My Recipe for Irish Soda Bread

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These have different amounts of baking soda. The correct amount turned out to be a little less than the one in the middle and a little more than the one on the right.

These have different amounts of baking soda. The correct amount turned out to be a little less than the one in the middle and a little more than the one on the right.

Two days ago, on the morning of Saint Patrick’s Day, I decided that I should celebrate the holiday by making some Irish soda bread for lunch. I’m not a big fan of following recipes, because recipes stifle my creativity, but it’s not easy to make bread without a recipe. Too little or too much of an ingredient can completely mess up the texture. So I decided to compromise with myself and make up my own recipe. I made multi mini-loaves that were slightly different in order to determine the correct proportion of ingredients. The result is that I now have my own recipe for a particularly quick and simple Irish soda bread. I made small, single-serving-size loaves, which isn’t the way Irish soda bread is normally made, but for my purposes, it was convenient. This recipe makes three mini-loaves. I just want to state for the record that I am not an experienced baker and am not claiming that my recipe is the epitome of Irish soda breads, but I thought it turned out decently, considering that I was just making it up as I went along. In the future, I may experiment a little more and come up with an improved version of this recipe, but here is what I have for now.

IMG_0505Preparation time: About half an hour, counting the 15 minutes in the oven

Servings: About 3

Nutrition facts: I have no idea, except that bread is a starch. Also, if I counted correctly, and if that process of baking the bread doesn’t make a difference, each serving has between 150 and 200 calories. Then again, I’m pretty sure that my milk was skim milk, so that kept the caloric count on the low side.

Ingredients:

1 egg

1 ½ cups of flour

Approximately 1 cup of buttermilk or sour milk

Approximately 1 tablespoon sugar (a little extra won’t hurt!)

1 teaspoon baking soda

Caraway seeds

Optional: salt

Optional: fruit, preferably raisins. I used cranberries because that’s what I had.

IMG_0506Instructions:

Mix the egg with a couple tablespoons of the milk. Add the flour and stir. Add milk and stir until the texture is thick and doughy. It will be elastic like yeast dough, but less smooth. Add some sugar and the baking soda, plus a sprinkling of caraway seeds and a very small sprinkling of salt if you want. Stir thoroughly, then fold in the fruit. Divide the dough into thirds and plop them onto a greased baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for about fifteen minutes. The surface should be browned and crunchy.

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Life and Souffles

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There are certain questions that one finds oneself asking from time to time. What is my purpose in life? Why am I here? What am I meant to be accomplishing right now? What must I do in order to bake a really great soufflé? I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but one of them seems a little easier to solve than the others, and so that’s the one that I have turned my attention to today.

I found this image on google, but it's pretty similar to what my soufflé looked like. Except mine was a little paler and I used a glass dish.

I found this image on google, but it’s pretty similar to what my soufflé looked like. Except mine was a little paler and I used a glass dish.

For the record, I would like to say that I am pretty pleased with my latest soufflé. For one thing, I didn’t use a recipe, but it turned out anyway, which is an indication that I know what I’m doing, more or less. This cannot be said for every aspect of my life, so it’s nice that I can say it about soufflés. Also, it was a very pretty soufflé. It’s too bad that my camera batteries are dead, and that I was therefore unable to preserve the beauty of my soufflé for posterity and the internet.  It tasted fine, too.

One of the appeals of the endeavor to make an awesome soufflé is that it’s supposedly pretty difficult. Soufflés have a reputation for being prone to failure, which is mainly because they have a very high air content and do tend to collapse. The process of making a soufflé is also somewhat more complicated than that of making things like most cookies or cakes. Also, the main ingredient of soufflés is thoroughly beaten egg whites, and egg-white-beating is an acquired skill. But learning how to make good soufflés is an easier objective than, for example, finishing college, so I think it’s a feasible goal.

OswinAnother appeal of soufflé-making is, of course, that soufflés feature relatively prominently in Asylum of the Daleks, the Doctor Who episode from September 1, 2012. In this episode, The Doctor, Amy, and Rory are sent down to a planet that the daleks use as an asylum, hence the episode title.  A human named Oswin Oswald has also been residing on that planet for the past year, ever since her starliner crashed. (There’s more to her story than that, but it doesn’t come out until later in the episode, and I’m not doing spoilers right now) This is where the soufflés come into the tale. During the year that Oswin has been trapped someplace “not nice”, surrounded by daleks, she has been passing the time by making soufflés.

Oswin isn’t the greatest soufflé-maker; the soufflé that she makes at the beginning of the episode is a failure. (And for some reason, she throws away the soufflé pan along with the soufflé, an action which has always puzzled me) But that’s not the important thing; the important thing is that Oswin is the type of person who, when space-shipwrecked on a hostile planet full of daleks, responds by practicing her soufflé-baking skills.

I particularly like Oswin as a character, and have frequently attempted to find ways to equate myself with her. In fact, for a while I used her likeness as my facebook profile picture, and her face is my current tumblr avatar. Right now, I especially relate to Oswin in that particular episode. Spending a few months in limbo between college and grad school isn’t exactly the same as spending a year trapped in a crashed starliner surrounded by daleks, but it seems to me that there is a pretty clear allegorical connection. So, since Oswin’s awesomeness manifests itself in such occasions through the practice of soufflé-making, the application in my own life is fairly apparent.

 

In the image above, we see various levels of egg-beating, ranging from “cheater” to “expert”. I come in at level three with the non-electric hand-mixer, although I’m working on achieving whisk proficiency.

 

Let the Fruitcake Jokes Begin

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Last Year's Fruitcake

Last Year’s Fruitcake

I have a confession to make. A couple days ago, I made a fruitcake. Two fruitcakes, actually. I got a bowl and I filled it with flour, brown sugar, white sugar, baking powder, baking soda, various spices, corn syrup, melted butter, eggs, a little milk, some almond extract, chopped apples, chopped walnuts, and assorted candied fruits, all in relatively arbitrary quantities. Then I poured the whole conglomeration into two greased bread pans and stuck them in a hot oven for a while. Voila, fruitcake. Lest ye think that I am a heinous evildoer for inflicting fruitcake upon an already troubled world, I shall explain my motives.

This Year's Fruitcake

This Year’s Fruitcake

1. I was making supper. Most of the family was out at a Christmas party, so there were just a few of us there to eat supper, and I was therefore supposed to do something quick and simple. The benefit of quick-and-simple cooking, obviously, is that it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort, but the downside is that it just isn’t fun. Real cooking is when you have multiple pots on the stove, cutting boards on the counter, and mixing bowls in your hand. Real cooking means juggling several different elements of the meal, constantly doing math in your head, and carefully timing every move you make so that nothing burns and everything is ready at more or less the same time. The fact of the matter is that, after three and a half years in college without access to a kitchen, I am no longer proficient at that kind of cooking, and quick-and-simple is the only kind of meal that’s likely to turn out well. But it’s just so boring to only have one pot on the stove, so it was necessary that I have some other project taking place on the counter.

2. We still had candied fruit from last year. I was actually a little skeptical that it was still good to use, but my mother said it would be fine, and, as far as I can tell, she was right about that. At any rate, we certainly couldn’t let that candied fruit go to waste, could we? Of course, last year’s fruitcake was the reason that we had leftover candied fruit, and at the time, I bought it especially for a fruitcake, so I couldn’t have used this motive to justify last year’s fruitcake.

3. Fruitcake jokes are, as a general rule, hilarious. I don’t know why, but they are. I have heard that Johnny Carson is the exemplary fruitcake-joke-maker, and that his theory states that there is only one fruitcake in the world that just keeps getting passed around and around as a Christmas gift and never eaten. Just like that fruitcake, fruitcake jokes are exactly the same every time, but they’re always funny.

4. I like fruitcake. Yes, really. Apparently, so do other people in my family, because my fruitcakes do get eaten.

So there you have it. I admit that I made a fruitcake, and furthermore, I think I’m going to do it again later this week.