This morning I treated my daughter to the smell of freshly baking bread. Don’t I sound like a brilliant mother? Can’t you just picture a Mad Men vision of pinafore and pearls, oven mitts at the ready? Well, don’t be too impressed because it was actually due to neglect on my part. When Mr A left for work I noticed the bread bin was open – empty, save for a forlorn wrap bread of unknown vintage. On the countertop there was no sign of a plate, lidless jam jar, or butter-smeared knife – universal man-signs indicating the finishing off of bread. Super-sleuth me realised that Mr A probably went out the door with just a bit of fruit for his breakfast as there was also no soya or dairy milk (ruling out cereal). As Mr A often doesn’t have time for more than a five-minute lunch (I am not exaggerating) I was feeling very guilty. In mitigation I’m neither a bread or cereal person in the morning so can be completely unaware when things reach crisis point, such as today. Short of zooming out to a shop, pre-shower/pre-face, the only thing for it was to make some bread, a quick, delicious soda bread. Although this was not going to assuage the guilt at my 6’1” husband facing the day with a ‘fun-size’ banana, at least Miss R wasn’t going to go hungry. Or me for that matter.
Soda bread is the saviour of the neglectful mother/wife, but it is more frequently made because it is truly delicious, very adaptable and quick. If you have all of the ingredients to hand you can be eating bread in about 40 minutes, which by bread standards is practically light speed (I am conveniently forgetting pan-cooked flatbreads). The reason it is so quick is because you use baking soda instead of yeast, so no rising time. It’s also not a fussy bread so you can feel free to adapt the recipe to your taste: I often add a good handful of toasted seeds, like caraway, linseeds and sunflower seeds. And you can use any milk too – goats’, soy, dairy, buttermilk or even watered down yogurt. Believe it or not I did have buttermilk (which, I suppose, would not have been nice with muesli) so that’s what I used, but I sometimes use yogurt or skimmed milk with reliable results. Use this recipe as a guide: keep the basic ‘bready’ elements but please freestyle with the flavourings. The only two caveats are that you probably shouldn’t go over 100 grams with the added bits, and that because the bread is yeast-free it also doesn’t keep well. The reason I have titled this post ‘Two Soda Breads’ is because I have done one for breakfast time (nutty and sweet) and one for a soupy supper or lunch (plain). Have a quarter of each and either share the rest or eat it warm over a day or two - lovely sliced and popped under the grill/broiler.
Nutrition Notes: Bread has had a bad rap over the past few years, with celebrities and civilians alike shunning floury delights in favour of protein, and more protein. It is true that most bread that is commercially available – especially in the US – is truly terrible, as far from proper bread as you can get and still get called bread. But homemade and artisanal bakery bread, made with wholesome, real ingredients can contribute to health – in moderation. I do like well-made bread and don’t quite get it when non-Coeliacs completely avoid it, but the truth is that most of us eat too many bread and grain products such as pasta, rice and pastries. A bit of bread is absolutely fine, especially if it is primarily made from wholegrains, but to be honest it doesn’t provide as much fibre, vitamins and minerals as we believe. Vegetables and fruits are superior choices overall, and generally have much less impact on our blood glucose levels. The old food pyramid that we learned about in school (perhaps) had at its base grains like bread, pasta etc. We were taught that these foods should be the bulk of our diet. Above it was fruits and vegetables, which we were encouraged to eat plenty of, just not as much. Dairy products and meats were in the middle somewhere, with fats and sweets on the point at the top – limited consumption. But it was grains that were meant to be the great providers. We now know that our great love and dependence on starchy grain-based carbohydrates hasn’t helped our health, but has bulked out our waistlines. All that rubbishy, commercially made ‘bread’ we thought was so good for us with its ‘added vitamins and minerals’ has pushed many of us towards Type 2 diabetes. Fruit and vegetables give us both types of roughage that we need, while wheat can often be harsh on our digestive systems, causing bloating and pain when eaten too often and from inferiorly produced products. I’m really selling my bread here, aren’t I? But to bring it full-circle, eating homemade breads like this and slow-fermentation breads like sourdoughs (even white flour ones), sprouted seed and grain breads, and breads made with other grains give us variety, enjoyment and a good amount of nutrients, including B vitamins, protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and copper. To trot out a well-worn cliche, ‘enjoy in moderation.’
simple ingredients, delicious bread
Two Soda Breads
Most soda breads are very similar. I make a number of different types, including an all oat and an all rye one, but today I offer the most popular and most adaptable recipe, with a sweeter ‘breakfast’ version. If you are ever hanker for fresh bread but have neither the time, energy, or for that matter, yeast, this is the bread for you.
250g/8.5 oz stoneground spelt/wholemeal flour OR half plain and half stoneground spelt/wholemeal
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp fine sea salt
150ml/4.25 fl oz buttermilk OR milk with 1 tsp lemon juice added OR thinned yogurt (water in a pinch!)
extra flour for coating
Heat the oven to 200C/400F. Stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix in the buttermilk to make a soft, sticky dough. With floured hands gently knead the dough a few times before patting into a ball and flattening into a 5 cm thick disc. Flour the disc generously and place on a baking tray. Cut a cross (or make 6 wedges) into the bread, going almost all the way through. Pop the tray into the heated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. It’s done when the bread sounds hollow when the base is tapped. Cool for a few minutes on a wire rack before tearing open and eating with gusto.
ready for baking
Breakfast Soda Bread
As above but add 75g/2.64 oz chopped, lightly toasted walnuts to the dry mix and 1 heaped tablespoon of blackstrap molasses (from health food stores in the UK) or dark treacle to warmed buttermilk.