Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread

It is an understatement to say that my mother Pat, who now resides in heaven, loved her Irish heritage while sojourning on earth: I grew up, during every March, with a month’s worth of corned beef and cabbage; on St. Patrick’s Day itself, sometimes there were scrambled eggs colored with green food dye, or toilet bowl water tinted likewise, and always a mandatory wearing-of-the-green.  (She would have to dash in the bathroom to revive the toilet water following each use.)  Mom will always be remembered by all, for her passion for green; year-round she favored this color in her clothing, home decorations, and above all God’s splendid paintings in nature.

I am honoring her during her month, by sharing our family’s recipes for Irish Soda Bread and of course, corn beef and cabbage, which will be next week’s entry.  Irish soda bread is a quick bread, traditionally made without fat; it calls for soft flour-made from soft winter wheat berries-which is marketed as whole wheat pastry flour.

There are two varieties of wheat flour: soft and hard.  This recipe uses the soft whole wheat pastry flour, with low-gluten content; cake flour, which is the other soft flour, is even lower in this mixture of plant proteins.  Hard, all-purpose, or bread flour is the other variety, which is high in gluten.

All wheat flour contains two proteins, gliadin and glutenin, which combined form the gluten.  When dough is initially mixed, these proteins are mangled and knotted together in a relatively unorderly fashion.  Kneading lines these up; bonds are developed between neighbors; thus, gluten chains form, creating the surrounding substance within which the dough can develop.  In this way strength and structure are established, which trap gases and allow the dough to rise; this process is critical in producing a good loaf of yeast bread.

Unlike yeast bread, such manipulative action is minimal in its soda counterpart, providing for little  gluten development; its soft flour, being comparatively low in these proteins, produces a quick bread with its own appeal, which is a fine, tender crumb.  Being fast to prepare, it must be eaten with haste as well, as it becomes stale swiftly.

Irish soda bread has simplicity and a basic composition; it is leavened with the rapid-acting chemical baking soda, and as it has been said, brief mixing minimizes its gluten development.  This luscious loaf may be enhanced by adding either raisins or currants (see Mor Monsen’s Kaker, 2017/11/27, for the history of currants).

References:

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 521-523, 537-538, 549-550.

https://www.thespruce.com/the-science-of-kneading-dough-1328690

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat_flour

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kneading

http://www.sodabread.info/history/

bread with Kerrygold butter from Ireland

Irish Soda Bread  Yields: 6 servings.  Total prep time: 45 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 20-30 min.

3/4 cup milk  (Alternative milks will do, or may purchase buttermilk.)

4 squirts from plastic lemon ball, for souring milk

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour  (Bob’s Red Mill flour is ideal; may grind 1 1/3 cup organic soft winter wheat berries, to make 2 cups fresh flour.)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s, or more inexpensively, in a 10-lb package at Costco.)

4 tbsp butter, softened

1/2 cup raisins or currants  (Currants available in bulk at upscale grocers, such as the national chain New Season’s.)

Spray oil  (Pam coconut spray oil is ideal; our local Winco brand, however, is far cheaper.)

  1. cutting butter into flour until mealy

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. If grinding fresh flour, begin to do so now with 1 1/3 c soft winter white wheat berries; wait to preheat oven with this option.
  3. Sour milk by placing it in a medium bowl, squeezing about 4 squirts from lemon ball over surface; set aside.
  4. In a large bowl blend flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar, with a fork.
  5. Cut 3 tbsp softened butter into flour mixture, until mixture is mealy and butter is well incorporated (see above photo).
  6. dough after kneading for 1 minute

    Stir in soured milk and raisins or currants.  Knead dough gently for 1 minute; if necessary flour counter and hands to keep dough from sticking.  (Note: if grinding flour fresh, be sure to let dough sit in bowl, covered, for 45 minutes before kneading, to absorb excess moisture present in the coarser fresh-grind.)  See photo.

  7. Form into a round loaf and place on a cookie sheet sprayed with oil.  With a sharp knife, cut an X on top of loaf about 1/2-inch deep.  Dot with softened butter (see photo below).
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes (a fresh-ground loaf takes about 30 minutes to bake), or until golden brown and there is a hollow sound when tapped on bottom; see top photo.  Cool on rack.
  9. loaf ready to be baked

    This is best served with imported Irish Kerrygold butter-this treat is available many places, but the best buy is at Costco, when in stock.

Prune Cake, A Cake to Be baked in Secret (Keeps Well if You Hide It)

prune cake

My mother loved to entertain; she went to elaborate ends preparing for her dinner parties, many of which had international themes-for these foreign affairs she often employed recipes from the Time-Life Books collection Foods of the World, which came out in 1968 (see 1960’s French Dinner, 2016/06/06).

Though I don’t know its origin, this prune cake was among my favorite desserts that Mom served to her many guests.  I recall her making it in the sixties; perhaps she acquired it from beloved friends while we were living in Tucson, Arizona, during several winters in this decade.

Its subtitle boasts: A Cake to Bake in Secret (Keeps Well if You Hide It).  How true this is, for this confection melts in one’s mouth, with its butterscotch glaze seeping into the entire cake; thus, it stays moist for weeks, if you don’t eat it first.

In the hot Mediterranean countries in Biblical times, drying was the most expedient way for preserving fruit and vegetables; grapes became “raisins of the sun”, plums became prunes, dates and figs likewise intensified in flavor as they shriveled up.  There, this basic technology employed the powerful sun, with either spreading the juicy produce out on trays or the rooftop, or burying it in the hot sand; this latter means of preservation became apparent at the beginning of time, with naturally dried fruit, which had fallen from trees and vines in the hot dessert.

Such sun-drying methods didn’t work well in the cooler climates of Eastern Europe; thus, more sophisticated means of dehydrating developed here.  Beginning in the Middle Ages, in Moravia and Slovakia, special drying-houses were filled with wicker frames, on which prepared fruit was laid out; constantly-burning stoves, underneath these frames, produced the necessary dry heat to transform the food.

Those in medieval Scandinavia discovered that cool, crisp air, aided by a stiff breeze, could be utilized to dry Norwegian stokkfisk-cod that had been gutted and hung to dry on wooden racks.  This dried ailment provided these people with an almost indestructible, cheap food reserve.

During this time, means for food preservation were also developing in England.  The rich Englishmen, however, had cool stillrooms, where they candied nuts and citrus peel and bottled fruits-present day canning methods were discovered in the early 19th century-and made marmalades, jams, and sweetmeats.  (In Webster’s, this last item is any delicacy made with a sweetening agent; “meat” here refers to food-sweet foods-such as candied fruit).  Indeed, the English employed the art of candying, or preserving with sugar, although they adhered to many alchemical superstitions and “secrets”, such as walnuts should be preserved on June 24th, St. John’s Day.

This memorable cake calls for dried plums that have been resuscitated.  These stewed prunes, along with the rich butterscotch glaze oozing into the whole, allow for an incredibly moist dessert that keeps for weeks, providing it is hidden from sight.

Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), pp. 218, 219.

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 54, 180, 181.

prune cake

Prune Cake  Yields: 12 servings.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 1 hr.  Note: this recipe calls for a 9” tube pan, with a removable bottom.

2 c flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal, or may grind 1 2/3 c organic soft winter white wheat berries, to make 2 c fresh flour.)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon  (Our local Fred Meyer-Kroger-store has an excellent organic Korintje cinnamon in bulk.)

1 1/2 tbsp nutmeg

1 1/2 tbsp allspice

1 c oil  (The original recipe calls for corn oil, but I use grapeseed oil, as it can be heated to high temperatures without damage.)

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 c sugar  (May substitute coconut sugar, which has a lower glycemic index, see health benefits at Zucchini Bread, 2017/07/24 .)

3 lg eggs, beaten

1 c buttermilk

1 1/3 c dried, pitted prunes, soaked and coarsely chopped  (This may be done ahead, see step 3.)

1 c walnuts, chopped

Hot Butterscotch Glaze

1 c sugar  (Cane sugar is important here; organic is best.)

1/2 c buttermilk

1/4 c butter

1/4 c lite Karo syrup  (For easy pouring, rub measuring cup with butter first.)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp vanilla

  1. 1980’s nutmeg grinder

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. If using optional, freshly ground flour, begin grinding wheat berries now.
  3. Pour boiling water over prunes; let sit for 13-15 minutes, or until soft, but not mushy; drain, cool, and cut fruit in halves.
  4. In a sealed gallon-size storage bag, vigorously shake flour, baking soda, salt, and spices, or stir well with a fork.  (This recipe calls for LOTS of spice; freshly ground nutmeg is superb; see above photo for my 1980’s nutmeg grinder.)
  5. Mix oil, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 1/2 c sugar together in a large bowl; beat in eggs, one at a time; mix in flour mixture and buttermilk alternately.  Stir in the prune halves and nuts.  (If using fresh ground flour, know that it is a coarser grind and thus absorbs moisture more slowly; therefore, if grinding flour fresh, be sure to let batter rest in bowl for 45 minutes before baking, to absorb liquids.)
  6. glaze at soft ball stage before rolling together with fingers

    Pour batter into an ungreased 9” tube pan, with a removable bottom.  Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean, and cake lightly responds when pressed with finger.  Meanwhile get ready to cook the glaze.

  7. In a medium saucepan, measure the ingredients for the butterscotch glaze.  Set aside, until 10 minutes before cake is done.  After cake has been baking for 50 minutes, boil glaze over medium heat, until a candy thermometer registers 235 degrees F, or a soft ball is formed (using a clean spoon, place a small amount of the cooked sugar in a cup of cold water; then, squish together with fingers to form a soft, pliable ball that doesn’t hold its shape,  see photo above).
  8. Immediately pour hot glaze over hot cake; piercing it repeatedly with a skewer or toothpick, so it can easily soak up glaze (see photo below).
  9. piercing glazed cake with skewer

    After cooling on rack, slide a knife down all sides and under removable bottom; then, gently transfer pastry to plate.

  10. Remember this is a cake to be baked in secret, for it keeps a long time, if you hide it.

Nutty/Lemon/Coconut Bars

nutty/lemon/coconut bars

This recipe for nutty/lemon/coconut bars is from the mid-1960’s, given to me by my beautiful aunt Sheila.  She made them for her family, while living in East Glacier Park, Montana.

A decade later, after moving 90 miles away to Kalispell, this same aunt watched over me like a hen over her chick, as I was recovering from bulimia and anorexia then.  Having overcome much in her own life, she was willing to share her victories.  She approached her covering of me, as a humble friend, coming along side me gently. We spent numerous hours in each others company, usually over food, while we frequently perused the daily reading from her treasured God Calling, an inspired devotional written by two women in England.  How I recall our immense excitement over the accuracy, with which these prophetic, living words touched our souls!

Sheila loved good edibles.  From the seventies on, after her move to the city, however, her delight was to indulge in fine cuisine at restaurants, rather than spending the necessary preparatory time in a kitchen.  Her constant discovery of new establishments blessed us here in Portland, Oregon, where we both resided before she passed away in the 90’s.

Unlike my aunt, for me the height of indulgence in food is found in the strength imparted by the whole hands-on process, from the beginning to end stages, present in receiving nourishing substance.  This starts initially with the act of shopping, it intensifies as I press in over a stove, and it culminates in a grand finale as I partake of pleasures at the table.  For me, each level is essential in the mastery of the art of fine cuisine; likewise all require diligence in their practice,

For instance, shopping can bring joyful breakthrough, i.e., the hunting for specials at Fred Meyer recently benefited me greatly: the produce worker John and I were chatting, while he was doing his work and I was examining artichokes; he suddenly broke out excitedly, “I can teach you how to test this vegetable for freshness.”  He proceeded to show me how to squeeze its middle, instructing that if it flattens out it is past its prime.  Eagerly he promised that when watermelon season arrives, his expertise will be at its prime, for he never misses with this fruit-I can’t wait to share this tidbit with you also.

From the grocery store, I go to my kitchen, equipped with the best.  There I purpose to set my day’s thoughts aside, as I settle into cooking, striving for peace, which is critical, or mistakes get made, and our Father’s intended gratification is lost.

Julia Child comes to mind, with her passion for every aspect of fine food, especially her fervency in sharing her knowledge with the world; this can be seen clearly in her approach to helping young, aspiring chefs.  As with so many others, I was taken under her wings, with five encouraging letters in the 80’s and 90’s.  Her covering was a gift from God, who longs to envelop us with such protective shelter, as he did for me with my aunt in earlier years.  Indeed, I have become who I am today, by humbly receiving such guidance from authorities.

Sheila’s nutty coconut bars satisfy the child within, with their lemon savor; it’s my joy to share these with you.  Bon appetit!

finished product

Nutty/Lemon/Coconut Bars  Yields: about 30 bars.  Total prep time: 1 hr.

1 c plus 2 tbsp flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal.)

1/2 c butter, softened

1 1/2 c brown sugar  (Organic is preferable, available at Costco, also at Trader Joe’s in an 1 1/2 lb bag.)

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

1 c unsweetened coconut shredded flakes (This is available in Bob’s Red Mill packages at most grocery stores, where it is also frequently sold in bulk.)

1 c pecans

1 1/2 c powdered sugar  (Organic can be found at Costco and Trader’s.)

1/3 c fresh lemon juice  (3 small/med lemons will be needed.)

  1. baked crust

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Cream butter and 1/2 c brown sugar in a bowl; add 1 c flour, over which baking powder is sprinkled evenly; work together with a fork, until it becomes mealy, like pie crust.  Pat this down firmly in the bottom of an ungreased 9” x 12” pan (this size pan is out-dated; you may substitute the equivalent in square inches, or around 108″; 2-8” x 8” pans will work; 2-9″ x 9″ pans, however, will be too large).  Bake for 12 minutes; then, remove from oven; see photo above.
  3. Meanwhile beat eggs well; mix in vanilla and salt; blend in 1 c brown sugar, 2 tbsp flour, coconut, and pecans.  Spread this mixture over baked-crust (see photo below).  Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes more, or until golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).  Prepare frosting next.
  4. spreading coconut mixture over crust

    First, place 1 1/2 c powdered sugar in a medium bowl; then, measure and pour lemon juice over sugar; beat with a spatula until lumps are gone; set aside.

  5. When bars are through baking, immediately pour lemon frosting over top; cool before cutting.  How I love these!

Quick Pasta with Red Sauce and Ricotta

pasta with red sauce and ricotta

With our hurried society, we are always trying to conserve on time; thus, I try to respect this need for efficiency with my cooking instructions, where provision of optimum health is also a major focus.  My mind is made for details; henceforth, I spell out shortcuts that streamline cooking; this can make a particular recipe look long, but indeed it is concise, with an abundance of clock-conserving treasures.

This quick version of red sauce can be made in just 30 minutes, thus honoring our crowded schedules; it pleases with its added topping of ricotta cheese.

A dear friend always blesses me with gifts from her home, when she visits.  I never know what new gadget or food item she will introduce upon her arrival.  Several weeks ago, Wanda came bearing homemade ricotta, which she had made in a crock pot, with her suggestion to put it on top of spaghetti sauce.  As she cooks for a diabetic challenged husband, she serves just a little gluten-free pasta with lots of red sauce, topped with her ricotta; you may choose similar adjustments.  (A 5-star receipt for simple homemade ricotta cheese can be found at http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/homemade-ricotta-cheese-crock-pot-345985)

Discipline is called for in any recipe, whether it be in the kitchen or life, with the constant need for balance between demands and desires.  Always we long for the best taste to be left in our mouths, but oh the challenge in allowing the time required for such quality.  Here I sacrifice some of the depth of flavor, which can be found in my moderately-more-lengthy instructions for Red Sauce for Pasta or Spaghetti Squash (2017/04/10).

Italian comes to mind when we think of red sauce; tomatoes, however, are a relatively new food in Italy.  In the 16th century, conquistadors introduced these to Europe, where they took centuries to become a leading world vegetable.  America didn’t fully accept this fruit-it is actually a fruit, not a vegetable-until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time that simultaneously saw an inundation of Italian immigrants on our shores.  For more on this history, see Spicy Sausage and Tomatoes (2017/09/25) and Ropa Vieja (2017/10/09).

If you are wanting a fine-textured red sauce, know that canned tomatoes, unlike fresh tomatoes, usually don’t boil down to a smooth puree, as calcium salts are added by many canners-this calcium firms the cell walls of tomatoes and keeps the pieces in tact.  Since these salts interfere with the disintegration process during cooking, be sure to check the labels on all canned whole tomatoes, only buying brands that don’t list calcium, unless a chunky sauce is desired.  I use canned tomato sauce here.

Pressured agendas bring loss of strength, while slowing down to smell the roses allows for the discovery of innate gifts, which were positioned by divine ordinance long ago.  We get to open these daily, if we but exercise patience.

References:

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p. 206.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 2004, 1984), p. 331.

Quick Pasta with Red Sauce and Ricotta  Yields: 2-3 servings.  Total prep time: 30 minutes.  Note: may double the recipe.

15-oz can tomato sauce  (Organic is best, which is only slightly more expensive; available at most supermarkets.)

3/4 tsp dried oregano  (Trader Joe’s has an excellent organic bottle for $1.99.)

1 tsp dried basil  (Also found at Trader’s.)

3/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

4 med/lg cloves garlic  (For easy prep, use 2 cubes frozen garlic from Trader’s.)

1 tsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 med yellow onion, chopped small

2-3 servings of pasta

2 sausage links  (Natural sausage is best; I used Fence Line Hot Italian Style here.)

Spray oil  (Coconut is best for health; Pam coconut spray oil is available in most supermarkets; our local Winco brand, however, is much cheaper.)

2 tbsp tomato paste  (Freeze remaining paste in individual 1/4 c bags, to be thawed conveniently.)

Avocado slices

Ricotta cheese for topping

  1. tomato sauce simmering

    Take ricotta out of refrigerator, to bring to room temperature for serving.

  2. In a medium saucepan, place tomato sauce and 1/2 can of water, to which you have added seasonings and garlic.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; reduce heat to med/low and simmer, stirring occasionally.
  3. Heat oil in a sauté pan; sweat onion in hot oil (cook only until translucent); add to sauce.
  4. Fill a 3-quart saucepan 4/5th’s full of water, to which you have added a small amount of salt and oil (any kind will do).   Place over medium heat; when water boils, add pasta and cook for 7 minutes, or until al dente.
  5. Meanwhile cut sausage diagonally and sauté until light brown, in a frying pan sprayed with oil.  When done, add to tomato sauce.
  6. Slice avocados, set aside.
  7. When pasta is finished, drain in a colander, rinsing well.
  8. prepping pasta

    Finish the sauce, by adding tomato paste, stirring until thickened.

  9. Rinse pasta under hot tap water to warm it.  Place pasta on individual plates; pour sauce over top; garnish with large dollop of ricotta and a slice of avocado (see top photo).
  10. Quick, easy, delightful!