The Spirit of Adventure

Dan and I watched Up a few nights ago. Besides it being an utterly brilliant and moving film, it reminds me of all the reasons I'm so glad I'm in a relationship with such a lovely, talented man. However, it also reminds me of one thing I always thought would be part of my life that has failed to materialize. I'm talking about adventure - and the movie (while the first few minutes do remind you that a life lived quietly can be satisfying) just made me wonder where, exactly, my adventures have been hiding?

I'm not talking about hitching our house to some balloons and heeling it to Venezuela (and I'm certainly not talking about waiting til one of us dies to do it). But why can't we have a slightly smaller-scale adventure? A carefully considered, planned and saved for, relatively risk-free adventure with a comfy fall-back position? We're not too prematurely old for that, are we? Are we?!

While we're cooking up this scheme - we'll keep the details hazy for the time being - I thought I'd polish up some baking skills that might come in handy.

And, in case you're confused, this is not a St. Patrick's Day post -- it's an adventure post. Alas, I don't have the recipe for adventure just yet, but I have recently had an adventure in coming up with the recipe I'll be sharing with you in a moment. And it's a recipe that may come in handy for you, come the 17th.Last summer, Dan and I took a trip to Ireland, which you may already have heard about. I delighted in many of the culinary treats (scones, Murphy's, fish and chips, etc.) but the simpler the treats, the better - isn't that always the way? I became obsessed with Soda Bread. And by Soda Bread, I don't mean the stone-shaped and stone-heavy loaves full of raisins that you can buy at the supermarket this time of year (at least in Boston). I mean Soda Bread - simple, crumbly, crusty, heavy, slightly sweet, brown bread.
This month, Bon Appetit showed up on our doorstep boasting an article detailing one person's search for the Perfect Soda Bread. And there was a recipe. So last night I gathered up my ingredients (albeit missing buttermilk, but I tried making a substitute with milk and vinegar) and went to work.I've got to say, frankly I expected more. I don't blame Mrs. O'Callaghan for this. I blame the translation of the recipe (did they just FORGET the salt?) or something. Also, I can't entirely blame the magazine for the utter failure of my first go at Soda Bread, as I don't think the buttermilk substitute worked. But, the result was HEAVY, dense, gummy, and tasteless. So I did a little thinking, did a little reading about Soda Bread and about flour, and came up with a plan.
What resulted was not a perfect specimin, but it was a damn sight better than yesterday's attempt. The taste is subtly sweet, subtly nutty, and very brown. The texture is still a little denser than I would like, but it did rise this time and it doesn't feel so much like eating cement.

But maybe, like the Big Adventure, Soda Bread is something you have to work at, experiment with, and plan for. I'll keep plugging away at the Perfect Soda Bread recipe and hope that the Perfect Big Adventure falls into place sooner or later.

Ms. Jones's Soda Bread
(very loosely adapted from Mrs. O'Callaghan's Soda Bread)
  • 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 c cake flour
  • 3 c graham flour (it has a delightful texture and taste!)
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 c dark brown sugar
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 2 c buttermilk
  • 1/4 c butter (chilled, cut into chunks)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425. Lightly butter or oil a loaf pan.
  2. Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Cut in chunks of butter until only pea-sized pieces remain.
  4. Add buttermilk and stir until flour is incorporated.
  5. Turn dough out and knead until dough is smooth, but not so much that gluten starts to form.
  6. Press dough into loaf pan - this size recipe will fill the loaf pan to the top. (Alternately, you can shape into a loaf and bake on a sheet pan.) Cut a cross into the top of the dough, about 1/4 inch deep.
  7. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when tapped and top is well browned.
  8. Eat warm (or toasted) with butter. Also excellent with apple-pear butter, if you have any of that sitting around.


Liz said...

Three words for you, that may be helpful in your adventures: cast iron pan. My mom always used one making Irish soda bread. But then, she does the free-form, sweet version that is dressed up with currants and carroway seeds. It looks like you are going for the not sweet soda bread. I've been told that the sweet version is not real soda bread at all, in fact. Whatever. It is good and has a distinctive flavor and texture. I'm sure she'd be happy to share the recipe!

Jess said...

Emily, I too have had an ongoing battle with soda bread for a couple of years. It just never seems to live up to what I have in mind. I usually end up thinking that it would have been better to invest the buttermilk in some always-satisfying biscuits. But I tried a new recipe last week, and then tweaked it, and I'm actually very happy with it. I'm going to blog it on Monday if I can get my act together...