Thursday, March 15, 2012

Minne-soda Bread

Bakers all over the blogosphere are making Irish Soda Bread in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day. Soda bread, which is much like a giant biscuit, is a good choice for this holiday, since it has the word Irish in the title, but it also has a more universal appeal than some other dishes for this holiday. It’s pretty quick and easy, tastes good, is non-alcoholic, and doesn’t involve corning beef.

I remember really liking the soda bread I made ages ago from my Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (which is now getting kind of old), but I don’t think I ever made it again, not even for St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe it was because I don’t really know that much about being Irish or the connections of soda bread to being Irish. Sure, I’ve read Frank McCourt, but I don’t think his memoirs touched the least bit on soda bread. Anyway, it was time for me to jump on the blogosphere bandwagon (blogowagon?) and get back to soda bread. I still don’t know much about being Irish, but I now know a little about being Minnesotan, so I made my soda bread with a little Minnesota spin. A Minne-soda bread, if you will.

And a quintessential Minnesota ingredient is wild rice, so I put some in my bread in the form of cooked wild rice grains and wild rice flour. It may be difficult to find wild rice flour, which is just ground wild rice, much the way wheat flour is ground wheat grains. It is also somewhat expensive, so if you don’t think the quest for it is worth your time and money, you can replace it with more whole wheat pastry flour. I was lucky enough to find my wild rice flour locally. (It came from this place, although, as I am writing this it seems to be out of stock.) If you like wild rice and are a little adventurous in the kitchen, I recommend trying to get some.

The flour adds the wonderful grainy, grassy, slightly tea-like taste of wild rice to the whole loaf. Since it is gluten free, however, it needs the wheat flours (I used both all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour here) to make a biscuit-like quick bread that holds together. It is still slightly dense and just a little crumbly, but that is the nature of whole grain baking, and I’ve come to love that nature. I think you could probably add wild rice flour to a gluten-free mix if you like the flavor and I’ve been thinking of adding it to the multigrain flour mix I like to use (from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce).

The cooked wild rice gives the soda bread even more flavor and a pleasant texture. When the loaf is fresh, the wild rice grains are lightly crispy, which was a nice surprise. As the loaf softens upon standing, the grains also soften to a chewier texture. The dried cranberries, which could have come from Minnesota, but more likely came from just over the river in Wisconsin, add their delicious, fruity sweet-tartness and chewiness. This soda bread is not sweet, since the only added sugar is that which went in to sweetening the dried cranberries. I loved it this way because the taste and aroma of the whole grains is wonderful, but I’m thinking a sweetened version might have to include some Minnesota maple syrup. I stirred some of that very syrup into some softened butter and spread it on my Minne-soda bread to test the theory, and it was quite fantastic.

Folks may think of Minnesota as a place where mostly people from Scandinavia and Finland settled, but if I understand it correctly, the Irish had the idea before they did. And of course, the Native Americans, had the idea first, as well as the idea to harvest the wonderful wild rice, or Mahnomin, so perhaps this recipe is a combination of ideas. No, it doesn’t make up for the errors of the past, but it does make up a mighty fine soda bread. A Minne-soda bread.

Soda Bread with Wild Rice and Cranberries
Based on an Irish Soda Bread recipe from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1989 edition.

You can use more whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour instead of the wild rice flour.

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup wild rice flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup cooked wild rice
½ cup sweetened dried cranberries (Craisins)
1 egg
¾ cup buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper or by greasing it with oil or cooking spray.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, wild rice flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir together with a whisk to mix well. Stir in the wild rice and cranberries.

3. Lightly beat the egg in another bowl. Whisk in the buttermilk until well combined.

4. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir together until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Gently knead the mixture in the bowl to form a rough ball and ensure all the dry ingredients are moistened.

5. Shape the dough into a slightly flattened ball, about 6 inches in diameter. Place the loaf on the prepared baking sheet. Cut a cross-shape into the top of the loaf about ¼- ½ inch deep. Bake at 375 F for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12-16 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Grandmama’s Buttermilk Biscuits, Cranberry Walnut Cornbread

Two years ago: Beef and Guinness Pot Pie

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