Years Ago i Lived in Ireland, and for several months worked at a bakery in Dublin. One of the things we made each day was Irish soda bread. Each morning, shortly after four o’clock, a van would pull up, and out would come a groggy and cranky delivery boy, wheeling fresh buttermilk into the bakery in steel milk cans that were about as tall as he was. The delivery boy was dark and gloomy; this only intensified the silvery brightness of the shining milk cans. By then, another baker and myself would have mixed the ingredients for the baking powder, and it would be in a long wooden mixing trough along with the rest of the dry ingredients. We would then hoist up one of the canisters of buttermilk and pour it into the trough. Then we would each stand at one end of the trough and begin mixing—not just with our hands; these were large batches, and we’d literally be up to our elbows. The boss was emphatic about how gently the bread had to be handled, and once scaled, we had to shape it with the lightest touch possible. Then it was right to the oven, and a good hot one it was. Once baked, the loaf had a pungent aroma of fragrant wheat meal and tangy buttermilk, full of flavor and fat from those green-pastured cows.
I’ve made Irish soda bread pretty much every year since returning to the United States, always around St. Patrick’s Day. And admittedly it isn’t quite the same. True buttermilk is virtually unobtainable here, and what we see most commonly is free of fat and stuffed with stabilizers and gums. Substituting about 20 percent sour cream or yogurt for an equal weight of buttermilk will add body to the bread—just whisk the sour cream or yogurt into the buttermilk until the liquid is smooth. Irish whole-meal flour is only rarely found (although that is changing now and it is becoming more available; if you are able to obtain it, substitute it for the combination of whole-wheat flour and whole-wheat flakes). Fortunately, we can simulate Irish flour by processing wheat flakes in a food processor and adding them to the dough along with the whole-wheat flour. Whole-wheat pastry flour can be used in lieu of whole-wheat bread flour in the interest of tender results. In a way, I’m glad we can’t quite duplicate the bread here; like the Guinness, it’s somehow right that soda bread can’t simply cross the ocean and still be as good as it is in Ireland herself.
|Whole-Wheat Pastry Flour|
|Wheat Flakes, Ground|
|White Pastry Flour|
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