bring the mixture together; it should form a soft dough, just this side of sticky. Tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly for about a minute, just long enough to pull it together into a loose ball but no longer--you need to get it into the oven while the baking soda is still doing its stuff. You're not looking for the kind of smooth, elastic dough you'd get with a yeast-based bread.
Put the round of dough on a lightly floured baking sheet and dust generously with flour. Mark a deep cross in it with a sharp, serrated knife, cutting about two thirds of the way through the loaf. Put it in an oven preheated to 200 degrees C and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.
Cool on a wire rack if like a crunchy crust, or wrap in a clean tea towel if you prefer a soft crust.
Varition: Six-seed soda bread
Mix together 2 tablespoons each of sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, poppy and linseeds (I just used whatever I had in the house, which did not include this full list!), plus 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds; set aside. Follow the main recipe but use half white flour and half wholemeal flour. Add all but 1 tablespoon of the seeds to the dry ingredients before proceeding as above. After cutting a cross in the top of the loaf, brush it with buttermilk or ordinary milk and sprinkle with the remaining seeds. Bake as above.