Category Archives: quick bread

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: Soda Bread with Sourdough Starter and Seeds (or not)

Loaf in the foreground was refrigerated overnight, loaf in the background was baked immediately

Soda vs. Sourdough

Sourdough soda bread is kind of a contradiction. Soda bread was created in the mid-19th century after chemical leaveners became commercially available in Ireland. Ireland’s climate is best suited to “soft” or low-gluten wheat, which is not so great for producing networks of protein that trap the gas produced by yeast. What it is great for is tender, flaky or crumbly “quick” breads. Traditional Irish soda bread is a kind of like a loaf-sized biscuit or scone, except not so flaky, because there’s not as much fat in the dough. It does have the same tender, cake-like crumb and the distinctive flavor of baking soda and buttermilk. Some people also like to add caraway seeds, currants or raisins, although apparently that’s not an “everyday” bread for the purists.

As far as I'm concerned, "slather" means thick enough to see teeth marksAt its best, soda bread is moist, dense, and a little crumbly—an ideal accompaniment for any kind of soup or stew or a thick slice of aged cheddar. It’s also great slathered with good salted butter. I wanted to get some Kerry Gold, but my grocery store doesn’t seem to carry it so I went with Lurpak instead. Both Kerry Gold and Lurpak get high marks for being made from grass-fed cows and thus higher in omega-3s and for possibly being more delicious than regular butter. I’m honestly surprised how much better the Lurpak tastes to me, but will probably still do a blind taste test sometime to see if that’s just expectation bias. They both get low marks for being expensive and flown across the ocean. Screw you, polar bears! Actually, I’d like to see a life-cycle analysis on pastured butter from Michigan (heated barns?) vs. pastured butter from Ireland.

Anyhow, the whole essence of soda bread is basically antithetical to yeast leavening, because the former depends on not having gluten networks, which would make the texture chewy and bready, and the former depends on gluten networks to trap the gas the yeast produce. However, I’m trying to prevent Ezekiel from becoming another casualty of my push to finish the dissertation (along with my social life and regular blog posting and personal hygiene…). So I decided to try using starter as just another ingredient, instead of the primary leavener—basically just substituting sourdough starter for some of the flour and water. There is probably some way to make sourdough-leavened soda bread. According to The Food Timeline, Irish people did make something similar to soda bread using sourdough or beer barm before the manufacture of sodium bicarbonate. But I couldn’t find a recipe that seemed to fit the bill online in less than ten minutes.

Seduced by Seeds

I did, however, find a few gorgeous pictures of a “Six-seeded Soda Bread” from the cookbook River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, proud owner of the world’s most British-sounding name. And I also came across this strange sourdough quick bread involving chemical leaveners and an egg.

Nigella seeds are also known as kalonji seeds or black cumin and used primarily in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking.I decided to kind of combine the two, with some substitutions based on what I had on hand: I used 1 T. flax meal instead of flax seeds and nigella seeds instead of poppy seeds. I’ve been accumulating bacon grease faster than I can use it, so I decided to use that instead of vegetable oil. I also decided to use regular buttermilk instead of buttermilk powder and water. And then I decided to experiment with the rising time to see what the difference would be between baking it straight away (while the baking soda action is optimal) and letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The Verdict

Thumbs up: Sourdough Starter and Overnight Refrigeration

Thumbs down: Whole Grain Flours and Fennel Seed

The dough was wetter initally, so spread more horizontally

I had to bake this one longer, either because the inside was still cool from refrigeration or because it stayed so much rounder it just took longer for the center to be done, or both.

 Left: baked immediately, Right: refrigerated overnight

The sourdough starter didn’t cause any problems—the bread wasn’t tough at all, and the flavor of the loaf I refrigerated overnight was great, aside from the overwhelming fennel. It also rose beautifully in the oven, despite Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s claim that you “need to get it into the oven while the baking soda is still doing its stuff.” (Never underestimate the power of Irish soda bread to rise, you limey bastard!) The refrigeration also enabled the flour to absorb more of the moisture, so it held the shape of the loaf better and turned out much prettier. Another view:

Refrigerated loaf is about 1/3 taller

However, the multigrain flour was a terrible idea, and in retrospect I should have known better. Remember how I said it’s basically a loaf-sized biscuit? In my experience, whole wheat biscuits suck. And to make matters worse, I got all ambitious about the whole-grained-ness and instead of using half all-purpose or white bread flour, I used half “white whole wheat” which is still milled using the whole grain, it’s just a made from a kind of wheat that lacks some of the phenolic compounds in normal wheat; King Arthur’s calls it an “albino wheat.” It turned out way too crumbly and disappointingly virtuous-tasting, which is basically how I feel about everything I’ve made that was inspired by 101 Cookbooks. She takes lovely pictures and seems to have a remarkable fidelity to her particular, soy-centric idea of “health,” but man, we just have different culinary aesthetics. In the future, I’ll stick to white flour for my biscuits and soda bread. Live and learn.

Also, even though I halved the amount of fennel seed in the River Cottage recipe, it was still overpowering. Quoth Brian: “There’s no such thing as ‘a little’ fennel.” Unless you love it, leave it out. The other seeds were okay, but I think they just made an already-crumbly bread crumblier without adding much in the way of flavor. They’re kind of pretty, but ultimately I just don’t think they belong in this kind of bread.

So below, I’ve written out both the recipe I used and the recipe I’ll use next year, retaining the starter and and overnight rise, but ditching the virtue-flour and fennel seed. Since it’s not sourdough-leavened, the starter doesn’t need to be active, meaning you don’t could just as easily get the same effect by substituting some flour and water or more buttermilk.

For all those who celebrate this Thursday, Irish or not, Beannachtaí na Féile Páraic oraibh! (Blessings of St. Patrick’s Day Upon Ye!). Drink a Guinness for me.

Recipe: Seeded Soda Bread with Sourdough Starter (adapted from eHow and 101 Cookbooks)

Ingredients (for 1 loaf):

  • 1 cup sourdough starter (100% hydration, does not need to be refreshed)*
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. liquid fat (I used melted rendered bacon grease, substitute olive or canola oil or melted butter as desired)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup regular milk soured with 1 t. vinegar or lemon juice)
  • 1 cup whole wheat or multigrain flour (I used the Westwind Whole Grain Bread Flour)
  • 1 cup “white” whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (regular or quick-cooking)
  • 1 T. flax meal
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 3 t. baking powder
  • 1 T. sugar (optional)
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 T each: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and nigella seeds
  • 1/2 t. fennel seeds (or caraway seeds, if desired)

Recipe: Regular Soda Bread with Sourdough Starter

Ingredients (for 1 loaf)

  • 1 cup sourdough starter (100% hydration, does not need to be refreshed)*
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. liquid fat
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (regular or quick-cooking)
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 3 t. baking powder
  • 1 T. sugar (optional)
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • optional additions: 1/2 cup raisins or dried currants, 1 t. caraway seeds

*If you don’t have an active starter, you can substitute 2/3 cup water and 2/3 cup flour. No yeast is necessary as the baking powder & soda do the rising in this recipe.

Method:

1. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Whisk together the starter (or just the 2/3 cup water), egg, liquid fat, and buttermilk until well combined.

3. If using the seeds, combine them and put about 1 T. aside in a small bowl for sprinkling on top of the loaf.

4. In a large bowl, stir the dry ingredients together (including the 2/3 cup flour if omitting the starter and the remainder of the seeds, if using). Then, make a small well in the center of the mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir just until it begins to form a sticky dough. Add a little more buttermilk if it’s too dry and crumbly to form a ball. Add a little flour if it’s so sticky you can’t shape it.

the bacon grease formed little droplets, but mixed into the dough just fine dry ingredients whisked together. check out my amazing array of whisks! it's kind of embarassing how many I have.

Just whisked together until it forms a dough

5. If not baking immediately, cover the bowl and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove from refrigerator an hour before baking to allow to return to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400F 15-20 minutes before baking.

6. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently once or twice, just until the texture is even. Lightly flour a baking sheet and place the ball on the sheet.

7. Cut a deep “x” in the top (cuts should go at least 1/3 of the way through the loaf, or deeper if desired—101 Cookbooks says 2/3 of the way through).

The first loaf, not refrigerated the second loaf, refrigerated--see how it held a higher shape instead of spreading out laterally

8. Brush the top with buttermilk (or regular milk, or melted butter or lard, or a beaten egg) and sprinkle with the remaining seeds, if using.

9. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until the top and bottom are brown and the internal temperature is at least 190F (a metal skewer inserted into the center should come out clean).

Let cool 10-15 minutes before cutting.

Cheddar-garlic Biscuits: In Defense of Garlic Powder

Lobster not included 

I have been carefully trained to look upon garlic powder with great disdain.

S.J. Sebellin-Ross

At the third Ann Arbor Ignite last Thursday, the audience cheered and applauded when the last speaker exhorted us to use fresh garlic instead of dried or powdered (about 41:40 here). And sure, in a recipe like the bolognese he was describing, I’d probably use fresh garlic, too, but that’s hardly a reason to cheer. The crowd’s reaction instead seemed symptomatic of the emblematic status fresh garlic has achieved. Its superiority has become one of the central commandments of the “food revolution,” and no wonder, it hits all the right notes: seems more “natural” and more “authentic,” supposedly better-tasting, and possibly healthier (although, as that site notes, it’s possible to dehydrate garlic without deactivating the enzymes with therapeutic value, which cooking can destroy). It also has the added bonus of a built-in villain in the form of its dehydrated, powdered counterpart, which for many people is associated with the industrial food system, bland mid-century midwestern cooking, and laziness.if you're afraid of losing foodie cred, click on the picture for instructions on how to make your own powdered garlic (assuming you have a dehydrator) from The Deliberate Agrarian

But aside from being slightly more convenient for busy or novice cooks, garlic powder really works better for numerous applications—it dissolves in dips and gravies, it keeps dry rubs dry, and it can be sprinkled to taste on popcorn or pizza or whisked into the dry ingredients of any bread recipe. Instead of thinking of it as a bad substitute for the fresh stuff, I prefer to think of it as a pedestrian version of the powders made by bleeding-edge chefs like Alinea’s Grant Achatz and WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne. Sure, they often taste different than the non-powdered versions, but they open up a whole array of different uses. Of course, you could make biscuits with a garlic-infused fat or stud the dough with chunks of raw or roasted garlic, but neither of those options is going to give you the same intensity of flavor or evenness of distribution as garlic powder. And these biscuits definitely challenge the notion that powdered garlic can’t be delicious.

Most recipes for cheddargarlic biscuits, even Paula Deen’s, simply suggest adding garlic powder and grated cheddar to a baking mix like Bisquick. That would probably be pretty good too, but I don’t have enough uses for Bisquick to keep it around (especially given that rumors about toxic molds developing in expired pancake and biscuit mixes turn out to be true, if somewhat overblown). So instead, I added garlic powder and grated cheddar to the recipe I use for rich, buttery biscuits. The recipe has a higher proportion of fat : flour than most baking powder biscuit recipes, so it makes biscuits that are rich enough to eat plain (and too rich to make a very good vehicle for gravy or butter). Whatever fat you use, it must be solid so chunks of it will remain in the dough. Those chunks melt during baking to create the flaky layers. Lard or shortening work slightly better than butter or margarine because they don’t contain water. However, butter is delicious, so I used half butter and half lard. If you don’t eat butter or lard, margarine or vegetable oil shortening should work equally well (although if you’re avoiding trans-fats, you should stick to ones composed largely of palm oil or produced by fractionation).

Recipe: Cheddar-garlic Biscuitsfats cut into pieces before chilling

  • 1/2 cup solid fat—I used 4 T. butter and 4 T. lard
  • 9 oz. all-purpose or cake flour (about 2 cups)—I used bread flour with 2 T. replaced by cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. powdered garlic
  • 1 T. dried parsley and/or chives (optional)
  • 4 oz. grated sharp cheddar (about 1 cup)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (or regular milk soured with 1 T. lemon juice)
  • extra flour for dusting
  • extra milk for brushing biscuit tops

1. Preheat the oven to 500F. Cut the fat into pieces and chill while you prep the remaining ingredients.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, garlic, and herbs if using.

3. Toss the chilled pieces of fat with the flour and and combine them with a pastry cutter, crisscrossing knives, a food processor, or your bare hands—just don’t melt the bits of fat. You want the largest pieces of fat to be about the size of small peas.

Criss-crossing knives = less dishwashing even if it takes a little longer than the food processor. My hands tend to be too warm for the bare hands method. Just a minute or two later: big chunks of fat remaining, but fat relatively well distributed throughout the flour

4. Mix in the grated cheddar and the buttermilk or milk. Stir just until most of the flour is moistened—you don’t want gluten to form so the goal is to handle the dough as little as possible once you’ve combined the wet and dry ingredients.

the sharper the cutter, the less it will squish the edges, which can prevent rising brushing with milk isn't strictly necessary, but it does promote nice browning

5. Dust a table or countertop with flour, dump the dough onto it and press or knead together just enough to form a dough. Flatten the dough to between 1/2” and 1” thick and cut desired shapes—if you don’t have a biscuit cutter, a glass or empty jar will work, or you can just cut the dough into squares or triangles.

6. Place on an baking sheet (ungreased) and brush the tops with buttermilk. Place in preheated oven, and reduce the oven temperature to 450F and bake for 7 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake another 5-7 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown.

neglected, sprouting rutabega in the background warm, garlicky, cheese-studded biscuits. kind of hard to beat.

Neglected Pear Bread or When Pears go Pear Shaped–ha! I kill me! or Okay, so it’s not that funny but the bread was nice

just a bit past their prime...

“Pears are just so stinkin’ elegant.” –Half-Assed Kitchen

There are few things I love more than a perfectly-ripe pear—just soft enough that you could cut through the flesh with a spoon but not yet grainy or worse, mushy. But that moment seems to come and go so quickly. They sit there on the counter for a week after I buy them, flesh completely unyielding. If I dare to cut into one, it’s inevitably crisp as a good apple, but not nearly as sweet, not at all what I’m looking for in a pear. But then I  look away for a minute—check my e-mail, perhaps, or dare to fall asleep. And that’s it, I miss their few perfect hours. Next thing I know, I have three pears dissolving in my fruit bowl, just barely held together by their increasingly bruised skin.

Usually, at that point, I cut them up and throw them in a basic muffin batter with some powdered ginger. The bits of pear give the muffins an almost custardy consistency, like little pear and ginger-flavored bread puddings. But I got a little busy this week and ended up leaving them to degrade beyond the point where I could even dice them up.

feeling less neglected now, it seems!So I realized that if I was going to get any use out of them at all, it was most likely going to be as part of the moist ingredients, more like the mashed banana in banana bread than the blueberries in a muffin. But most of the recipes I found for baked goods using pears asked for them grated or chopped or shredded, all of which would have required a starting structural integrity far beyond what these pears had. I thought about just substituting them in a recipe for applesauce bread until I came across this recipe which called for canned pears, but involved pureeing them in a blender or food processor. It also called for almond meal, which reminded me of the traditional French tart with thin slices of pear layered over a frangipane base. And although I’m sometimes a little skeptical about advice and recipes I find on About.com, the ultimate selling point was the note about how the recipe had been improved by the addition of baking soda to promote browning and off-set the acidity of the lemon juice. What can I say, I’m a sucker for science.

Which is not to say that I think baking is an exact science. I didn’t have quite enough almonds, so I substituted some ground flax meal. IMG_0166Even after I’d cored and peeled my three sad pears and pared away some of the worst bruising, I had a lot more pear than the recipe called for, so I left out some of the lemon juice. I added a little almond extract, in part to compensate for using less almond meal and in part because I just really like almond extract. And I added just a little cinnamon and nutmeg—not as much as I would have wanted in an applesauce bread, but just enough to give it a hint of spice. I only had one 4×8 loaf pan, so I used a 9×13 for the second loaf and had to leave that one in a little longer. Next time, I’ll probably substitute brown sugar for some or all of the white sugar.

It turned out lovely—the delicate flavors of pear and almond melding with a little brightness from the lemon and warmth from the spices. It’s moist and tender, not too sweet for breakfast or afternoon tea, and definitely better the  second (and third and fourth) day. Not, perhaps, quite as sublime or as elegant as a perfectly ripe pear, but not a bad result at all for pears so badly neglected.

Recipe, including explanations for some modifications in the method which are applicable to all quick breads and butter cakes, and pictures below the jump.

Recipe: Neglected Pear Bread (adapted from Linda Larsen)

  • IMG_01563/4 c. butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar (white or brown or a combination) 
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup ground almonds
  • 3 large overripe pears, cored, peeled, and pureed (~20 oz.)
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 t. almond extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 and butter and flour two loaf pans, ideally 8”x4”. Or whatever pan you plan on baking it in—you could use bigger loaf pans or make something more like a cake in one or two round, square, or rectangular pans, or use muffin tins.

2. Cream the butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Then, add the eggs one at a time.

The original recipe called for creaming the butter, sugar, and eggs together all at once, and you would probably get a decent result that way. Creaming the butter with the sugar first cuts through the fat and aerates it, making sure there aren’t any lumps of fat in the batter, which would melt and create large holes rather than an even crumb. The reason I suggest adding the eggs one at a time is that the goal is to create an emulsion, and just like in mayonnaise the emulsifier is the egg yolk. If you add all the eggs at once, you’ll have to beat the mixture longer to make it smooth, and there’s a greater danger of beating the egg whites into a partial meringue. Over-aerated egg whites will tend to migrate towards the top of the batter and create a slightly tougher, cracked crust that might have a tendency to break away from the rest of the cake. So, just like it’s better to add the fat to the egg yolks gradually in a mayonnaise, it’s better to add the egg to the fat gradually in a cake batter.

 action shot! let this go too long and you'll have almond butter, which you might want to add to the moist ingredients rather than the dry

not quite 3/4 cup sliced almonds: about 1/2 cup ground almonds, so I used about 1/4 cup ground flax seed3. Grind the almonds. Once I realized I didn’t have enough sliced almonds (never mind ground), I just topped the measuring cup off with flax meal and threw it all in the food processor bowl.

4. Whisk the ground almonds (or any nut or seed meal substitutions) with the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

5. Core, peel, and puree the pears. Add the lemon juice (will prevent oxidation/browning) and almond extract.

 yes, they're gross, that's the whole point of the entry another thing to do with far gone pears: cook them until this happens and have pearsauce

6. Add about a third of the flour to the creamed butter and sugar and mix until just combined, and then mix in about a third of the pear puree. Repeat until all of the fat, flour, and liquid are combined, mixing just until the batter is smooth and even.

The reason for alternating is to prevent the creation of gluten. Gluten forms the proteins in wheat flour combine with water. Mixing the flour with the butter mixture first coats the proteins in fat, which prevents gluten from forming. Doing as little mixing as possible also helps prevent gluten from forming (the whole purpose of kneading bread is to promote the formation of gluten), while still getting the batter evenly blended. If you added all the dry first, the batter would be too stiff and lumpy and you’d have to mix it so much, you would likely get gluten formation. If you added the liquid first, you wouldn’t get the protein coated in fat and would lose the smoothness and aeration in the emulsion. Alternating gives you the smoothest batter with the least gluten and most even leavening.

7. Pour into prepared pan(s) and bake until the bread is browning and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. In 4”x8” pans, the bread should take 45-55 minutes. In the 9×13 it took an additional 10 minutes. I’d start checking muffins at 25 minutes, and a cake pan at 35.

 not clean! clean!

8. Cool in the pan(s) on wire racks for about 10 minutes, loosen from the edges with a knife and turn onto racks to cool completely. Nice warm, but better the next day. If you want to freeze it, wait until it’s entirely cooled and then triple-wrap in plastic.