I never buy bread. I can’t remember the last time I purchased a loaf. It’s partly because, up here in the Umbrian countryside, shop bread is usually dry-ish, unsalted stuff which is used almost exclusively to mop up delicious bits of left-over sauces from dinner plates: it’s functional, with nothing about it which will impinge on the flavours which it channels efficiently into your mouth.
But there’s also the fact that making bread at home allows you to produce something finer and – with some speciality bread exceptions – more delicious than you can buy.
We don’t consume much of the stuff. I make ‘proper’ bread about once every two or three weeks, kneading up a kilo of flour, turning it into four smallish loaves, freezing three then bringing them out as necessary. But when I open the freezer to find that my memory has deceived me and that there’s nothing there, it’s no great disaster: soda bread is a great, quick, stand-in.
This recipe is for a small breakfast-emergency loaf: you’ll need to multiply the quantities if you’re feeding lots of people.
Wholemeal flour – 250 g
Milk – 150 ml
Plain yoghurt – one tbsp
Baking powder – 2 tsp
Salt – large pinch
Rye flour – for dusting
Heat your oven to 200 degrees.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a deep bowl and make a well in the centre. Measure the milk into a jug, add the yoghurt and beat them together until the yoghurt lumps disappear. Pour this slowly into the well in the flour, mixing the liquid in with a metal spoon or knife as you do.
The end result will be a doughy lump and lots of floury bits around it: knead the mixture in its bowl until the dough picks up all the flour, then continue kneading a bit more until the dough is smooth and elastic – this won’t take long at all.
Sprinkle a little rye flour on a kitchen surface, and roll the ball of dough in this to cover it well; rye flour adds a slightly bitter taste to the loaf so if you want to avoid this, use wholemeal flour instead. Now gently press the ball into a flat disc, about 4-5 cm thick and transfer it on to a baking sheet. With a serrated knife, cut a deep cross into the top of the loaf, side to side and going through almost to the bottom.
The loaf needs 25 or 30 minutes in the oven, until a knock on the bottom of the loaf rings hollow, after which it can be eaten almost immediately.
You can add seeds and nuts to the mixture, and/or a tablespoon of honey or treacle, but even in its simplest form, this loaf with its scone-like texture is delicious. It’s best eaten within 24 hours of baking… though in this household, it rarely lasts that long.
© Anne Hanley, 2012