Soda bread, with Neven

Your cut-out-and-keep guide to the fun­da­men­tals of cook­ing

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - CONTENTS - Neven Maguire is chef/pa­tron of MacNean House, Black­lion, Co Ca­van, tel: (071) 985-3022, or see neven­maguire.com In con­ver­sa­tion with Sarah Caden by Neven Maguire

Over­mix­ing is the worst thing you can do with soda bread. To keep it light, you must mix it quickly and not let it get too heavy. Too much mix­ing makes the bread toughen up. I like to get my hands into the dough, but you can use a spat­ula or a wooden spoon if you pre­fer. You want the dough wet, but not sloppy; you need to be able to han­dle it for a tiny bit of knead­ing. But not too much or you’ll toughen it up. A mix of white and brown flours make the best soda bread. You get roughage from the brown, and the white flour gives a bit of soft­ness. If you haven’t any brown flour, use 50pc white flour and 50pc wheat bran. But­ter­milk is key, be­cause the acids in it cause the chem­i­cal re­ac­tion with the bi­car­bon­ate of soda that makes the bread rise. Sour milk will do the same thing. You can freeze sour milk and use it when you’re ready to bake. If you don’t have but­ter­milk or sour milk, use fresh milk mixed with the juice of a lemon, and leave it overnight be­fore you start bak­ing. I start the bread off in a very hot oven, to get a good crust, but then re­duce the tem­per­a­ture, so it’s cooked in­side. If your loaf is cooked on the crust but un­cooked in­side, put it back in the oven for 8-10 min­utes. This recipe is a tra­di­tional soda bread, but in the restau­rant, we vary it with dried cran­ber­ries and chopped rose­mary. Or chopped sun-dried toma­toes and fresh basil. You can also try a cou­ple of tea­spoons of curry pow­der and some sul­tanas. This bread doesn’t keep; it’s for eat­ing on the day you bake it. It can be frozen, though. To thaw it, wrap the loaf in tin­foil and put it in an oven pre­heated to 140°C, 285°F, Gas 2, for about 20 min­utes. Makes one loaf.

You will need:

A lit­tle but­ter, for greas­ing 350g (12oz) plain flour, plus a lit­tle ex­tra to flour the work sur­face 150g (5oz) coarse stone­ground whole­meal flour 1 tea­spoon bi­car­bon­ate of soda 1 tea­spoon salt 2 ta­ble­spoons pin­head oat­meal 350ml (12fl oz) but­ter­milk (a lit­tle ex­tra may be needed)

Method:

Pre­heat the oven to 230°C, 450°F, Gas 8. Lightly grease a bak­ing tray or a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin. Sift the plain flour, the coarse stone­ground whole­meal flour, the bi­car­bon­ate of soda and the salt into a large mix­ing bowl. Then add the pin­head oat­meal to the mix. Make a well in the cen­tre of the dry in­gre­di­ents and add the but­ter­milk. Mix gen­tly and quickly un­til you have achieved a nice, soft dough. Add a lit­tle more but­ter­milk if nec­es­sary, un­til the dough binds to­gether with­out be­ing sloppy. Knead the dough very gen­tly on a lightly floured work sur­face and then place the dough into your loaf tin or onto a bak­ing tray. With a knife, cut a groove down the cen­tre of the dough. Bake the bread for 15 min­utes. Then re­duce the oven tem­per­a­ture to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6 and bake the bread for an­other 20-25 min­utes. When the bread is cooked, it should sound hol­low when it is tapped on the bot­tom. If it doesn’t, re­turn it to the oven for five min­utes. Trans­fer the bread to a wire rack and al­low it to cool for about 20 min­utes.

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