11 August 2011

Irish Food!

I'm sort of Irish. I was born in Dublin and lived there for two years before moving to Australia. However, I do lack pretty much everything that pertains to Irish culture, so I don't think it makes sense to call myself Irish. Recently, I figured that I should at least learn a little about Irish cuisine. No, not American-Irish food, and not barrels-of-alcoholic-drinks Irish cuisine. I mean legitimate, daily, traditional, Irish cooking.
The internet is not really helping, funnily enough. Something I realised is that U.S. cuisine is composed of manipulations of and additions to other culture's cuisines. For instance, plain ol' sponge cake. From a simple butter-sugar-egg-flour sponge cake, the U.S. has evolved it into some seven layer sponge cake infused with peppermint oil, studded with three kinds of nuts, and sandwiched between tons of buttercream icing with sun-dried strawberries and chocolate-orange ganache and THEN topped with sprinkles and whole chunks of candy bars, AND FINALLY drizzled with a blueberry brown sugar glaze and enveloped in fondant or marzipan. I don't know. It's just that a basic recipe for the commoner gets thrown into a bucket, and comes something that is obviously not simple or traditional.

The irksome part is that it gets labelled as traditional.

So, when I was looking for a traditional Irish soda bread recipe, I found recipes that included eggs, raisins, sugar (a whole cup of sugar? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?)...and they were all labelled as "traditional" or "authentic" or whatever-the-heck. I used a recipe from here, thinking, hmm the reviews look pretty good...
...but the batter was too liquidy. It was like cookie batter, and was un-kneadable. I baked it anyway, and it tasted alright. A little moist, like an unsweetened cake, studded with pieces of dry fruit.

I did find a neat website that advocates the old fashioned soda bread and scorns the ones made with caraway seeds/sugar etc. This website, The Society for the Preservation of Soda Bread, says that the common people back then just didn't have raisins or honey or seeds or whatever exotic stuff to use in their soda bread. Well duh. So, I trusted their recipe and made a nice, doughy, kneadable round of brown soda bread, with a neat X-shaped cut at the top. Like the recipe says, there's a hollow sound when I hit the loaf with a fork. The interior is pretty dry, tastes a bit like baking soda, and is chewy. It's just like crumbly whole wheat bread, really, except that it lacks yeast. The crust, my favourite part of bread, is amazing!! So crispy!
The only problem I had with making soda bread was that I didn't have buttermilk, and I don't really see any point in buying any. For my first batch of soda bread, I needed 500 ml of buttermilk, so I just got 500 ml of low-fat milk and juiced in a lime. The bread rose, so I suppose that worked. This time, I only made half a batch of soda bread, so I used about 200 ml milk and 1 tbsp of lemon juice (we happen to have one of those plastic packets). I was freaking out that there wasn't enough acidity because the milk didn't curdle, so I threw in another tablespoon of vinegar. This batch of soda bread rose, so I guess this works too. The bubbles are pretty small and uniform, which is different from those artisan yeast-made breads, in which the holes really vary in size.

One problem, of course, is that I don't remember ever eating soda bread from Ireland. Oh well.

Knowing the way I cook, even though I intended to follow the recipe exactly, I ended up doing this (and therefore I didn't do the whole metric thing):

INGREDIENTS for one 15 cm diameter x 6 cm tall round loaf of soda bread
1.8 cups of whole wheat flour
0.2 cups of white flour
200 ml milk
25 g butter (because I used fat-free milk. If I had used whole milk, I wouldn't have included the butter)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp coarsely ground salt

1. Add vinegar and lemon juice into the milk and let sit.
2. Mix all the dry stuff.
3. Rub in butter.
4. Add the milk/vinegar/lemon juice mixture in, around 50 ml at a time.
5. Make a dough that will sort of stick together; it's okay if it's crumbly. Just knead it a little and plop it into a bowl that has been lightly greased with the wrapper from the butter or sprinkled with some flour.
6. Stick a lid on the container and put on the bottom rack of an un-preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F.
7. Take off the lid and continue baking the bread for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F.
8. The bread's actually basically cooked now, so turn the oven off and keep the bread in the oven for about half an hour.
9. Yay!!

From now on, though, I think I'd prefer to make hand-sized rolls of bread because
1. They cook faster = lower gas bill
2. MORE CRUST!!!!!!

In addition to making Irish soda bread, I also made Irish Colcannon last week. I used the recipe on the back of a sack of potatoes although I used a lot more cabbage than the usual recipe calls for. I think I used about 400 g of dark green cabbage (NOT the sweet, white/light green rounds of cabbage that you find in salad mixes), since it was fresh from the garden. Actually, the potatoes were from the garden too, as were the spring onions.

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