A few years ago we asked some of our favorite EatingWell contributors to share healthy breakfast recipes from their part of the world. Darina Allen--chef, cookbook author and director of the legendary Irish cooking school Ballymaloe in County Cork--sent us her recipe for Irish Soda Bread, with this letter:
"On Sunday morning I love to cook a huge Irish breakfast--rashers and sausage and some lovely fresh eggs from the "Palais de Poulets," our swanky sounding but rather ordinary hen house here at Ballymaloe…. Perhaps best of all, the meal is completed with fresh-baked Irish soda bread.
"While the kettle of spring water on our ancient Aga cooker is coming to the boil, I start by measuring out some flour for the soda bread, then go to the pantry for the jug of thick buttermilk from our Jersey cow. The bread is mixed in seconds in the beamy plastic washing-up bowl we keep for the purpose.
"Even though I've been making bread all of my adult life and most of my childhood, I still get a buzz every time I mark the bread with the traditional cross blessing and prick it in the four quadrants to let the fairies out. (Otherwise, superstition has it, they will jinx your bread and it won't rise!)
"The bread is often enriched with a little lump of butter, some sugar and a fistful of golden raisins. In this form it is called 'spotted dog' (the raisins representing the spots on a white dog). Traditionally, it was eaten warm, cut into thick slices, slathered with butter and taken out into the fields with bottles of sweet milky tea when the men were saving the hay or corn.
"Copious cups of freshly ground coffee or good strong tea are an integral part of any breakfast. An Irish breakfast is not something to just grab and gobble--one needs time to enjoy it in a leisurely way with family and friends around the kitchen table, a robust repast to launch you gently into an energetic day."
Even if you wouldn't have described your mixing bowl as "beamy," this recipe for Irish Soda Bread is simplicity itself: it has a mere 5 ingredients for a dough that comes together with just a little kneading and is ready to go in the oven in 10 minutes. With half whole-wheat flour and half all-purpose flour, it's got an impressive fiber profile, too: 3 grams of fiber per slice. Buttermilk, such a great ingredient to bake with, gives the bread an appealing tang without adding fat.
The soda bread bakes for about an hour, warming up your kitchen and making it smell delicious; let it cool for about half an hour, then you have a rustic, authentic-looking loaf you can be proud of that adds heartiness to breakfast, afternoon tea or an Irish-themed dinner. For something different, check out the variation for Irish Soda Bread Scones following the recipe below.
Whole-Wheat Irish Soda Bread
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Active time: 10 minutes | Total: 1 1/2 hours
Soda breads are hearty Irish staples--wholemeal flour with large flakes of bran and wheat germ, or white flour or a mixture leavened with baking soda and moistened with buttermilk. The acid in the buttermilk reacts with the baking soda, which is an alkali, creating bubbles of carbon dioxide which rise the bread. Soda breads have the heft of a yeast bread but are made in minutes and the dough can be shaped into scones or a round loaf, depending on the occasion. Originally it would have been baked in a bastible (pot oven) over the open fire.
2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and sprinkle with a little flour.
2. Whisk whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in full circles (starting in the center of the bowl working toward the outside of the bowl) until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, in a matter of seconds, turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Clean dough off your hand.
3. Pat and roll the dough gently with floury hands, just enough to tidy it up and give it a round shape. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 2 inches. Transfer the loaf to the prepared baking sheet. Mark with a deep cross using a serrated knife and prick each of the four quadrants.
4. Bake the bread for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400° and continue to bake until the loaf is brown on top and sounds hollow when tapped, 30 to 35 minutes more. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and let cool for about 30 minutes.
Makes one 2-pound loaf (12 slices).
Per slice: 165 calories; 1 g fat (0 g sat, 0 g mono); 2 mg cholesterol; 31 g carbohydrate; 7 g protein; 3 g fiber; 347 mg sodium.
Nutrition bonus: Fiber (13% daily value).
Variation: Whole-Wheat Scones
Make the dough as described above. Form it into a round and flatten to about 1 1/2 inches thick. Stamp out into scones with a cutter or cut with a knife. Bake for about 30 minutes at 450°F.
By Wendy Ruopp
Wendy Ruopp has been the managing editor of EatingWell for most of her adult life. Although she writes about food for the Weeknights column of EatingWell Magazine, her husband does the cooking at home.
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