Spring Breads


Winter breadIt’s been a while since I wrote about baking bread. During the election campaign last fall, my baking was sidetracked somewhat, but I did manage to get a few loaves in.

Last month I got back to baking in earnest. However, along the way, I ignored my levain and it went off. I had to toss it, and have not yet started a new one. The loaf on the right is the last one I made with my levain. It was good and crusty, with a great acidic taste, so I need to restore a levain to get that flavour in future.

The first bread I made last month (March) was an Irish Soda Bread, based on the recipe in Paul Hollywood‘s book, 100 Great Breads. I picked it up in Chapters in Barrie this winter at a bargain price (about $5).  As is my wont, I didn’t follow his recipe exactly. The recipe on his website isn’t quite the same as in the book, either.

Soda breadThe bread is an easy, self-rising, fast bread that can be assembled and baked in about 60 minutes. Soda bread is great with soups and some cheeses.

In the book he calls for 20g of baking powder, while on the web he mentions using 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (aka baking soda). They’re both leavening agents, but not the same product, however. I suspect the book should have called for baking soda not powder… but you can easily experiment with both. I stuck with the baking powder and the result was good, as you can see.

Soda breadIn my version, I used only buttermilk (he calls for 200 ml buttermilk and 150ml milk, but in the web recipe he calls for 400ml buttermilk… I wanted the acidic buttermilk flavour).

Perhaps he reduced the buttermilk from the web version because the baking powder already has cream of tartar as an acidic agent. He also calls for the dough to rest for 20 minutes after mixing so it can rise – which again you might want to experiment with since optimum rising time depends on ambient temperature. In my cool house, it might be too little.

I also added a handful of Bob’s Red Mill coarse grind corn meal to the mix. This tends to make the mix a bit drier, so you may want to balance it with a bit more liquid. I like corn meal in my breads for both the flavour and the golden hue it imparts. Plus the texture has a great mouth feel. I baked it in a round 8″ cake pan. Came out beautifully, even with my tinkering.

Two breadsNext I baked two small loaves simultaneously, using similar no-knead processes. One used the last of my organic Osprey bread flour ground in the mill in Beeton (the loaf on the left), the other used commercial unbleached white flour. The latter was also baked in a narrow, long bread pan.

Aside from the flours and the pans they rose in, they were basically made with identical processes. I like to mix the ingredients and most of the water first, and let them sit for about 20 minutes before mixing in the rest of the water in which the yeast has been growing. Resting the mix like this helps develop the gluten chains so essential to good bread formation. None of that gluten-free fad nonsense in this house!

Two breadsI let them sit and ferment in separate bowls, overnight in an unheated oven, before baking them simultaneously the next day.

Both had similar textures and crusts, although the Osprey flour bread was a little denser with fewer air holes. But both proved very edible. Unlike the soda bread, I didn’t add corn meal to either. However, the white bread loaf might have benefitted from it.

The white flour was lighter in taste and slightly lighter in texture – the Osprey flour has its own, distinct flavour that I find works well with some foods, but not all. Strong cheeses and soups – but not peanut butter. I’ll have to make a trip to Beeton for more flour, but want to get smaller quantities. Last time I was there I bought two ten-pound sacks – one of bread and the other of Red Fife flour. That’s a bit much for my uses, so I hope I can get something in the 2-3 pound range next time.

More breads later this month, now I’m back into the groove.

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Ian Chadwick
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