Irish Soda Bread

My mom’s maiden name is O’Donnell, and she’s quite proud of her Irish heritage. I, however, identify much more with the Eastern European cultural traditions I learned from my Hungarian grandma and Slovak grandpap, who lived just five doors down from my childhood home. So while I’ve got fair skin and freckles, my Irishness has always been much more in theory than it has ever been in practice.

Until today, I’d never made Irish soda bread, and I have to admit that I felt like a total amateur. This recipe comes from my friend Ciara, a woman whose knowledge of Irish culture could certainly put mine to shame. She was Miss Smiling Irish Eyes Pittsburgh a few years back, and this recipe is one she and her mom make each year. You could add raisins if you like, but I chose to leave mine plain.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour*
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs plus buttermilk, enough to equal 2 total cups of liquid**
  • 3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces and softened

*You could use regular or gluten-free flour for this recipe as well. 

**Place your eggs in a measuring cup, then pour in enough buttermilk to yield 2 total cups of liquid. I lightly beat my egg/buttermilk mixture before pouring it into the dry mixture. 

Preparation 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour a 9-inch round cake pan or cast iron skillet.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

Add egg/buttermilk mixture and stir to combine, then add butter and stir as best you can; while you’re not supposed to knead Irish soda bread very much, I kneaded my dough to distribute the lumps of butter more evenly throughout the mixture. Next time, I might cut my butter into my flour before adding the wet ingredients.

Shape into a ball and place in prepared cake pan; cut a cross shape into the top using a very sharp knife.

Bake for 1 hour; remove from oven and cake pan and allow to cool on a wire rack completely before serving.

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Poppy Seed Babka

Earlier today I undertook my first quilted sewing project, a patchwork table runner. I’m a total amateur when it comes to sewing, and both patchwork and quilting are challenges on their own, let alone together. While my project turned out just fine (with a few minor mistakes, but it’s all part of the learning process), I wanted to get into the kitchen to remind myself that there once was a time when I was an amateur baker, and now I can make really awesome stuff like poppy seed babka.

My love for poppy seed treats knows no bounds, and this poppy seed babka is a delicious twist (ha! See what I did there?) on traditional poppy seed roll. While babka definitely takes patience, what with rising and resting time, it’s absolutely worth it.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast* (or 1 package active dry yeast)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 10 ounces poppy seed filling
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk

*I’ve started using SAF Red Instant Yeast, available at King Arthur Flour. 

Preparation

Place 2 cups flour and yeast into the bowl of a mixer and stir together. Fit the dough hook onto your mixer.

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, salt, and butter, heating to 120 degrees (the butter will almost melt completely). Pour milk mixture into flour/yeast mixture along with egg and mix until combined, scraping the sides of your bowl to combine. Add remaining 1 cup flour and mix on low speed for 3 minutes, until dough becomes smooth – it will gather itself around the dough hook.

Turn dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead it for 20-30 seconds by hand, then shape it into a ball.

Place dough in a large, greased bowl; turn the dough once to grease it. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Gently deflate your dough by pressing it to release some of the air; turn onto a very lightly floured surface and let rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, in a small bowl, combine poppy seed filling and lemon juice, stirring to combine.

Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

Roll dough into a 16 x 12 rectangle. Spread filling evenly over dough. From the long side, roll dough into a log and cut in half to make two shorter logs.

Place one log on top of the other to form an X, then twist ends together. Place in the loaf pan, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine egg and milk to make an egg wash; brush over dough. Bake for 50 minutes, then cover with foil and continue baking for another 20-25 minutes, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped or the internal temperature reaches 180 to 190 degrees. Loosen loaf from pan; allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Store at room temperature for 3-4 days.

Autumn Spice Bread

Sometimes people tell me that they don’t bake because baking isn’t as creative as cooking. This bread is a perfect example of how baking can be much more creative than people realize.

This recipe began as a basic quick bread and used cinnamon and walnuts in the filling and topping, but when I thought about it, that flavor combination didn’t seem to pack enough of a punch for me. I added both cinnamon and allspice to the batter and swapped pecans for the walnuts, creating a richer, autumn-themed treat. Next time, I’ll put about half of the batter into the pan and sprinkle it with the nut mixture instead of two-thirds; my nut layer rose to the top a bit more than I expected, and although that’s definitely not a bad thing, I’d like more bread between it and the crunchy streusel topping.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 2/3 finely chopped pecans
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 1/4 cups flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and pecans. Stir together well.

In a large bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, allspice, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine egg, milk, and vegetable oil. Add all at once to flour mixture and stir just until no dry streaks remain; batter should be lumpy, so be careful not to over-mix.

Spoon half the batter into the loaf pan and top with half the nut mixture, then spoon in remaining batter. Add flour to remaining nut mixture, then stir in melted butter to make a crumb topping. Sprinkle topping over batter.

Bake for 60 to 65 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. You may need to cover the loaf during the last 20 minutes of baking to prevent over-browning.

Cool loaf in pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Chocolate Babka

Bread adventures continue with this amazing chocolate babka, a sweet yeast dough swirled with chocolate. According to The Nosher, a food blog from My Jewish Learning, babka means “little grandmother” in Ukranian, Russian, and Eastern European Yiddish. It’s exactly the kind of thing I imagine grandmothers throughout Eastern Europe making.

Although it looks incredibly complicated, babka is actually easy to make, at least in terms of the mixing and assembling. It does require a good deal of rising time, but it’s worth it. Mike and his coworkers proclaimed it delicious, and now I have plans to make a cinnamon version. I’d also like to make a poppy seed version in honor of my own little Eastern European grandmother Zella, who passed away five years ago this month.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Preparation

Place 2 cups flour and yeast into the bowl of a mixer and stir together. Fit the dough hook onto your mixer.

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, salt, and butter, heating to 120 degrees (the butter will almost melt completely). Pour milk mixture into flour/yeast mixture along with egg and mix until combined, scraping the sides of your bowl to combine. Add remaining 1 cup flour and mix on low speed for 3 minutes, until dough becomes smooth – it will gather itself around the dough hook.

Turn dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead it for 20-30 seconds by hand, then shape it into a ball.

Place dough in a large, greased bowl; turn the dough once to grease it. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Gently deflate your dough by pressing it to release some of the air; turn onto a very lightly floured surface and let rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, in a small bowl, combine sugar and cocoa powder; set aside.

Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

Roll dough into a 16 x 12 rectangle and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugar/cocoa mixture and miniature chocolate chips. From the long side, roll dough into a log and cut in half to make two shorter logs.

Place one log on top of the other to form an X, then twist ends together. Place in the loaf pan, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly beat egg and combine with heavy cream; brush over top of loaf.

Bake for 50 minutes, then cover with foil and continue baking for another 20-25 minutes, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped or the internal temperature reaches 180 to 190 degrees. Loosen loaf from pan; allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Store at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Cinnamon Rolls

I’ve decided to become a bread baker. Make no mistake: I’m not abandoning the cookies, bars, cakes, and pies that have made this blog what it is today. But earlier this year I took a bread class at Enrico Biscotti, and it changed my life. For months I’ve wanted to work on bread, and so, with fall upon us, it is Bread Season in my kitchen.

I’ve not worked with yeast very much, so I wanted to start with something basic: a classic cinnamon roll. This recipe comes from my trusty Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, and although it was a bit time-consuming, it was absolutely worth it. For this first try, I worked with active dry yeast, but I also bought instant yeast and hope to someday work with fresh yeast. Baby steps, you know.

Note: I used bread flour in this recipe, but you could easily use regular, all-purpose flour. I also used the dough hook of my mixer to knead the dough, but you could knead by hand if you prefer.

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 4 to 4 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs

For the filling

  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon

For the icing

  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • About 4 teaspoons water

Preparation

Place 2 cups flour and yeast into the bowl of a mixer and stir together. Fit the dough hook onto your mixer.

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, salt, and butter, heating to 120 degrees (the butter will almost melt completely). Pour milk mixture into flour/yeast mixture and beat for 30 seconds, scraping the bowl, then beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl again, then beat in 2 remaining cups of flour.

Beat on low speed for 3-5 minutes, until dough becomes smooth and elastic – it will gather itself all around the dough hook, and that’s fine. Alternatively, you can knead the dough by hand for the same amount of time.

Turn dough onto a very lightly floured surface and knead it for 20-30 seconds by hand, then shape it into a ball.

Place dough in a large, greased bowl; turn the dough once to grease it. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Gently deflate your dough by pressing it to release some of the air (I’ve recently learned that punching it down will disturb the yeast too much, so gently pressing it is better); turn onto a very lightly floured surface and divide in half, then allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, in a small bowl, combine cinnamon and sugar; set aside.

Roll dough into a 12 x 8 rectangle; brush with melted butter, leaving about 1 inch at the far side of your dough for a seam. Spread half the cinnamon sugar mixture onto the dough, then roll up like a jelly roll. Repeat with second portion.

Slice logs of dough into equal slices; mine yielded 10 slices per log. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans and place rolls into the pans; cover and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake rolls for 25-30 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Cool in pans for about 5 minutes.

While rolls are cooling, make icing; combine powdered sugar and vanilla in a small bowl, then add water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, stirring between each addition to reach a thick drizzling consistency (like thick honey). Remove rolls from pans and place on a wire rack with waxed paper beneath; drizzle with icing.

Serve warm, or store in an airtight container once rolls are completely cool.

Makes 20.

*I used the “make-ahead” method instead, allowing my rolls to chill in the fridge overnight until I was ready to bake them. Rolls can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours before baking; to bake them, remove them from the fridge and let them stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then bake as directed. 

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Mike has quite the garden going this summer, growing tomatoes, beans, squash, and zucchini in the best spot in our backyard. And because you can only grill so much zucchini, I decided to grate some and mix it into this chocolate bread.

The recipe below is adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread, which is simple to make and smells delicious when baking. I strongly recommend shredding your zucchini in a food processor rather than grating it by hand to save time, but you could hand-grate if you like. Also, if you add your vegetable oil before you add your honey, you can use the same measuring cup and the honey will slide right out because of the residual oil on the sides of the measuring cup. Very convenient!

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 2 cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini, gently pressed to release some of the liquid
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease an 8 x 4 loaf pan.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, oil, honey, brown sugar, and vanilla until smooth.

Add the salt, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa, and flour, mixing until well-combined.

Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into the loaf pan and bake for 60-70 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean or with a light smear of melted chocolate chips.

Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Wrap well and store at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Cinnamon Bread

A few nights ago I really wanted to make a quick cinnamon bread, so I adapted a muffin recipe from my trusty Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook into a loaf. It turned out pretty well, though I’ll fully admit that this bread was best on the evening it was baked, and the morning after. It dried out quicker than I expected, but hey, live and learn.

To adapt a muffin recipe into a quick bread, you’ll need a longer baking time at a lower temperature. For example, as muffins, this recipe bakes at 400 for 20 minutes, but as quick bread, it bakes at 375 for about 35-40 minutes. Make sure to keep an eye on your bread to ensure that it doesn’t over-brown; I covered my loaf after about 25 minutes of baking to make sure it didn’t burn.

 Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 x 4 loaf pan.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Make a well in the center.

In a medium bowl, combine egg, milk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract; pour into the well in the dry mixture and stir until just moistened. The batter will be lumpy, but that’s fine – you don’t want to over-mix.

Spoon batter into loaf pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, checking around 25 minutes to make sure your loaf isn’t browning too much. The bread will be done when a cake tester inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.

This bread can be served warm, but if you prefer to cool it, allow it to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Store at room temperature for 1-2 days.