I wish everyone could discover the magic of making a loaf of bread. It’s so easy, soda breads particularly are made in minutes and there are endless variations on the theme. Mix nutty, wholemeal, brown flour with white to make a crunchy brown loaf, scatter the top with whatever seeds you fancy.
Fresh herbs, nuts, oatflakes, wholegrains, spices, seaweed, dried fruit all add extra excitement to the white soda.
The dough can be baked in a tin or in a traditional free form anointed with a cross on a baking tray. It’s very important to prick the dough to let the fairies out of the bread.
For scones, flatten the dough a little more and cut into round, square or rectangular scones, bake as they are or for extra excitement brush the tops with a little buttermilk or egg wash, then dip in grated cheese or kibbled wheat for a melty or crunchy top.
Scones will be out of the oven in 10 to 12minutes while a loaf will take 30 to 35 minutes but either way you wouldn’t have found your car keys and be back from the shops by the time the bread is out of the oven. There’s nothing to beat the smell of crusty bread wafting out of the oven and even though I’ve been baking all of my adult life and lot of my childhood I still get a buzz out of it.
The Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread is another delicious staple, even though it’s made with yeast, there’s no kneading involved and only one rising. This bread is known and loved by all the guests at Ballymaloe House since the restaurant opened in 1964 and by the family for decades before that. I particularly love the crusts, the best bit of every loaf.
Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread takes longer than soda bread to make — allow one-and-a-half -hours from start to finish. It takes time but not your time, it’s mixed in a matter of minutes and the rest is rising and baking time.
Soda bread is best eaten on the day it’s made but brown yeast bread is delicious for days and makes heavenly toast for up to a week later.
If neither of these breads appeals, well how about some of the flatbreads? The variety is endless.
The breads were cooked on griddles or as is the case in Mexico, on a comal, or sometimes it was a combination of griddle and open fire as in chappatis. These breads too are super fast to make and children love making them but I’ve become even more interested in experimenting with fermented batter made with teff for Ethiopianinjera or Indian dosa or string hoppers from Sri Lanka. They are also nutrient-dense.
However, for an easy everyday loaf it’s difficult to beat brown or white soda and who can forget the wake-up call we had in February 2018, there was mass panic when the country was snowed in. In supermarkets customers were pulling loaves of bread from each other, having totally forgotten how easy it is to make a loaf of soda bread.
Go on, have a go and post your very first loaf of bread on Instagram using the hashtags #realbread #hugthecook
An Indian flat bread, delicious with curry or sambals and such fun to make. The dough should be quite moist so the Chapatis puff up as the steam evaporates.
9 ozs (250g) sieved whole wheat flour plus a little extra for dusting
6 fl ozs (175ml) water
Put the sieved flour into a bowl. Add the water, and mix to form a soft dough. Knead for five to six minutes or until it is smooth and springy. Put the dough onto a plate, cover and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Heat an Indian tava or a cast-iron frying pan over a medium-low flame for five to six minutes. When it is very hot, turn the heat to low.
Knead the dough again for a few seconds, form into a roll, divide into 16 parts. It will be slightly sticky, so sprinkle your hands with a little flour when handling. Cover with a cloth.
Form each piece of dough into a ball. Flour the work surface generously (or dip in a bowl of sieved wholemeal flour). Roll the ball in it. Press down to make a round roll, dusting frequently with flour, until it is aboutfive-and-a-half inches (14 cm) in diameter.
Pick up the chapati and pat it between your hands to shake off the excess flour, then slap it onto the hot tava or frying pan. Allow it to cook on low heat for about a minute. The underside will develop white spots. Turn over (with your hands to do this or use a pair of tongs).
Cook for about half to one minute on the other side. Remove the pan from the stove, put the chapati directly on top of the low flame. It should puff up in seconds. Flip the chapati over and let the second side sit on the flame for a few seconds. Put the chapati in a deep plate or basket lined with a cloth napkin, fold over the chapati. Make all chapatis this way and eat immediately.
Chapatis are best eaten as soon as they are made but they can be reheated later. Wrap a stack in foil, keep in the fridge for a day or freeze. Reheat the wrapped chapatis at 220C/425F in an oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Yufka — Turkish Flatbread
Bread is a staple in Turkey as in so many cultures. According to the Koran, bread was sent to earth by God’s command, hence it is revered and not a crumb should be wasted. There are many delicious ways to use up stale bread but I rarely have any over to experiment with.
110g strong white flour
110g plain white flour
50g wholemeal flour
1 scant teaspoon salt
200ml to 225ml warm water
Mix all the flours and the salt together in a bowl, add the warm water, mix to a dough and knead well for just a few minutes. Shape into a roll, divide in eight pieces, cover and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes – 45 would be better. However, I sometimes cook it straight away.
Roll each piece of dough into a thin round, no more than 8mm thick.
Heat a griddle or large iron or non-stick frying pan. Cook the yufka quickly on both sides until just spotted. Eat immediately or alternatively the yufka can be stacked for several days, even weeks, in a dry place.
To reheat: Before eating, sprinkle a yufka with warm water, fold it in half, wrap it in a cloth and allow to soften for about 30 minutes.
Eat with cheese or butter and honey or fill with a chosen filling of roasted vegetables, cured meat, and salads. They are then called durum meaning ‘roll’.
White Soda Bread
Soda bread only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 30 - 40 minutes to bake. It is certainly another of my ‘great convertibles’. We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses. It’s also great with olives, sun dried tomatoes or caramelized onions added, so the possibilities are endless for the hitherto humble soda bread.
1lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level tsp salt
1 level tsp bread soda
Sour milk or buttermilk to mix — 12-14fl oz (350-400ml) approx
First fully preheat your oven to 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky.
When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface.
WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS.
Tidy it up and flip over gently.
Pat the dough into a round about 1 1/2 inches (4cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this.
Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/Gas Mark 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked.
If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread, when it is cooked it will sound hollow.
Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread
When making Ballymaloe brown yeast bread, remember that yeast is a living organism. In order to grow, it requires warmth, moisture and nourishment. The yeast feeds on the sugar and produces bubbles of carbon dioxide which causes the bread to rise.
Heat of over 50C will kill yeast.
Have the ingredients and equipment at blood heat.
White or brown sugar, honey golden syrup, treacle or molasses may be used. Each will give a slightly different flavour to the bread. At Ballymaloe we use treacle. The dough rises more rapidly with 30g (1oz) yeast than with 25g (¾oz) yeast.
We use a stone ground wholemeal. Different flours produce breads of different textures and flavour. The amount of natural moisture in the flour varies according to atmospheric conditions. The quantity of water should be altered accordingly. The dough should be just too wet to knead — in fact it does not require kneading. The main ingredients — wholemeal flour, treacle and yeast are highly nutritious.
Note: Dried yeast may be used instead of baker’s yeast. Follow the same method but use only half the weight given for fresh yeast. Allow longer to rise. Fast acting yeast may also be used, follow the instructions on the packet.
400g (14oz) strong (stone-ground) wholemeal flour plus 50g (2oz) strong white flourORYou may also use 400g (14oz) strong stone-ground wholemeal flour plus 50g (2oz) rye flour
425ml (15floz) water at blood heat
1 tsp black treacle or molasses
1 tsp salt
20g – 30g (¾oz – 1oz) fresh non- GM yeast
Sesame seeds – optional
1 loaf tin 13x20cm approx
Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8.
Mix the flour with the salt. The ingredients should all be at room temperature. In a small bowl or Pyrex jug, mix the treacle with some of the water, 150ml (5fl oz) and crumble in the yeast — do not stir once the yeast has gone in.
Sit the bowl for a few minutes in a warm place to allow the yeast to start to work. Check to see if the yeast is rising. After about 4 or 5 minutes it will have a creamy and slightly frothy appearance on top.
When ready, stir and pour it, with all the remaining water (9fl oz/275ml), into the flour to make a loose, wet dough. The mixture should be too wet to knead. Allow to sit in the bowl for 7-10 minutes (time varies depending on room temperature).
Meanwhile, brush the base and sides of the bread tin with a good sunflower oil. Scoop the mixture into the greased tin. Sprinkle the top of the loaves with sesame seeds if you like. Put the tin in a warm place somewhere close to the cooker or near a radiator perhaps. Cover the tin with a tea towel to prevent a skin from forming.
After about 10-15 minutes just as the bread comes to the top of the tin, remove the tea towel and pop into the oven 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8 for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for another 40-50 minutes or until it looks nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped. The bread will rise a little further in the oven. This is called “oven spring”. If however the bread rises over the top of the tin before it goes into the oven it will continue to rise and flow over the edges.
We usually remove the loaf from the tin about 10 minutes before the end of cooking and put it back into the oven to crisp all round, but if you like a softer crust there’s no need to do this.