How to feel rich for a quid: make bread #2

My last post about bread was for those who love sourdough, but don’t have the time or space to look after a starter. But that recipe requires patience; this is for those who have none, or rather who have very little. Soda bread, after flatbreads, is simple, quick and, if you make your own buttermilk (peasy, promise), barely requires any shopping. From start to finish, a loaf will take you about sixty minutes, mini-loaves about forty.

I have written about making soda bread before, on a former blog, and though I think that recipe is still brilliant (and I always make it in a preheated Le Creuset now), I wanted to make it even simpler. And, to do that, I have combined four different doyennes’ recipes and techniques.

First, who better to refer to, for such an Irish staple, but Darina Allen? The amounts in this recipe, like the Jim Lahey one, come from In the Green Kitchen by Alice Waters, the subtitle of which (Techniques to Learn by Heart) is very appropriate.

Second, buttermilk, or some kind of acidic dairy, is essential to this and since it is not always easy to buy I was delighted to discover a recipe for it in Jenny Linford’s lovely book, The Creamery Kitchen, in which she tells you all about dairy, both how to make simple things at home but also how to use and store them. You make your own buttermilk by mixing whole milk with white wine vinegar and leaving it to thicken for 15 minutes. This recipe makes about 500ml but you might not need it all (it will keep, in the fridge, for a few days).

Third, I wanted a mini-version, both because it’s quicker to bake but also, I think, makes better sandwiches and, for someone who lives alone and has very little freezer space, it is easier to store. For that, I turned to Martha Stewart, whose technique of dividing the dough up into balls then nestling them together on a baking sheet (see picture, below) creates perfect, individual soda breads.

Uncooked mini soda breads

Finally, I have been working on a bread book by Hilary Cacchio, which is full of lovely recipes and some fab tips. One thing she constantly stresses is covering bread in the oven when you first bake it, to create a steam oven effect (which is how using the Le Creuset helps). This is an old technique (look up baking cloches if you want to learn more) and the easiest way to recreate it is by covering the dough with a stainless steel bowl when it goes into the oven.

This is the sort of bread you can make every day, if you are so inclined, or every week or so, if you want it for treats. If, like me, you are trying to cut down after one too many recipe tests, then you may be forced to admire and photograph your handiwork then give it away…

Mini soda breads (makes about 8)

Cupboard (or things you may already have)
whole milk, 500ml (at room temperature) (about 25p)
white wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons (about 10p)
strong bread flour, 480g (I use half wholewheat and half white, or a third wholewheat to two-thirds white) (about 50p)
salt, 1 tsp (about 2p)
bicarbonate of soda, 1 tsp (about 5p)

How to
1. Stir the whole milk and vinegar together and leave to thicken for 15 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan-assisted/gas 6 and line a baking tray.
3. Put the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and mix together lightly.
4. Once the milk has thickened add half of the buttermilk to the flour and stir to mix in. Keep adding more, little by little, and mixing it in until a ball of dough forms. Try not to overmix.
5. Flour a surface, tip the dough onto it then tear off about 8 pieces and roll/shape each one into a ball. Place them side by side on the lined baking tray, mark a light cross in the top of each with a knife, cover with a large metal bowl (if you have one that fits, or something else ovenproof that fits over the top; if you have neither it doesn’t matter) and bake for about 15-20 minutes.
6. Check and when the dough looks firm but still pale, remove the bowl and bake the dough for another 5-10 minutes until lovely and golden. When it’s done, it should sound drum-like and hollow when you tap the base.
7. Remove from the oven and the baking tray and cool on a wire rack.

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