Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Actually, I Could Live On This Alone

When I was a kid, one of the constants in our house was Irish Soda Bread, more commonly known as "brown bread". My parents grew up on the stuff, and so my mother made a couple of loaves every week, and it was just.... always around. There's nothing pretty about brown bread, it's coarse and heavy and plain, but it's also filling and hearty and utterly comforting. I love it, and make it myself regularly.
Of course, my oh-so-sophisticated children will have nothing to do with it, preferring the glamor of Wonder Bread and baguettes, and the Mister isn't much of a bread eater. (I marvel, sometimes, that we managed to ever hit it off at all.) So I end up eating all of it by myself, which is a-okay by me; brown bread with marmalade for breakfast, brown bread with cheese for lunch and brown bread with jam for a snack after dinner with a cup of tea is almost a perfect day, if you ask me.
You can't buy brown bread, you have to make it, which makes it all the more enchanting to me. I've seen recipes for it all gussied up, which is entirely the opposite purpose of brown bread. (I once saw a recipe for "Porcini Mushroom and Apricot Soda Bread"....oh, the humanity.) And I also love it because, from pulling out the big bowl to tossing the whole thing in the oven takes about 15 minutes. Of course, you can take longer to put it together, making it an excellent activity for small children, who can bash the tar out of it and it will still bake up just fine.
Mrs. O'Sullivan's Soda Bread:
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups of milk
Preheat the oven to 400°F, and lightly grease a baking sheet, cake pan, pie pan or whatever you want.
Put everything but the milk into a big bowl, and stir with a whisk. (The recipe actually says to sift all the ingredients, but I just give it an enthusiastic couple of turns with the whisk and it seems to work out just fine.)
Add the milk, stir with a wooden spoon and add whatever additional milk necessary to make a slightly sticky but fairly dry dough. It should come together into a ball.
Knead the dough a few times to make it come together a bit, or untill you can form it into a loaf.
I prefer to bake it on a cookie sheet, sort of "free-form", but my mother puts it in a 8x8" pan, because it looks a little neater. Pat out the dough until it makes a circle roughly 8 or so inches across and an inch or two high, on the cookie sheet. Now, this is the important part: with a bread knife, slash a cross into the top of the bread, about a half an inch deep. (It won't look right without that cross, believe me.)
Bake in a 400° oven for 40 minutes, or until it's nice and brown on the top. When the bread is done, it should sound hollow when you thump on the bottom with your knuckles, the preferred testing method of Irish mammies everywhere.

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