Baking bread is one of the great mysteries of life to me. In form one at high school, Mrs Cumberbatch tried to encourage us to make sweetbread, knotted bread and rock cakes. In retrospect, home economics class (taught at an all-girls school) seems like such a 1950s, sexist thing; a course to prepare us ladies to become heads of households and home-makers. But I digress.
Even way back in form one, I knew bread-baking was not for me. My dinner rolls came out like rocks that could give someone a buss-head if pelted hard enough. In my first season of Sancoche, I made the mistake of scheduling hot-cross-buns as a segment of a show. Well - after the kneading, raising, proofing, kneading and raising, it took us almost two days to shoot the damn segment. Never me and yeast-containing baked goods on tv again!
My great friend Michele's mum, Pauline, is from Ireland. Every time I go over to Pauline's house, I am plied with food and grog: "Oh come on, you must have a glass of wine!" And there is invariably a jug of milk going sour hanging around on the kitchen counter. This may seem a curious thing, but because Pauline habitually bakes soda bread, she's always in need of her home-made version of buttermilk (something it's impossible to buy in Trinidad.) She adds a little yogurt to a jug of milk, and leaves the milk out for 24 hours to sour and thicken.
Soda bread is so-called because it contains baking soda as a raising agent, rather than yeast. It's full of really good things like whole wheat flour, wheat germ and bran. You can also add dried fruit and nuts and a little sugar, if you like.
The other day I was liming by Pauline and noticed another jug of souring milk on the counter. She said she was going to be making a batch of soda bread and I asked if I could come over to help/ look on. She said yes, and we made a date for the following day.
By the time I arrived, Leah, Pauline's 3-year-old granddaughter, had already sifted all the flour, and with Granny's help, measured all the ingredients. She was determinedly mixing the whole wheat and white flours in a bowl. Pauline went about adding the balance of ingredients: salt, wheat germ, bran, olive oil, the soured milk, bicarb of soda and baking powder. She mixed everything up until it formed a fairly wet dough.
And then, without leaving anything to raise or proof or set, she divided the mixture up among three loaf tins which she put in the oven to bake. Punto finale!! Yay! And the smell! Wow, there's nothing like having the smell of baking bread in your home to make you feel completely safe and loved!
The bread was absolutely delicious. Heavy and toothsome - after eating a slice you felt full. Not at all like the store-bought breads you get here which are just like cardboard. Richard and I nearly came to blows over who would get the last piece. As it was, I carefully rationed the bread so that we could get two and a half days of enjoyment from it. I'm going to have to get the recipe from Pauline so that I can make it. It's too easy to make, and too delicious not to!