If you’re a traditionalist for your Irish Soda bread, then this loaf isn’t for you. But for those of you who love a good, chunky loaf of bread that’s warm from the oven in slightly more than an hour, studded with deep, hearty flavor, then feel free to stay a while.
I have an unconventional weekend, as it comes on Tuesday each week. It’s not my favorite, but it works for us, and I like to be free during the week when most people are deep in their work week, eyeing their Friday. I go to the Y in the middle of the day on Tuesday to swim, loving the silence of the pool. I spend a few lazy hours catching up on the news and reading blogs, planning out a few cooking endeavors to fill out our days. There’s so many options: from a batch or two of muffins, cookies or bars, a loaf of quick bread, or a more decadent treat. There’s always extra bananas around to make some type of banana bread, which I can never get enough of eating. I’ll make a pot or two of soup. Roast a pan or two of vegetables. Fill up the refrigerator. Take care of the laundry. Meet a friend for lunch or coffee. Schedule doctor appointments. Run errands. It’s “time off” of my paying job, but as everyone knows all too well, there is no real “time off”. There is, when it’s all done, a sense of accomplishment in spite of the busy.
On a time-crunched morning, before heading out to an afternoon of training for work, I pulled this soda bread recipe out of my ever-growing pile of recipes to try and opened the freezer, digging through the bags of grains for my bulgur. It was nearly empty, but thankfully had just enough to use for this recipe and while it soaked in boiling water, I headed upstairs to take a shower. A half hour later, wet hair draped down my back, I whisked the dry ingredients together, scraped the soaked bulgur into them and poured buttermilk over it all, scraping the bowl endlessly, seeing the stiff dough form. The oven yelped it’s readiness at me and the sun was blazing through the windows. Fresh snow made it so bright outside, and I felt sun-drunk from the warmth in my home. Bustopher commandeered a prime spot in a thick morning ray, his eyes closed contentedly and I transferred the wet, sticky dough to the baking sheet, trying to smooth the top of the shaggy dough with little success. With a shrug, it went in the oven, and I went back upstairs to dry my hair. The first timer went off, I ran back down to reduce the temperature, then back up to finish.
In our home, the main floor is pretty open, and the ceiling peaks in the middle where the staircase rises to the second floor. This carries a certain significance only when something is cooking in the kitchen because the smell floats up our stairway, greeting anyone who appears at the top of it. When I came out of my bedroom the second time, the smell of this bread baking nearly lifted me off my feet. There’s no yeast in soda bread, but this whole wheat version raised a rich, nutty scent to my nose, and when I pulled it out, tipping it over to knock on the bottom, the smell was so grand and lush. The sun poured in, the cats snoozed and the muffled sound of music came through the door of Mike’s office. The scent of bread, even without that comforting yeasty aroma, seemed to envelop me, along with bright March light and at that one moment, looking down at a loaf of simple bread, the idea of driving across the city for work felt like a prison sentence. The only place I wanted to be was in that kitchen.
A good loaf of bread can do that to a person. I went to the training. But not after slicing in to that warm loaf and dressing a thick piece with good butter, watching a contented cat curled in the sunlight.
Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread with Bulgur
3/4 c. medium (#2) bulgur
1 c. boiling water
2- 2/3 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. coarse rye flour ( optional- use all whole wheat otherwise )
1-1/2 t. baking soda
1-1/2 t. salt
2 c. buttermilk
Place the bulgur in a bowl and pour on 1 cup boiling water, or enough to cover the bulgur by about 1/2 inch. Cover the bowl and allow the bulgur to sit for 30 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed and the grains are tender.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.
Place the flours in a large, wide bowl and sift in the baking soda and salt. Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the buttermilk. Add the bulgur to the well, then mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl to the center using a wide rubber spatula, or a wide wooden spoon, turning the bowl. Mix until the bulgur and buttermilk have been thoroughly incorporated into the flour, then scrape out onto a lightly floured work surface. The dough should be soft and a bit sticky. Flour your hands so it won’t stick to them.
Gently knead the dough, only enough to shape it into a ball, then with floured hands gently pat it down to a 2-inch high round, about 9 inches in diameter. Place it on the parchment-lined baking sheet and cut a 1/2-inch deep cross across the top.
Place in the oven and bake 20 minutes at 450 degrees. Turn down the heat to 375 degrees and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the loaf responds with a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. (If you wish to have a softer crust on this, wrap it loosely in a towel while it cools.)
From The New York Times, with modifications here.