Irish Soda Bread with Currants

Irish soda bread with currants
Irish soda bread with currants

I should begin by saying that I attempted the following recipe with great trepidation. I had never made bread before, except quick breads that you essentially pour into a pan like you do with cake. You will see in my other posts that I’m not fond of making pie shells either. Both bread and pie crust recipes have directions such as, “move dough to a lightly floured surface,” or “knead until the dough forms a ball.” These types of instructions make my blood run cold. I am a bread wimp. But, if you are too, I have good news. I made bread and so can you. All that’s needed is the right recipe.

I pored over a variety of Soda Bread creations. They generally require no yeast and little or no kneading, so I figured it was a good place to start. Most importantly, they aren’t expected to have a light crumb or to look airy and beautiful. Great … bread I can make! The only change needed was to reduce the baking soda for high altitude. So, with a little Irish inspiration and luck on St. Patrick’s Day, I faced my fears and created my fruity loaf. The only drawback was when my favorite taster laid eyes on the baked treat and excitedly, yet incorrectly, thought it was chocolate chip bread. But all was redeemed when I slathered it with vegan butter and jam.

Irish Soda Bread with Currants based loosely on Classic Soda Bread from Williams Sonoma

1.75 cups unsweetened plain soy milk
1 TBS apple cider vinegar
550 grams plus 1 tsp all purpose flour, divided (plus extra for work surface)
2 TBS vegan sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1.25 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup dried currants
1/4 cup grapeseed oil

Preheat oven to 400F. Whisk together soy milk and apple cider vinegar, then set aside to curdle. Spray an 8” tall-sided round cake pan with baking spray then dust with flour.

In a large bowl, whisk together 550 grams flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the currants. Add grapeseed oil to the soy milk mixture; no need to stir. Gradually add this milk mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring until the dry ingredients are moistened. With your hands, knead the dough in the bowl to just combine the ingredients. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball, lightly dusting your hands with flour if needed. Press dough evenly into the prepared pan, then sprinkle the top with 1 tsp flour.

With a sharp knife, mark an X in the top of the dough so it will bake properly in the center. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Cover the pan loosely with foil halfway through the bake time.) Place pan on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before upending the pan to remove the bread.

soda bread and chai tea
soda bread with jam and tea

Note: I listed the flour in grams as precise measurements are best when making bread.

Until next time, happy bread baking!

The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder

baking soda

Image courtesy of Rakka at flickr.com

Most baking recipes call for a leavener to give an item airiness and a tender crumb. There are two types: baking soda and baking powder. Why are there two? If I am out of one, can it be replaced with the other? Read further to solve these riddles.

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate—an alkaline powder (aka, a base). When dissolved in liquid and combined with an acid, it rapidly reacts, breaking down into sodium, water, and carbon dioxide (which) expands upon baking … For baking soda to work, a recipe needs to include a significant acidic ingredient.” So, if you are doing ingredient substitutions in a recipe that lists baking soda as the sole leavener, be sure to keep an acidic item in the ingredient list.

If you are not including an acidic item, then baking powder can work as the leavener. Baking powder is “composed of baking soda, a powdered acid, and a starch (in order to absorb moisture and prevent the acid or base from reacting prematurely) … In its dry state, it’s totally inert. But once you add a liquid, the powdered acid and base dissolve and react with each other, creating bubbles of carbon dioxide without the need for an external acid source.”

There are other actions that baking soda performs and need to be considered. It is also used to “neutralize or dampen acidic ingredients. For this reason it is sometimes used in recipes with a high proportion of ingredients such as lemon juice, buttermilk or other sour flavours. When replacing sugar with a large amount of an acidic sweetener, such as honey, molasses or barley malt syrup, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda should be added the recipe to account for the increased acidity, even if baking powder is the principle leavener.” Thus, if you are using only baking powder in a recipe with highly acidic ingredients, then the flavor profile may be off due to the extra acid contained in baking powder. Those recipes need a little help from baking soda.

Another interesting baking soda fact is that it increases browning, a reaction that works best in an alkaline environment. Browning not only adds an appealing color to baked goods, but it also enhances the flavor. This is why baking soda is added to some cookie recipes that don’t require the rising action of a leavener.

Because baking soda is so important for many reasons, you may want to keep it on hand instead of baking powder. But, baking powder has its place in baking, too. To simplify things, you can use baking soda to make your own baking powder. “For every teaspoon of baking powder, use 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar, and 1/4 teaspoon of cornstarch.”

Now that we have demystified baking leaveners, you can make substitutions with confidence. It can also help you troubleshoot a quick bread that wasn’t quite perfect. Or maybe that was my recipe that needs some tinkering.