There are few scents more tantalizingly delicious than that of baking bread. Who, entering a kitchen redolent with the fragrance of new loaves coming into being, can refrain from salivating in anticipation of a generous slice, slathered with butter (and perhaps jam or marmalade as well) accompanied by a strongly brewed (but never stewed!) cup of tea?
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Such persons are few and far between, I am certain, and, quite frankly, I should hesitate to form an acquaintance with a person whose soul has been so starved that they cannot appreciate this most basic and delightful of viands. Bread, in and of itself, is, after all, the “staff of life” and features even in our prayers: “give us this day our daily bread.”
Soda breads are simple, quick, and tasty. They do not need to be set to rise as their leavening agent is bicarbonate of soda, not yeast, so they can go straight from your mixing bowl (after a little kneading) to a baking sheet lightly dusted with flour.
Start to finish, you can have a freshly baked loaf in about an hour. Many of you may be familiar with the Irish Soda bread made from white flour, dotted with raisins and flavored with caraway seeds that is omnipresent at St. Patrick’s Day dinners. This is a sweeter, lighter loaf, almost dessert-like in some cases.
The recipe I present here is more substantial. The addition of wheat germ gives the loaves (for this recipe is for two loaves) a pleasantly nutty and robust flavor. I had long been accustomed, from youth, with the Irish Soda breads studded with raisins, as my mother made it.
However, it was not until visiting Ireland that I had an opportunity to savor the brown soda bread commonly served with meals. I have tried, as best as I am able, to replicate the sort of loaf I so enjoyed during our visits there. The ingredients are ideally mixed in a large earthenware or Pyrex bowl–I would, if at all possible, avoid using a metal bowl. The spoon used to stir the dough should be made of wood.
Here with the recipe:
24 ounces whole wheat flour
8 ounces white flour
3 tablespoons wheat germ
2 level teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
generous pinch of salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 pint buttermilk
The dry ingredients should be blended first, then, making an impression, or well, in the center of the flour mixture, gradually add the beaten eggs and buttermilk. Divide the dough, form into two three-inch-high rounds, dust the tops with flour, transfer to a baking sheet lightly dusted with flour, then cut a cross into the top of each loaf. Bake at 400 degrees farenheit for 40 minutes.
If, when you tap the bottom of the loaf, it sounds hollow, the loaf is done. Allow the loaves to cool thoroughly before cutting and buttering a slice (this, I think, is always the most difficult part of the process as it generally smells so good one can hardly wait to tuck into it!).
All manner of foods have powerful effects on our memories–just look at Proust and his madeleines! Bread, I find, is no different. The odor of bread baking is as homelike as anyone can find–and the taste, surely, will remind one of other meals and other times celebrated with those we have loved and perhaps lost. So many times, the smell or taste of a familiar and comforting food can release a deluge of memories. In some small way, then, we can keep these connections intact through all the years, no matter how our circumstances may be altered.
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