As a little preview for St. Patrick's day and for my first time participating in Bread Baking Day, I've decided to make a sweet variation of Irish soda bread. Thanks to Mansi of the Fun and Food Blog for hosting this most appropriate event of making quick breads in the month of St. Patrick's Day!
The recipe comes from Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course. Darina Allen runs a cookery school in Ireland. She is a leader in the movement towards eating local, organic cuisine and has been for a lot longer than it has been in fashion.
Simply put, I cannot say enough good things about this cookbook. It seems to be on the shelf in every house I visit in Ireland (about 6), but I have never considered buying it. I have a lot of cookbooks and having skimmed through it, I decided that it was too similar to the Joy of Cooking in its encyclopedic coverage of every topic under the sun. Having lugged home too many cookbooks in my suitcase, I was also put off by its massive bulk. But it couldn't be avoided - we were given it as a gift this last Christmas.
And boy am I glad - in a few short months it has become one of two (Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food is the other) that I turn to almost daily. What's so great about it?
Ms. Allen is a passionate advocate for eating locally and seasonally, which is reflected in most of the recipes. The recipes generally group foods from the same season, which means that I can easily find a recipe to match whatever happens to be in my cupboard.
The sheer number of recipes at first seems like overkill, and I thought it would be hard to choose between recipes. For a reasons I can't understand, the number of recipes seems exactly right - for example, there are 13 recipes for preparing cauliflower, one to fit every mood.
So enough about my cookbook - what is Stripy Cat? It's a variation of Spotted Dog, which is a variation of Irish Soda Bread. Soda bread is a traditional Irish white flour bread, leavened with baking soda and buttermilk. It's a crunchy, rustic, tender, flavorful loaf, a little lighter than the delicious Irish Brown Bread, about which you already know I have passionate feelings.
Spotted Dog is a slightly sweeter version of soda bread, containing an egg, a little sugar and raisins, mmm. Good, but I was looking for something a little richer, and apparently so were they....
Stripy Cat is Spotted Dog but with dark chocolate chunks instead of raisins - even better!
We've made it before, but it wasn't quite what we were looking for ... today we added about 50% more chocolate, a handful of nuts, and a few more teaspoons of sugar. It turned out exactly as we hoped. Rich, crunchy, moist, chocolaty, but not too sweet.
Here is the recipe, with my variations.
In a few of my past bread posts, I've discussed the necessity to reduce flour if you're in Colorado. I do not find that to be the case with soda leavened breads. A friend of mine in New York who experimented with Brown Bread after my first post found that she had to reduce the liquid in order to get the same texture. The takeaway from this is that you should cut in the liquid slowly and stop when the dough seems only just moistened but picks up all the flour.
- 450 g (1 lb) plain (or all-purpose) unbleached flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbs sugar
- 120g (4 1/2 oz) best quality, bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped roughly
- 1 handful walnuts, chopped
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 350ml (12 fl oz) buttermilk
Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well by lifting everything with your hands repeatedly to aerate the flour.
Mix the egg and buttermilk in a small bowl. Pour half of them over the dry ingredients and use a spatula to gently cut them in. Pour the rest of the milk mixture over the dough bit by bit, cutting it in - be sure not to overmix or add to much liquid.
The dough will be very thick and sticky and have lumps of unincorporated flour. Pat the dough into a rough ball and then drop it on a cookie sheet or pizza paddle. Flatten the ball a little into a loaf, and then cut in a deep X.
Cook on the sheet or stone at 4250 for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 4000 and cook for 35 minutes more. The finished bread will look golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
This recipe is a basic summary of instructions - my older post on Irish Brown Bread gives helpful tips which I didn't want to repeat here. Also, if you haven't tried this bread - you're missing out. But that's not the topic for today...
This rich, buttery, crunchy bread is a nice contemporary twist on a great traditional Irish bread. Happy St. Patrick's Day!!