We typically assume bread has yeast, and for some that is the defining characteristic. There are yeast breads that do not have the kneading step, we will cover that in another article. We are working the other side of the street in this look at no-knead breads that use soda for leavening,
Corn bread and Irish soda bread battle it out for the most well-known of this style of bread…in the savory category. In the sweet category banana bread has great name recognition and brings to mind a slew of breads, mostly for a winter treat, from date nut breads to poppy seed to maple nut, the list is long. We highlighted pumpkin bread as part of our loaf testing project. Again, we’ll restrict this thread to the savory breads that you make to be part of a meal.
Time is on your side
If you have four hours until dinner you can make a classic yeast bread, two hours and focaccia or such is better, one hour to go and soda bread is your fit. That is why these breads are quite literally called ‘quick breads’ as a category in most cookbooks.
Pro tip; we refer to it as soda, meaning baking soda which reacts to liquid and acid. Baking Powder is baking soda with an acidic base added (use cream of tartar to make your own) so it gives a double action responding to liquid and to temperature over time.
These breads are made to go straight from bowl to oven. The soda gives them a nice bubbled texture. Cutting some kind of shortening, preferably butter, makes them rich and helps hold the moisture. And they respond really well to everything from garlic to herbs to cheese being added to the mix.
There are some things you do to make a good soda bread that are the opposite of yeast baking. Typically the first step it get your dry ingredients together and cut butter or shortening into them. Old school called it the two knives technique, or you can use a pastry cutter. But we now have the ubiquitous technology of a food processor, which is great for this step. Whichever process, the goal is to get to the ‘pea’ stage, where the butter appears as small fragments, no bigger than a pea, evenly throughout the mix.
A key trait in soda bread baking is do not overmix. You don’t want the butter too deeply mixed with the flour in your Irish style soda breads, and you certainly do not want to over mix your batter. Cornbread is the same idea, do not overmix when you bring the dry ingredients to the wet ones. The big difference is that most corn breads call for liquid, or melted shortening, as part of the wet ingredients instead of cutting it in dry. Recipes call for three or four quick strokes to just get the dough blended, then in the pan and baked right away.
These breads will be shaped almost entirely by the pan that you use. You can just drop the dough right onto a sheet pan, but it will have a tendency to be inconsistent and, frankly, not especially attractive. From loaf pans to round cake pans or spring-forms or even cast iron, you get to pick the shape.
The most fundamental difference from yeast bread is how the dough gets bubbles from the soda, how it leavens. All the leavening of soda breads occurs in the oven, where yeast breads have had lots of time to rise before baking. Add with a typically higher moisture content you end up with longer baking times than the same size yeast bread. So, choosing your pan has an effect on your baking. Picking a pan that does not make for an overly tall dough (go for about three or four inches) will give you better results. The outside will get overcooked if the center is too deep.
Irish Soda Bread with Cheddar Cheese
This recipe calls for buttermilk, which not all of us keep on hand. If you do not have buttermilk, it is an easy fix. In your measuring cup put one tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice, fill to 1-1/4 cups with milk. Stir and let sit for 5-10 minutes and you will have what you need.
Pre-heat your oven to 375.
In a food processor stir together;
- 2 ½ cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
Cut into ½” chunks and add;
- 4 Tablespoons cold butter
Using pulse on the processor, or two knives or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until it has reached the ‘pea’ stage.
In a large bowl whisk together;
- 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- 1 ½ cups grated (6-8 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese
- Dry ingredient/butter mix
Stir together quickly with a few strokes. Put the sticky dough into a greased 8” round pan. Flour your hands or use a rubber spatula to push the dough to the edges. Bake for 45 minutes, let cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan.