Irish Soda Bread

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Making soda bread takes hardly any effort, but the result is just so satisfying!  And such versatility!  A loaf can show up at any meal–breakfast, lunch, tea, supper, and give a stellar performance every time!   You can keep it plain and simple, or gussy it up with a few additions, such as nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or herbs.  If you’ve never tried it, put it on your to-do list.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Soda Bread

4 cups flour

2 tsp baking sodaIMG_2235

1/2 tsp salt

1 3/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease and very lightly flour an 8″ round layer pan.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt.  Stir in the buttermilk to form a slightly sticky ball of dough.  Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead gently a few times.  Form the dough into a ball, flatten (by hand or with rolling pin) and then press to fill the prepared pan.  The dough should reach the edges of the pan, but may spring back slightly. Cut an X into the dough with a sharp knife, about 1/4 of an inch deep.  Cover the pan of dough with another round layer pan turned upside down.  Bake for 30 minutes, covered, then remove the top pan and bake uncovered for about 10 minutes more or until the crust is  golden brown and crusty.IMG_2258a

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Scones aka Tea Biscuits

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Whatever you call them, these simple baked treats are very useful on all sorts of occasions.  Hot from the oven, dripping with a bit of butter, they’re delicious just as they are.  A simple bowl of soup ramps up to a new level when it has a  biscuit to accompany it.  Add some raisins to the dough and viola, the perfect tidbit for afternoon tea.

Years ago as a baker-in-training at technical college, biscuits were the very first thing we learned to make properly.  It seemed like a very odd choice to me back then, but now I see the wisdom in it.  Learning the skills you need to produce a batch of tender biscuits (as opposed to hard, dry lumps) lays a great foundation for all baking.  It’s a matter of learning what the dough should feel like to produce the best results;  how much flour to dust the rolling surface, how much kneading before it’s too much, measuring ingredients accurately.

This recipe makes a very soft dough, so it’s best to keep handling and rolling to a minimum.  I like the rustic look of just patting the dough into a rough rectangle and cutting into 12 pieces, plus it’s the quickest way to get them in the oven.  When you have more time to fuss, a neat way to bake the biscuits is to roll the dough into a circle and then cut into 12 wedges and roll up as you would for a crescent roll.

Scones

3 cups flour

6 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

3/4 cup butter

1 1/2 cups milk

Stir together flour, baking powder and salt.  Cut in the butter and rub till mixture is crumbly.  Add the milk and stir to make a soft dough.   Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead gently just until dough is ready to be rolled.  Roll or pat out to about 3/4” and cut shapes as desired.  Place biscuits on ungreased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for about 18 minutes.  Makes 12 generous scones.  For a shiny crust, beat an egg with 3 tbsp water and then brush each biscuit before baking.

The variations are only limited by your imagination.  Here are just two:

Buttermilk Scones:  reduce baking powder to 3 3/4 tsp and add 3/4 tsp baking soda.   The buttermilk makes a heavier biscuit, but adds flavor.

Fruited Scones:  stir in a 3/4 cup of raisins or other dried fruit (blueberries, cranberries, etc) that have been rinsed  and drained.

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