I cannot do without bread. I don’t know whether it is due to being French, or just a matter of taste, but I have to eat bread several times a day. I know bread has been the victim of bad press recently, and I know lots of people who proudly announce that they have “cut out bread”, and proceed to tell you how much better/happier/thinner they feel, but for me, it just wouldn’t do. Tell me I have to cut out bread, and I will ask you for a length of rope and directions to the nearest rafter.
Since moving to Britain, I have been paying more attention to the bread I eat. I never really needed to before, as fresh, traditionally made bread is still the norm in France, and finding good bread is very, very easy. In Britain, things are different. Although there is a bit of a baking revival at the moment, and new bakeries are opening, selling proper, additive-free bread, sadly none are to be found near where I live.
The only shops selling bread around here are supermarkets, and frankly the offering there is not really exciting. The choice is mainly between pre-sliced industrial loaves, which remind me of the little squares of sponge we used to use at school to wipe the chalk off our slates; or the “nicer” bread, usually labelled with something along the lines of “artisan” or “tradition”. Although much better than the other option, this bread still doesn’t quite taste like the real thing, and is very expensive for what it is (I saw a sourdough loaf selling for £2.00 last week; this would bring our bread budget to £8/week!!).
This led me, a few years ago, to start baking my own bread. I now bake twice a week, to provide enough for 3 people for breakfast, sandwiches to take to work, dipping in soup, etc. I used to knead by hand, but since receiving my KitchenAid a couple of years ago, I have been happy to delegate this task to the trusty mixer. It doesn’t take up much of my time, doesn’t cost a lot, I know exactly what is in my bread, and I can make any type of bread I want.
As easy as I am finding it though, sometimes life gets in the way of baking. One night last week for example, I realised at around 21:30 that we had no bread left for the following day; and it was rather late to start making proper bread, as I intended to go to bed at some point that night, rather than wait for the dough to prove. The answer? Soda bread of course! 40 min flat from when you start weighing out the ingredients, to when you pull a gorgeous, golden-crusted loaf out of the oven… this really is speed-baking!
Soda bread is delicious lightly toasted, with either butter and jam, or cheese. It is also perfect alongside a nice, hearty soup.
You will need (for 1 loaf):
170 g wholemeal flour
170 g self-raising plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
300 ml buttermilk or full-fat milk
Preheat your oven to 200ºC/fan 180ºC/ Gas 6.
In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients, then add the buttermilk or milk and mix to a slightly sticky dough.
Line a baking tray with baking paper, sprinkle a bit of flour on it. Shape the dough into a round, place it on the tray and flatten the top slightly with your palm. With a knife, cut a cross on top of the loaf.
Bake for 25-30 min, or until nice and golden on top, and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.