Friday, April 6, 2012

Soda Bread

I traveled abroad for the first time when I was in sixth grade. My dad and I took a trip to England. We stayed in a Holiday Inn Express just down the street from Victoria Station, we saw the British Museum, Harrod's, Stonehenge, Bath, Dover, York, Leeds, and went to a dinner show at the court of Henry VIII near St. Katherine's quay. It was the first of four trips I would make to England. I was homeschooled from fifth grade through graduating high school and was lucky enough to have many opportunities for travel, particularly foreign travel.

That first trip introduced me to the cuisine of the United Kingdom. Sparkling water is more common than still, meat pasties are more common than sandwiches, and if you do have a sandwich it probably has prawns on it. Strong black tea is a staple not a luxury, biscuits are cookies, and shortbread is divine. I loved it and I love it still. Maybe it's the Irish in me but despite traveling through Europe and Asia, a meat pastie and a hot cup of tea still makes my mouth water more than anything else.

At the moment, my fascination is focused on baking the perfect loaf of soda bread. I've made three loaves in the past week, trying to get the right balance of crisp crust and soft interior. It's actually quite the challenge. Yeast and heavy grains were not common in Ireland so the rise in bread had to be gained by activating baking soda with buttermilk. You have to work quickly to mix the dough because if you let it sit too long the process runs its course and the dough toughens. Anyway, I think I'm almost there. I do better baking the dough as a large loaf in the oven, rather than baking it as farls on the stove-top. I still have a ways to go. I would like to achieve a softer crust. I'm getting another pint of buttermilk tomorrow to make more. I think Buddy Holly might be growing weary of soda bread.

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