Real bread takes hours to ferment, proof, and bake. Plan ahead or you’re shit out of luck.
I just was reminded of Irish Soda Bread when reading through Baking Illustrated, a scientific baking manual by the positively anal America’s Test Kitchen crew. Here is a cheater’s–or an Irishman’s–way to home-baked bread, with, as the Test Kitchen crew describes it, “a tender, dense crumb and a rough-textured, crunchy crust”. It only takes a couple of hours from measuring flour and heating the oven to spreading on sweet strawberry jam and eating half the loaf.
The original recipe (Irish Brown Soda Bread on page 43 of Baking Illustrated), calls for buttermilk, of course. By mixing cider vinegar (use Bragg’s brand, ‘With the Mother’!) into soy or regular milk, you can avoid buying a carton of buttermilk just for this recipe. Also, the original recipe calls for butter, where I substituted Earth Balance organic vegan “Buttery Spread”.
Finally, the original recipe also includes cream of tartar, to react with the baking soda for leavening and preserve the buttermilk’s sour flavor in the finished loaf. Might as well add baking powder, if you’re going to do that (as baking powder is just soda with an acid–such as cream of tartar–added, anyway), and call it American Baking Powder Bread. The buttermilk, or vinegar, reacts with the baking soda to leaven the bread while vegan butter and a bit of maple syrup, along with the whole wheat flour, provide more than enough flavor. Besides, who has cream of tartar?
Using a portion of whole wheat pastry flour, which is finer and softer than regular whole wheat flour, keeps the bread from being too course.
Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread
Since this is a quick bread, kneading it will only increase toughness. Stir the wet and dry mixtures together just enough to moisten all of the flour, then pat gently into a rough-shaped loaf on your oat-strewn counter before transferring the loaf gently onto a baking sheet or into a hot Dutch oven.
2 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 cup regular whole wheat flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons Earth Balance buttery spread
1 1/2 cups plain soy milk or EdenBlend soy/rice milk blend
3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
quick rolled oats, as needed (1/2 cup approximately)
Heat the oven up to 400 degrees (F). If you have a heavy cast-iron or clay Dutch-oven type pot with a lid, put both the pot and lid in the oven to heat up also. Otherwise, lightly oil a sheet pan and dust it with a few of the oats.
Combine the whole wheat pastry flour, regular whole wheat flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium-large mixing bowl. Rub the Earth Balance in with your hands until the mixture is even and feels kind of like wet sand.
Combine the soy milk with the vinegar and let it sit for a few minutes until it is thick and curdled. Stir in the maple syrup.
When the oven is heated–and only then, as the baking soda reacts for just a short time and your bread will rise and fall if it has to wait to go into the oven–add the soured soy milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir just to combine. Make sure that the flour is all moistened, but the mixture doesn’t need to be totally smooth. Don’t over-mix it.
Sprinkle the oats across your counter-top and turn the just-mixed dough out onto them. Turn it over once to coat the other side with oats, and pat it into a rough round, about 8″ across and 2-3″ high. If you are heating a Dutch oven, remember that this dough has to fit into it!
Use a serrated knife to cut a large “X” into the top of the loaf.
If you are baking the loaf in a Dutch oven, carefully pull the hot bottom of the pan out from the oven and gently transfer the loaf, “X”-up, into the pan. Place the lid on and put it back into the oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue baking the loaf for another 15 minutes or longer, until it is dark golden brown and a cake-test (skewer or toothpick) inserted into the center comes out clean.
If you are baking the loaf on a sheet pan, gently transfer the loaf to the sheet-pan, “X”-up, and place the sheet-pan into the hot oven (middle rack or upper-middle rack). Bake for 45 minutes, or until dark golden brown and a cake-test (skewer or toothpick) inserted in the center comes out clean.
Either way, spread a little bit of Earth Balance over the outside of the loaf while it is hot out of the oven, to keep the crust soft. Allow the loaf to cool almost to room temperature before cutting it open and digging in.
Makes one great big loaf.